Personally against death penalty: Amarinder Singh

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday differed from a party MP's stand on the commutation of terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana's death sentence, saying he is against capital punishment.

Ludhiana Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, who is the grandson of slain former chief minister Beant Singh, has questioned the Centre's move, saying the dreaded terrorist should not be "spared" at any cost.

Rajoana was given death penalty for involvement in the killing of Beant Singh, credited with ending terrorism in Punjab, on August 31, 1995.

Talking to reporters here in Ludhiana on Monday, the CM said he was personally against death penalty, which he had said back in 2012 too.

All cases of death penalty should be commuted to life imprisonment, he said, indirectly endorsing the commutation of the death sentence.

He however, said the Congress stand on Beant Singh's killers had always been clear and consistent--that they should serve their full sentence.

The CM said the Centre had demanded a list of 17 prisoners booked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act from the state government.

"Rajoana's name was in the list of the 17 prisoners submitted to the Centre as he was a TADA prisoner who had completed more than 14 years in jail, like the other prisoners on the list," he said, adding that the state had no role in the Centre's decision.

In fact, he said, the state government was yet to receive the names of the nine prisoners who had been given a special exemption by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

On the other hand, Bittu questioned the Union government's move.

"Who are they to commute the death sentence to life term when the Supreme Court has given capital punishment (to Rajoana)," Bittu said in Ludhiana on Monday.

"He (Rajoana) is a dreaded terrorist and should not be spared at any cost," the Ludhiana Congress MP said.

Hitting out at the saffron party, Bittu said the BJP indulged in petty politics to woo Sikh voters despite the prime minister vowing to fight terrorism on a global platform.

Apprehending that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were playing with fire and putting peace in Punjab in jeopardy, the Beant Singh's grandson said they won't let this happen.

"My family suffered a huge loss with the killing of my grandfather but we are prepared for another battle and would not let the BJP push Punjab into days of terrorism," Bittu said.

Reacting to queries the Punjab CM said, "As an ex-Armyman, I can assure the people that we are fully prepared to counter any threat and will not let the peace of Punjab be disturbed under any circumstances."

He said Pakistan was striving to destroy Punjab's hard-earned peace by pushing terrorists and weapons into the state and his government would take all possible steps to tighten the security further.

Meanwhile, five-time chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal's patron-in-chief Parkash Singh Badal lauded the decision, terming it "statesmanlike, far-sighted and humane".

Badal said the gesture would go a long way in assuaging sentiments of the Sikh masses.

"Every step that strengthens hands of the forces of peace and communal harmony and cements the Hindu-Sikh unity in Punjab and the country should be welcomed by everyone," said Badal in a statement here.

Badal said when her was the chief minister, he had "repeatedly asked" the Government of India to review its policy towards Punjab in general and the Sikhs in particular.

"But I had to face utter insensitivity and callousness during the Congress era," he said.

The Akali stalwart said the SAD and the SGPC had always opposed death penalty on a matter of principle.

"We had to wage a long and hard struggle to get Rajoana's death sentence commuted. The party and the religious body approached the Government of India, met and gave memoranda to the President of India on several occasions," he claimed.

The former chief minister said the issue of the execution the death sentence to Rajoana was "one of the most sensitive and toughest moments" that he had to face as the chief minister during the last SAD-BJP tenure.

"But I was clear that both constitutionally and morally, it would not only have been wrong but also disastrous," he said.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC) too welcomed the decision on Rajoana.

SGPC chief Gobind Singh Longowal said the matter related to sentiments of the Sikh community.

On Bittu's opposition, Longowal said this was his own view.

"We respect the decision of the Centre on Rajoana," he added.

Echoing similar sentiments, Rajoana's sister Kamaldeep Kaur said her brother had already spent 24 years in jail and questioned Bittu on opposing the move.

"My brother has always raised voice against atrocities of Congress leaders during the anti-Sikh riots. We thank the Union government for having some sympathy for us," she said.

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