A PURPORTED photograph of Nihang sect head Baba Aman Singh with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar triggered a controversy on Tuesday, with the Sikh religious leader alleging that the Centre offered money to the Nihangs to leave the farmers’ protest site at Singhu.
The photograph — which includes former Punjab Police officer Gurmeet Singh Pinky, who was dismissed from service and convicted in a murder case, and BJP leader Harwinder Garewal — is believed to be from a meeting about two months back.
A member of Aman Singh’s sect is the prime accused in the Singhu lynching of a Dalit Sikh. Aman Singh had justified the killing in his remarks after the incident.
“I was offered Rs 10 lakh for leaving the farmers’ protest site; Rs 1 lakh was offered to my organisation also. But we can’t be bought,” Aman Singh alleged on Tuesday. He said the Nihang organisations would take a call on October 27, on whether to stay in Singhu or not.
The Agriculture Ministry did not respond to questions on the matter.
When contacted, Gurmeet Singh said: “It is true that I know Baba Aman, and we went to the minister’s house in August. But the purpose of visit was different. I went for some personal work. The Nihang sect head was talking about farm Bills. But there was no offer of money made to him in front of me. I don’t know what happened between him and Tomar.”
Tomar has been meeting farmer protest leaders to negotiate a solution to the deadlock over the farm laws.
Meanwhile, Punjab Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa on Tuesday said that purported photograph of Tomar with the Nihang leader had raised “suspicion in the minds of people”.
Without mentioning any name, Randhawa claimed that the same Nihang leader was “defending” the main accused in the killing. The Nihang group had accused the victim of desecrating a Sikh holy book.
“In view of the recent disclosures about one of the Nihang leaders having already been in touch with the Government of India, Minister for Agriculture N S Tomar in particular, the lynching incident has now taken an entirely different turn,” Randhawa said in a statement.
“There appeared to be a deep-rooted conspiracy to defame the farmers’ stir,” the minister claimed.
He said Lakhbir Singh, the Dalit victim who belonged to Cheema Kalan village in Tarn Taran district, was very poor. “We need to find out who lured him to the Singhu border and who paid for his travel as he could not even afford his meals,” the Punjab minister said.
The deputy CM said he has instructed the local administration to find out under what circumstances the man was taken from his home to the Singhu border.
“In view of the recent photographic evidence available, the Nihang leader will also need to explain in what capacity he had met Union Agriculture Minister N S Tomar and whether he was mandated to do so by the farmers’ organisations spearheading the campaign against the three black farm laws.”
Given the importance of the place where the “Nihang leader” was camping, “it was mandatory on his part to keep the farmers’ unions informed and updated about his meetings with the Union minister”, Randhawa said.
“This has raised genuine doubts and suspicion among the minds of people and these need to be cleared,” he added.
The minister said the Punjab government will do everything to get to the root of the “conspiracy” and expose and punish the culprits.
Former state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar alleged that there could be a role of the “agencies” in the murder at the Singhu border. But he did not elaborate on this.
“There is certainly something more than what meets the eye,” he said in a statement.
“The BJP has long been trying to tarnish the secular farmers’ struggle as a Sikh movement to term protesting Sikhs as militants,” Jakhar alleged, adding that the Punjabis are the country’s sword arm.
He demanded a thorough investigation into events leading to the death.
Lakhbir Singh was brutally killed last week and his body strung to a barricade at the farmers’ protest site with a hand chopped off and multiple wounds caused by sharp-edged weapons. Sarabjit Singh, who was among the Nihangs arrested for the murder, claimed that he had “punished” the man for “desecrating” a Sikh holy book.