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NIA casts net wide: A writer, journalists, traders and activists

Among those summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a case of alleged terror funding by the pro-Khalistan organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) are farmers, shopkeepers, activists, and journalists from Punjab and Haryana.

The NIA, which is investigating multiple cases against SFJ, registered a fresh case against the proscribed organisation on December 15, 2020. The FIR said SFJ was sending foreign funds through NGOs to “pro-Khalistani” elements for “on-ground campaign and propaganda against Government of India”.

All those summoned by the NIA in the case are united by their association, in some way or the other, with the farmers’ protest against the three farm laws at the borders of Delhi. The agency questioned five people on Monday, officials said.

Among those who have received notices from the NIA is Jasbir Singh Rode, a former Akal Takht Jathedar and nephew of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Rode, who says he is affiliated to the International Panthak Dal and Kisan Bachao Morcha, has been protesting at Singhu since December 2.

Some of the others who have received summons from the NIA are:

# Balwinder Pal Singh is a writer from Jalandhar who writes on Sikh and Dalit issues. “I got Covid-19 in October and I am yet to recover fully. I have been continuously writting on the farm agitation and against government policies regarding farmers, labourers, Sikhs and Dalits. I have sent a medical certificate and requested NIA to postpone my hearing till I recover,” Balwinder Pal Singh said.

# Jasveer Singh of Muktsar and Tajinder Singh of Amritsar are journalists with television channels K TV and Akal Channel respectively. Monu Singh of Ludhiana is a video editor with K TV. Jasveer and Tajinder said they believed they had been summoned for their reports on the farmers’ agitation. “They want to silence the media that is not peddling government news to defame farm agitations,” Tajinder said. Jasveer said Monu and he had requested that their appearance should be delayed.

# Winner Singh, a freelance journalist from Ambala, was recently questioned in connection with the receipt of Rs 6 lakh from Sikh Channel, a TV channel that broadcasts in the UK and Canada.

# Gurcharan Singh, 65, is associated with the Sikh militant Jagtar Singh Hawara. “I have given money to some families who lost their loved ones due to the farm agitation. Maybe the government wants to know the source of my funds,” he said.

# Nobeljit Singh (37) and Karnail Singh (55) from Hoshiarpur belong to the Sikh organisation Awaz-e-Kaum. “We have been supporting these protests from day one. We participated in the blockade of the toll plaza in Hoshiarpur and organising langar for the protesters,” Nobeljit, who has a cloth shop, said. Karnail said: “We are not afraid of these summons, we will continue to protest against the farm laws.”

# Three committee members of Sikh Youth Power of Punjab (SYPOP), Palwinder Singh, Parmjit Singh Akali, and Pardeep Singh have received summons; Palwinder Singh appeared before the NIA on Monday. “Farmer unions say we don’t need to appear, but we will appear before the NIA as we have nothing to hide. Our motive is to empower Sikh youth. We have no relationship with SFJ,” Parmjit Singh Akali said. The SYPOP is running a langar at Singhu border.

# Ranjit Singh Damdami Taksal calls himself a Khalistani activist, but said he has nothing to do with SFJ. “I had distribution turbans at the farmer protests. I have bills… I am active as a Khalistani activist since 2012 and I have never used any undemocratic means or violence. I became part of the farmers’ protest because everyone in Punjab is associated with this issue,” he said.

# Gurpreet Singh Mintu Malwa from Ludhiana runs an NGO called Manukhta Di Seva (Service of Humanity), which has organised a langar at Singhu. “The government is trying to cow us down,” he said.

# Surender Singh Thikriwala, a Sikh activist, has been camping at Singhu and distributing water, biscuits, and T-shirts with pictures of Bhindranwale to protesters. “The NIA wants to threaten us. I will follow the instructions of the farmer unions on the NIA notices. I did not appear on the date I was given,” he said.

# Jang Singh is an activist who works for Sikh prisoners who he says remain in prison despite having completed their sentences. “I am also active in the farmers’ agitation. The government is sending us these notices because it wants to prove that Khalistanis are behind this agitation,” he said.

# Rishamjit Gabha and Naresh, two businessmen from Ludhiana who are said to be partners in Nankana Bus Company, have received summons.

Home Ministry sources said all those who have been summoned have recently received funds from abroad from sources that appear dubious. “At this moment none of those who are being summoned are accused or suspects. But if they are in receipt of foreign funds, the agency has all the right to ask what these funds are meant for,” a Ministry official said.

Sources said the NIA is also looking at open funding platforms such as Gofundme where, they claimed, more than $ 1 lakh has been collected in the name of farmers’ protests.

“We have no quarrel with funds being collected to support farmers’ protests. But there is suspicion that some of these funds collected in the name of farmers has been diverted by certain vested interests to fund secessionist activities of the SFJ. That part needs investigation,” the official said.

MHA sources said the investigation was ordered in the wake of protests organised recently by SFJ and other such entities in front of Indian missions abroad. During the course of investigations certain financial trails have been found which are being probed.

“The foreign countries where protests have happened have not acted against these outfits and so NIA, which has foreign jurisdiction, has been given the probe. The probe has found funds coming from the US, UK, and Canada to several people in Punjab. Some of these are from known SFJ entities. Not everything is going to the farmers’ protests. There are other activities such as propaganda or other subversive activities,” the official said.

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