The militant who never was: Behind ‘terror’ charge thrown at AAP

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In the last leg of the Punjab election campaign, the Congress is harking back to a 2017 night stay by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal at the house of one Gurinder Singh in Moga. On Thursday, Rahul Gandhi repeated the claim that AAP leaders can be seen at “terrorist homes”. BJP and ally Amarinder Singh have also been talking of “separatist” elements returning should AAP win, while Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has accused AAP of “embracing radicals”.

So who is Gurinder Singh?

The man, the allegations

A citizen of England who spends most of his time there, Gurinder owns a house in his native Ghal Kalan village Moga, which he gives out on lease. When Kejriwal stayed at the house in 2017, Gurinder was not there.

The latter’s name had come up over a bomb attack near a temple in Baghapurana of Moga district in 1997. Gurinder was accused of being part of a module of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), which carried out the blast. However, the court had acquitted Gurinder of the charges.

In 2008, he was booked for hurting religious sentiments, but again cleared by the court.

The controversy

During the 2017 Assembly elections, when AAP made its debut in Punjab, Kejriwal travelled extensively across the state, staying at houses of supporters or at accommodations organised by them.

On January 29, days to go for the elections, Kejriwal stayed at Gurinder’s house. Two days later, there were twin blasts at Maur Mandi of Bathinda district, killing seven. Initially, as police talked of a Khalistani hand, the Congress and Akali Dal quickly seized on this, linking the blast to Kejriwal’s visit to Gurinder’s house and talking of Gurinder’s terror charges.

Analysts believe the controversy had an effect on AAP’s prospects, with the Congress surging ahead on voting day on February 4. Rivals also talked about how AAP was never vocal on seeking the arrest of the culprits behind the Maur bomb blast. The gainer in the confusion over AAP’s role was the Congress.

Police investigation later found there was no Khalistani link to the Maur blast. A probe into Dera Sacha Sauda’s role is still on.

AAP’s defence

While it has not reacted to Rahul’s charge this time, AAP’s Punjab affairs in-charge in 2017 Sanjay Singh had slammed the party’s rivals. “Following protocols, the schedule of Delhi CM Kejriwal, including his night stay, was sent to the Punjab Police and intelligence beforehand, and it was the duty of police to inform us if there was anything objectionable,” he had said.

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Sanjay Singh had also claimed that a local station house officer and joint commissioner level officer had been staying in the house on lease. “Are they also terrorists?”

Police had clarified at the time that Gurinder had been acquitted by courts.

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