unjab is witness to a contradiction: Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar on death row is no longer a Khalistani icon but has the support of a section of the people of Punjab for his mercy plea on humanitarian grounds. However, the Punjab government would like to have the Central government and people of the nation believe that the state's peace will be disturbed if the 1991 Delhi blast convict is hanged.
But Bhullar has sympathy as he is no more claiming commitment to the violent Khalistani ideology; his own demand of justice of disappearance of his father and uncle is not yet met and he is mentally unfit to be hanged.
Unlike former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh's assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana, who did not contest his execution order in court challenging the Indian state, Bhullar has made several pleas for mercy and justice on technical grounds.
The support for Bhullar can be sampled from the two-day fair in his village Dialpura Bhaika of Bathinda district. While the village panchayat issued a fiat not to go ahead with the annual fair, a section of the 2,000-strong village went ahead and held the fair just a day after the Supreme Court confirmed Bhullar's hanging. Those in favour of the fair even called a singer for the programme, but the police intervened and did not allow celebrations to be held to maintain peace in the village.
Another measure of support for Bhullar is that hardline groups could gather only around 1,000 people to give a petition in Delhi for mercy to Bhullar.
The Bhullar issue has divided both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP coalition and the Congress.
While the BJP supports the hanging, the Akalis are opposed. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh of the Congress is against the hanging, but the "official" Congress, led by Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Partap Singh Bajwa is trying to maintain an ambivalent position. The Bajwa-led group is not revealing its position but bringing out the details of an affidavit by the Punjab government in 2009 terming Bhullar as a "terrorist" to save DGP Sumedh Singh Saini. The Congress spokesman Sukhpal Singh Khaira said, "The Akalis are exposed as their position that Bhullar is a terrorist in 2009 while supporting Saini did not serve the cause of mercy, that is now demanded."
An author of a book on Khalistan issue, Jagtar Singh Sidhu said, "There will be no impact on Punjab peace if Bhullar is hanged nor on Parliament elections, but the people still feel he deserves mercy on several counts including the fact that he is not a threat to the Indian state unlike Rajoana."
Sidhu said, "The Badals are only protecting their constituency and not allowing any space to a pro-Panthic (Sikh identity inclined) Amarinder Singh. If they were serious, they would have worked for the claim of justice by Bhullar also who still does not know where his father and uncle disappeared." Badals never set up any commission to inquire into this or similar cases, he said.
This aspect of justice for Bhullar has reflected in online campaigns running from Sikhs abroad who say while the Badals have supported DGP Saini accused of human rights violations, one of the alleged victims of human rights violations of the Saini brand, Bhullar is paying with his life. But even this campaign till yesterday did not have more than 23,000 supporters. Saini is praised by those who wanted terror to end at whatever cost.
Punjab watchers say clemency for Bhullar may be difficult as Afzal Guru was hanged ahead of him, but if a Sikh is spared, a section of Kashmiri Muslims may accuse the Indian state of a bias against them.
They, however, say when the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassins were hanged, Punjab remained shut for a day and was back to normal within a day.