CHANDIGARH, India: The Prime Minister’s statement praising the roll of Jain Muni Sushil Kumar in finding a nonviolent solution to the Punjab problem within the framework of the Constitution is being interpreted in the political circles as a serious move to initiate negotiations with Damdami Taksal and militants. The great significance is being attached, according to the Tribune, to Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s written statement issued at Delhi. It was obviously in response to Jain Muni’s plea to remove genuine grievances of those who had taken to the path of violence and to release four Head Priests detained for their close links with the freedom fighters.

Political observers are divided on Centre’s plan, one view is that having realized the folly of treating. Punjab as a law and order problem, Rajiv Gandhi has asked Jain Muni to once again resume the roll of mediator to bring around the freedom fighters who are calling the shots in Punjab. The only difference is that instead of talking to the former Acting Jathedar of Akal Takht, Darshan Singh, as he did in his first attempt, Jain Muni is to negotiate directly with the Damdami Taksal. It is significant that Muni wants the government to release the Priests led by Bhai Jasbir Singh Rhode, nephew of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who belong to the Taksal and can play any useful role in arriving at a settlement with the freedom fighters. Darshan Singh no longer enjoys the confidence of the Taksal and cannot play any useful role in arriving at a settlement with the freedom fighters. The Jain Muni, it may be recalled, had hammered out an agreement with the freedom fighters and now had gone to Delhi in high spirits, but something went wrong somewhere and the plan was dropped. In exasperation, Muni withdrew himself from the scene and went abroad. The thread was later picked up by Tirlochan Singh Riyasti, a former minister who was waylaid and killed a few weeks ago. He was said to be holding sensitive negotiations and was trying to establish contacts with the freedom fighters when he was eliminated. Muni was unwilling to resume the roll of a mediator, He wanted the government to vindicate his position. Hence the Prime Minister’s statement commending his work. Another view is that the move is yet another gimmick of the Centre to hood winked the public opinion. The Center has been resorting to such gimmicks too often to inspire any confidence, it is pointed out. The purpose of the move according to this view is to give the impression that the Center is tired of the situation and is doing all it (SEE EDITORIAL) can to solve the tangle. The aim is to blunt the opposition criticism of the government in handling the Punjab problem during the fourth ‘coming session of Parliament, Yet another line of thinking is that move is the measure of Center’s desperation with Mr. Parkash Singh Badal who has adopted a tough line and has persistently spurned discreet moves on the part of the government to arrive at a settlement. The Center’s real objective according to this point of view is to sound a warning to Mr. Parkash Singh Badal to behave. Notwithstanding public stand, there can be no negotiations till violence is curbed; the Governor is believed to be keen for an early settlement. According to a newspaper report three pro militants. Jathedars were removed from Pathankot jail to Delhi while Mr. Jasbir Singh Rhode was brought from Madhaya Pardesh to Delhi jail.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 19, 1988