New Delhi: Farmer leaders have called the summons served by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to farmer leaders, journalists covering ongoing peasants’ protest and those who are providing logistic support, “highly objectionable” and “brazen misuse of power” against the democratic rights of people. They demanded that the evidence to support the allegation of presence of “secessionist elements” in the ongoing struggle be brought to public notice and legally proceeded against.
The central probing agency has summoned Baldev Singh Sirsa, the president of Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society, which is among the 40 farmer unions engaged in talks with the government over the new agricultural laws, in connection with a case registered against Gurpatwant Singh Pannu who is associated with ‘Sikhs for Justice’ (SFJ) — an outfit outlawed in India and based in the United States.
The SFJ leader was booked by the NIA on December 15 last year under stringent sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly hatching conspiracy to create an “atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion against the Government of India.”
Several others (around 40 people) have also been called for questioning as witnesses under Section 160 of CrPC. They include 12 scribes, actor Deep Sandhu, Khalsa Aid India head and transporters who have given vehicles for free to help the agitation.
Though neither Sirsa or Sandhu turned up for questioning at the NIA headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday, the former alleged farmers and their sympathisers are being served the notices with the aim to “scare” them and “scuttle” the protest.
“After the government failed to derail the agitation through the Supreme Court and we rejected to speak to the SC-appointed committee, they are now using the NIA,” Sirsa said, adding that “on one hand, the government is inviting us to the negotiation table and on the other, it is leaving no stone unturned to discredit our protest.”
“We had raised the issue of NIA notices during our last talks with Union ministers who had expressed their ignorance with regard to the development. When the matter was brought to light, they tried to misguide us by saying it would have been done by Haryana or Punjab governments, but after we told them the notices have been served by the NIA, which is a federal agency, they told us they will let us know about it in the next round of meeting,” he said.
The notices have been sent on WhatsApp to the people after Attorney General K K Venugopal on January 12 told the top court that the government has “been informed there is a Khalistani infiltration” of the ongoing farmers’ protests on the outskirts of the national capital.
“If the government thinks that it will terrify us with these summons, it is mistaken. We are not at all scared. We will see what happens next. I am 80 year old and have been fighting for farmer causes for a long time. So, such notices are not going to affect me. I will not fall in line. I have already informed the agency that it’s not possible for me to appear before it on such a short notice as I am right now in Punjab for the marriage ceremony of my grand daughter,” said Sirsa.
Attack on Press Freedom?
Baltej Pannu, a freelance TV journalist, said serving NIA notices to journalists is an attack on press freedom.
“Calling those who are providing logistics to the protest for questioning is understandable, but journalists are no stakeholders. Our only fault is we are reporting different aspects of the protest. And it is our professional duty, which is now under attack,”Pannu said. “The government perhaps does not want honest reporting of what is happening on Delhi borders,” he alleged.
He said he has no association with farmer organisations, which are protesting.
“I am not directly or indirectly associated with farmer unions. Neither I have provided any financial help to them. I am also not assisting them in preparing their press statements. I am only discharging my professional responsibility, which is the reporting that I have been doing from different protest sites,” Pannu added.
The journalist claimed he has been extremely vocal against the outlawed outfit, the SFJ, which is being alleged to have infiltrated the protest. “I am known for reporting and speaking against the outfit. If I am being associated with it or called a Khalistani, then who will dare to speak against such forces?” he asked.
When told neither he nor anyone has been called as an accused to cooperate with the investigation, he said, “I know about the outfit as any other person belonging to Punjab. Even if the agency wants to know if I have any further information, this is certainly not the way. Even the Supreme Court did not pass any such order after the submission with regard to the same was made. But the NIA is calling me separately. Is it above the top court of the country? Isn’t it highhandedness?” he asked.
Asked if he is scared and will continue to report as before, Pannu said he is not frightened as such but but he indeed sees the summon as a “mental torture”. “I will continue to report as before. I am also ready to cooperate with the agency. At present, I am not going to attend the questioning because I am away. I will follow the advice of my lawyer,” he said.
Tajinder Singh, who is associated with Akaal Channel, is also among the scribes who have received the summon. “I have informed the investigators that I cannot attend the inquiry on January 18 as per the notice because of some family issues at home. I got the notice on Saturday (January 16), today is Sunday (January 17). Tomorrow, I was asked to appear. I am in contact with my lawyer. Whatever he suggests, I will do accordingly. I am not scared because I have not done anything wrong,” he said.
Singh too views this an attack on press freedom. “The government wants us to report as it wants. But it is not possible because we are not compromised journalists like Godi media. I am covering everything from farmers’ protest to government reactions. We are not taking sides. The notice is aimed at making us fall in line and that is not possible,” he added.
He presented a “chronology” of events saying, “The protesters laid a siege at Delhi’s five entry points. After the government failed to evict protesters, an allegation with regard to the presence of anti-national forces in the agitation was leveled. An FIR was registered on December 15. After a lawyer submitted in the Supreme Court that Khalistanis have infiltrated in the protest, the Attorney General said he will submit an affidavit in this regard on Monday (January 18). And then, the NIA started serving the notices,”
NIA SEES ANTI-INDIA PLOT
An FIR was filed by the NIA based on a written complaint by Rajeev Kumar, under secretary with the Ministry of Home Affairs, under sections 120B, 124A, 153A and 153B of the IPC and sections 13, 17, 18, 18B and 20 of the UAPA.
The FIR against US-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, UK-based Paramjit Singh Pamma, Canada-based Hardeep Singh Najjar and others states that huge funds are being collected for on-ground campaigns and propaganda against the Union government, including staging demonstrations outside Indian missions overseas, including the USA, UK, Canada and Germany.
“‘Sikhs For Justice’, an ‘Unlawful Association’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and other Khalistani terrorist outfits including but not limited to Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Tiger Force and Khalistan Zindabad Forcealong with their frontal organisations, have entered into a conspiracy to create an atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion against the Government of India,” the FIR states.
“In furtherance of above conspiracy, huge funds are being collected abroad for on-ground campaign and propaganda against Government of India including staging demonstrations outside Indian missions in countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and so forth. These campaigns are being spearheaded by designated terrorists Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Paramjit Singh Pamma, Hardeep Singh Nijjar and others.
“It has also been learnt that large amounts of funds so collected are being sent through Non-Governmental Organisations to pro-Khalistani elements based in India, to undertake terrorist acts and to strike terror in the people of India. SFJ leadership has planned large scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property and also disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community of India.
“SFJ and other pro-Khalistani elements involved in this conspiracy, through their incessant social media campaign and otherwise, are radicalising and recruiting impressionable youth to agitate and undertake terrorist acts for creation of separate nation of Khalistan after secession from Indian territory,” states the FIR.
‘NIA NOTICES ARE ABUSE OF POWER’
Condemning and protesting against the action, the All India Kisan Sabha asked the government to bring to public notice and legally proceed against evidence of secessionist elements if it has any. The AIKS is the farmers wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and is also among the unions holding protests demanding repeal of the three farm laws.
AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah said, “We strongly protest against the NIA sending notice and summons to various farmers’ leaders, including Baldev Singh Sirsa, who is a member of the delegation attending discussions with the Modi government, under various sections of the IPC and UAPA. We have clearly stated that they have nothing to do with any banned organisations.”
“The way the NIA is sending notices to farmer leaders and those supporting the struggle is highly objectionable and brazen misuse of power against the democratic rights of people to protest,” he said, adding that, “if the government has evidence of secessionist elements then it should be brought to the public notice and legally proceeded against. Without doing that, government sending notices to farmers’ leaders and misguiding the Supreme Court is not acceptable. It needs to be condemned by all, including the political parties.”
“The Modi government trying to paint the farmers’ struggle as aided by Khalistani forces is an anti-national move affecting national unity. It is the most reckless, communal behavior of RSS and BJP leadership that will only help the anti-national forces in a sensitive state like Punjab,” he added.
Dr Darshan Pal, president of the Krantikari Kisan Union, said while addressing a press conference on Sunday that Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 agitating farmer unions, will fight the “harassment” on the road as well as in a court of law if needed.
“The action of the NIA is nothing but a tactic to frighten farmer leaders and theur sympathisers so that they disassociate themselves from the historic agitation. But it is not going to happen,” Pal asserted.