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October 26, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Simranjit Singh Mann

'Corruption under his regime has reached the zenith'

Former Indian Police Service officer Simranjit Singh Mann is back in news.

This Lok Sabha election, he defeated former minister for chemicals and fertilizers Surjit Singh Barnala by a huge margin to re-enter Parliament for the second time from Punjab. Mann had wasted his last term because he, as a Sikh, insisted on carrying his kirpan [sword] inside the House. Since security regulations did not permit arms, Mann preferred to stay out.

This time, however, Mann has decided not to make it an issue. He took his oath like any other member. "But this does not mean that I have given up. I intend to write a letter to the speaker of the Lok Sabha and would also take it up with the Supreme Court of India because carrying a kirpan is the constitutional right of the Sikhs," said Mann.

He labelled Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal the most corrupt CM the state has ever had. "Corruption under his regime has reached the zenith," Mann told Onkar Singh in an interview:

Last time when you were elected from Tarn Taran you insisted on carrying the kirpan inside Parliament. This time you did not insist on it. Does it mean that you have given it up?

The fact is that carrying kirpan is a right of the Sikhs and this right has been given to us by Article 25 of the Constitution. Under this article we can wear the kirpan and carry it with us wherever we go. This right we got in 1950. Though Gandhi and Nehru had made us big promises, I wanted to enforce this right and practice it. But unfortunately, the forces of bigotry of the majority community did not allow me to exercise my constitutional right.

This time because my Akali colleagues Prakash Singh Badal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and others had told the people time and again that I did not enter Parliament because of my insistence on carrying kirpan, I decided not to press for it. But this does not mean that I have given up my right. I intend to write a letter to Speaker of Lok Sabha Balayogi and draw his attention on our constitutional right. I would also be taking up this matter in the Supreme Court of India. Former Supreme Court justice Kuldeep Singh is going to be my advocate.

When will you take this matter to the Supreme Court?

I am ready to go to court any day. I have to consult my colleagues on this matter. I had discussed this matter with jathedar of the Akal Takhat Bhai Ranjit Singh and he told me that I could deposit the kirpan with the security staff and take it back when I came out of the House.

Didn't you miss the opportunity to raise the issue before the House by not going inside?

Of course I missed the opportunity, but this was an important issue as well. I was not allowed to exercise my constitutional right. Though one American president and one candidate for American presidency were gunned down, yet the people of America have not lost their right to carry weapons. The only difference is that they have tightened the security of the American president. They have not taken away the right to carry weapons from the Americans. I am convinced that the Sikhs should be allowed to exercise their constitutional right and I should be allowed to carry kirpan inside the House.

When you announced your intention to contest against Surjit Singh Barnala from Sangrur, nobody thought you had any chance. Yet you managed to defeat him by a big margin. How?

I have been nursing my constituency for a long time now and I have done a lot of work against human rights abuse in Punjab. I have raised my voice wherever human rights have been violated. People gave me the mandate because they felt that I would do justice to them in Parliament and raise their voice in the august house.

When Badal came to power in the state he got a massive mandate. But why did he get washed out so much so that his own son lost in Faridkot?

When Badal came to power three years ago, the expectations were high. The people of Punjab expected him to do something about the victims of 1984 riots, the boys who have been languishing in jails without trail. For 15 years these under-trails have been in jail without even a sign of trial.

Then he has done precious little for the farmers. Dalits have been totally neglected. You have heard of people committing suicide in Kalahandi but soon you will hear dalits committing suicide in Punjab because they have no money to buy food. Famine in Punjab is unheard off but this time it will hit the dalits in particular. He has forgotten all about the Punjab Accord, our river water dispute with Haryana and Rajasthan. He has been busy siphoning off money and filling his pockets. Corruption has reached the zenith in his tenure.

Do you think he will come back to power again?

No way. Next time he would be defeated comprehensively. Though he diverted most of the development funds to his son's constituency Faridkot, yet Sukhbir Singh Badal lost the election to the Congress nominee Jagmit Singh Brar.

You have been advocating clemency for the Rajiv Gandhi assassins. Why?

Our party, Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), has moved a petition before the President of India and we have requested him to convert the death penalty into life imprisonment as we do feel that if the sentence is carried then the sentiments of the Tamils would be hurt. After the hanging of Maqbool Bhat, things have never been the same in Jammu and Kashmir. Even in the case of Punjab things would never be the same after Operation Bluestar.

Badal says that you have a hidden agenda of Khalistan.

Badal can say what he wants. I have nothing to say on this matter. I have no hidden agenda like the BJP. Imagine a government at the Centre without a Sikh in the Cabinet and a Muslim minister with an independent charge of a particular ministry.

Have you given up your agenda about Khalistan?

This is a big issue and I would [need to] discuss it with my other colleagues.

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