Iqbal Singh Lalpura Of Bhindranwale Arrest Fame Is Sikh Face In BJP Top Body

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Iqbal Lalpura had to resign as minorities panel chief to contest polls, but was reappointed after loss.

Chandigarh/New Delhi:

Iqbal Singh Lalpura, the Sikh face included in BJP’s top decision-making panel, at present chairs the National Commission for Minorities; but it’s his work as a police officer in Punjab — particularly an incident from more than 40 years ago — that stands out in his legacy so far. 

In 1981, Mr Lalpura was one of three officers who arrested militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, in a case related to a clash between some Sikhs and Nirankari sect members.

Bhindranwale had agreed to the arrest on the condition that only baptised Sikhs would take him. Mr Lalpura was one of two cops on the team, the other being Jarnail Singh Chahal, besides a sub-divisional magistrate, BS Bhullar.

As an officer from the elite Indian Police Service (IPS), Mr Lalpura went on to hold key posts in the border districts of Amritsar during the militancy period in Punjab right up to 1990s. He retired in 2012 and joined the BJP.

He hasn’t fared well in elections, though, which makes him an interesting choice as the Hindutva-driven BJP seeks to expand on its own in Sikh-majority Punjab. He lost from his native area, Rupnagar, when the Aam Aadmi Party roared to power in Punjab earlier this year.

It’s not his individual struggle, though. 

After the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) broke up with it over the farm laws last year, the BJP went from being a junior partner to finding smaller parties to ally with. It got into a pact with former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh after his bitter exit from the Congress. But the challenge to find strong candidates was real.

In that scenario, 68-year-old Lalpura — national minority panel chief and BJP national spokesperson with regular TV apperances — had somewhat of a profile already. Yet, he managed fewer than 8 per cent votes, coming in fourth behind AAP, Congress and the Akali Dal. That was still higher, though, than the BJP’s pan-Punjab share of 6.6 per cent.

BJP leaders have said they know the party anyway needs a fresh start in Punjab. It has been gathering leaders, including former Congress and Akali MLAs, Sikhs in particular, since immediately after the state elections. 

The Congress remains in disarray as the voter, bent on trying out something new, didn’t think much of its last-minute gambit of replacing the chief minister. The Akalis, too, are reeling from their second consecutive defeat.

But the BJP still lacks a prominent, pan-Punjab Sikh face.

From among Hindu communities, it acquired former Congress leader Sunil Jakhar just after the elections. But Sikhs are more than 62 per cent of the state, and that’s where the BJP lags.

The prominence to Mr Lalpura, who has written over a dozen books around Sikhism and Punjabi culture, thus comes amid a persistent political churn in Punjab.  

The BJP once had ex-cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was done playing second fiddle in the alliance with the Akalis. He has had quite a ride with the Congress since, and is now serving one-year jail over an old case of assault leading to death.

Former Akali leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa is also with the BJP now, but he’s from Delhi. 

But Mr Lalpura isn’t necessary a straight line on a complicated map. He may not be the first choice for a section of Sikhs, given his history as a much-feted cop during the militancy period. Latter part of this period was marked by police encounters. He can, however, claim religio-literary credentials.

For now, he is one of six new faces on the BJP Parliamentary Board. There’s an “emphasis on diversity”, said sources in the party,  underlining Mr Lalpura being a Sikh and Punjabi. 

He had to mandatorily resign as minorities panel chief to contest the polls, but was reappointed after his poll loss, in April. 

How prominent he is for the BJP on the ground in Punjab may well be seen in a week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Mohali for a function.

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