In what has put the Punjab Congress in a tight spot barely a month before the assembly elections, the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday granted anticipatory bail to senior Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia booked in a drugs case.
An MLA and former minister in the Akali government, Majithia was apprehending arrest after a case under the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) was registered at Mohali on December 20. He moved the high court after a Mohali court dismissed his anticipatory bail petition. Majithia was represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and RS Cheema with counsel DS Sobti and Arshdeep Singh Cheema.
During the course of hearing, the counsels told the court that the registration of the present FIR was vitiated by political and ulterior motives. The counsels argued that the petitioner had no criminal record and was a “mainstream politician” and undertook to join the investigation, fully cooperate with the investigating agency and abide by any conditions imposed by the court.
The anticipatory bail could have led to legal as well as political ramifications for the Channi government. The registration of FIR, according to government insiders, was being seen as direct fallout of the pressure being built by PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu to act on old drug cases against the Akali leader.
Not just the Shiromani Akali Dal, former chief minister Capt Amarinder had also flayed the government for the move, claiming it won’t stand “legal scrutiny”. The SAD had termed it a “political witch-hunt”. After the anticipatory bail verdict Akali Dal leader, Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted: “Justice Prevails.”
Far from setting aside a controversy, the registration of the FIR further created differences in the Punjab Congress. Sidhu had publicly expressed his annoyance over the delays in arresting Majithia and some of his aides have called it “deliberate”. The Punjab government has rejected the allegations.
The development could also give an opportunity to former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh to score political points. It was Capt Amarinder who was under attack from Sidhu and his aides for not arresting Majithia in the case. He had taken a line that the case against Majithia would not stand legal scrutiny when the FIR was lodged.
Analysts believe with the election campaign expected to heat up in the coming days, the issue could put the Congress on the back foot, with not just the Akalis but former Congress CM Capt Amarinder taking potshots at the government.