Thursday, August 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

20 hurt as police clashes with Khanna supporters
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Naushehra Pattan (Gurdaspur), August 20
About 20 (60 according to PTI) workers of the SAD-BJP combine, a Senior Superintendent of Police and two constables were injured in a three-hour-long clash between the police and supporters of Union Minister of State for External Affairs Vinod Khanna as the latter tried to “dedicate” the Rs 46-crore bridge over the Beas in this village today.

The village was virtually converted into a cantonment by the police, which prohibited movement of people on both sides of the river falling in Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur districts.

The already surcharged tempers over the police obstacles, virtually erupted when Mr Vinod Khanna reached the spot around at 3 p.m. and asked the supporters to move towards the bridge in a “peaceful” manner so that it could be “dedicated” to the people “of the area and the country”.

As the crowd of supporters moved from here on the Gurdaspur side towards the bridge and tried to cross over the barricade put up by a contingent of the Punjab police, the police officials got panicky. They fired some rounds and targeted tear gas shells towards the approaching crowd, who in turn retaliated with heavy stonepelting, which continued for about three hours. About 10 persons received injuries in the cane-charge and stone-pelting during the high tension drama. The figure of those injured according to BJP leaders was somewhere around 25.

On the other side of the bridge, six persons reportedly received injuries as the Hoshiarpur police allegedly fired some shots and cane-charged the SAD-BJP supporters who made futile attempts to cross the bridge.

Mr Vinod Khanna and the Punjab BJP chief, Mr Brij Lal Rinwa, who dubbed the police action as highly “undemocratic” and “uncalled for particularly as the SAD-BJP workers were moving in a peaceful manner,” said they would take up the matter with the Punjab Governor and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

After sensing the people’s mood, the authorities, however, relented and tried to save the situation in the evening by allowing Mr Khanna and 500 of his supporters to move towards the bridge, which according to Mr Khanna was “dedicated” to the people by him and other BJP leaders.

The Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur police authorities spared no effort in preventing all movement towards the rally venue. At least six nakas were put up between Shalla township and Naushehra Pattan in Gurdaspur district, while the same number of nakas could be seen on a 9-km-long stretch between Mukerian and the bridge on the Hoshiarpur side. No vehicles, not even tractor-trolleys, were allowed to move on a 6-km stretch on both sides. While Hoshiarpur Deputy Commissioner himself checked the identity cards of mediapersons, DSP Maninder Singh performed this job at Shalla in Gurdaspur, where about 100 policemen led by him did not allow people to move towards any village falling on the Naushehra road. This led to a great deal of inconvenience to residents of nearby villages, who had no other alternative but to move on foot to reach their villages.

Criticising the role of the police and government officials, Mr Khanna, Mr Rinwa and former minister Mohan Lal alleged that 50,000 of the SAD-BJP supporters had got stranded as they were stopped by the police at various nakas put by the Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur police authorities.

The situation went out of control when Mr Vinod Khanna reached the venue around 3 pm. Frayed tempers erupted when Mr Khanna, who claimed that the bridge was the outcome of his efforts, urged his supporters to move towards the bridge in a “peaceful” manner.

As the crowd moved towards the police barricades, the police officials, led by the SP, Mr R.K. Jaiswal, and Inspector Gajinder Singh, started lathi-charging them. This provoked Khanna supporters, including women, who retaliated with stone pelting. Mr Jaiswal received head injuries while Mr Makhan Singh, a 70-year-old resident of this village, got seriously injured when he was beaten up mercilessly by the cops. Five more supporters of Mr Khanna received injuries at this point, which forced Mr Khanna and Mr Rinwa to stage a retreat. Mr Rinwa was also hit by a police official. At the same time, police officials who were perched atop police buses, fired some rounds of tear gas shells.

As Mr Khanna returned to the makeshift stage erected here in the wake of the deteriorating situation, his supporters, who were shouting slogans of “Punjab Sarkar Murdabad”, got provoked and asserted that they would proceed towards the bridge at any cost and would make Mr Khanna to inaugurate the bridge. But he repeatedly urged them to remain peaceful.

On the other side, about 60 residents of nearby villages, including Mirthal, were cane-charged after Hoshiarpur police officials fired some shots in the air in their bid to disperse them. Six persons, including Mr Jajj, a resident of Bhassowal, and Sukhwinder Singh of Mukerian and two police constables received injuries in the clash. Mr Tikshan Sood, a former minister, also received injuries. Mr Sood, who was accompanied by Mr Vijay Sampla, the state Vice-President of the BJP, also organised a sit-in at the Mukerian police station to press their demand to register an FIR against the erring police officials.

While talking to The Tribune Mr Khanna said it was a victory of the people of the area. He said he agreed that it was a Punjab government project, but, it was in fact Mr Badal’s project. “Why did the Congress not set up a bridge during the past 50 years even after laying so many stones”.

Interestingly, Mr Khanna’s repeated pleas to the Hoshiarpur SSP to stop police officials from creating terror virtually went unheeded.

He said the project would be inaugurated by the Punjab Chief Minister and what he was going to do was “just to dedicate it to the people in view of their sentiments,” said Mr Khanna before leaving for the bridge for its “dedication ceremony”. Interestingly, his supporters had brought a foundation stone alongwith them which they installed at the bridge.

Badal condemns police action
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 20
The Shiromani Akali Dal President, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, condemned the police action against peaceful Akali-BJP workers in Gurdaspur. The incident was a shocking reminder of Capt Amarinder Singh’s government pursuing a path of bloody confrontation in Punjab.

In a statement issued here, Mr Badal called upon the citizens, intellectuals, political and non-political organisations in the country to raise their voice against the attempts of the Chief Minister to systematically brutalise the Punjab polity. He accused the Chief Minister of suffering from a colonial mindset, saying he was trying to continue with dictatorial ways. He said the Gurdaspur firing was not an isolated incident but was symbolic of the way Capt Amarinder Singh had been trying to run the government.

The Akali leader said the incident was deplorable as it showed the Chief Minister’s contempt for a concerted and joint approach to the issues of development.



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