Sukhbir Badal with Akshay Kumar and Yo Yo Honey Singh during the unveiling of league Franchisees names and logos of World Kabaddi league in 2014
Sukhbir Badal with Akshay Kumar and Yo Yo Honey Singh during the unveiling of league Franchisees names and logos of World Kabaddi league in 2014 | Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Bollywood star Akshay Kumar & former Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal have both been summoned for questioning in the 2015 sacrilege row.

Chandigarh: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, summoned by Punjab police for questioning over his alleged role in the 2015 sacrilege controversy, has had a long relationship with the party which ruled the state at the time — the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and its chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Since 2011, Kumar has been the star attraction at Sukhbir’s pet sport event, the Punjab Kabaddi World Cup, which the state government began hosting in 2010 and is different from the one hosted by the International Kabaddi Federation. The two reportedly share a passion for catapulting the sport, particularly popular in Punjab, on the international scene.

In the second edition of the world cup, Kumar performed at the closing ceremony. The same year, 2011, Kumar also performed at the first Punjabi film awards ceremony organised by PTC, Sukhbir’s media venture.

In 2012, Kumar kick-started the world cup in Bathinda, congratulating the then deputy chief minister Sukhbir for “keeping kabaddi alive”. In 2014, when Sukhbir launched the World Kabaddi League (WKL), an Indian Premier League-style competition, Kumar was by his side. Kumar is also the owner of Speedy Singhs, a WKL team.

Sukhbir and his father, former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, have been summoned by police as well.

Also read: Akshay Kumar denies meeting Ram Rahim after Punjab SIT summons in sacrilege probe

An explosive controversy

Kumar, by far the most successful Punjabi star in Bollywood, finds himself embroiled in one of the most explosive controversies that have erupted in Punjab in recent times.

In 2015, beginning from June, multiple incidents involving the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib brought Punjab on edge. This came amid protests by members of the controversial cult Dera Sacha Sauda over the state’s ban on chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s movie MSG 2.

The desecration incidents were suspected to be the handiwork of Dera followers.

Based in Sirsa, the cult has been an irritant for devout Sikhs over rape convict Singh’s attempts to portray himself on a par with Guru Gobind Singh as well as his alleged bid to appropriate Sikh teachings in his discourses while preaching against the community. In 2007, the Akal Takht issued an excommunication order that barred Singh from preaching in Punjab

The erstwhile Akali administration found itself in a sticky spot when police opened fire on a protest against the sacrilege incidents, killing two protesters.

The episode has been a hot button ever since, with former chief minister and SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal denying issuing orders to shoot after he was indicted by the Justice Ranjit Singh inquiry panel set up by successor Amarinder Singh.

The ‘timing’ of the meeting

The Punjab police team investigating the October 2015 police firing wants to question Akshay Kumar on 21 November for his alleged role in facilitating a pardon for the dera chief.

On 20 September 2015, Kumar is alleged to have organised a meeting between Sukhbir and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, still excommunicated at the time, at his Mumbai residence.

The aim, it is alleged, was to facilitate the release of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s film.

The film had been released on 18 September across the country but was banned in Punjab in light of the excommunication order. Events that followed the meeting hinted that the Badals may have struck a deal with the dera chief, currently serving a 20-year term for rape.

The dera chief was granted a pardon from excommunication on 24 September, and the ban on MSG-2 lifted the next day. Though the pardon was revoked a few months later following strong protests from Sikh organisations, the dera announced its unequivocal support to the Akalis during the 2017 assembly elections.

The allegation found mention in the report filed by the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, which was set up by the Amarinder government.

Also read: Amarinder’s Punjab needs to study these 5 chilling examples before passing sacrilege bill

Akshay Kumar denies charges

Through a tweet Monday, Kumar, 51, denied having ever met Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, saying he had never done anything to hurt the sentiments of his “Punjabi brothers and sisters”.

Kumar challenged anyone to counter his claim, but highly placed sources in the SIT say they have a host of questions ready for the actor.

However, if the actor decides not to appear before the SIT, he can move the high court to challenge the summons. A host of police officers facing investigation in the same case have been granted a stay by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which also issued notice to the SIT and the state government.

Kumar can also respond to the SIT by questioning their authority to summon him. The SIT has been tasked only with probing the police firing that led to the death of two Sikh protesters in Faridkot on 14 October 2015. The protesters were gathered to demand action against the desecration incidents. The meeting Akshay allegedly organised had no direct bearing on the firing incident.

The Badal government handed over the probe into the desecration incidents to the CBI in 2015. Though the successor Congress government wants the cases withdrawn from the CBI and handed over to the Punjab police SIT, the investigation agency is yet to return the cases.

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