Little less than a month after handing down a shock defeat to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypolls, hardliner Simranjit Singh Mann is back with his vitriolic statements that have set the political landscape of the state on fire.

Post his Sangrur win, he invoked terrorist Jarnail Singh Bindranwale as a “leader who worked for the Sikh community”.

Now, the 77-year-old politician has termed freedom fighter Bhagat Singh a “terrorist”, stirring up strong reactions in Punjab.

During his interaction with the media in Karnal, Mann, when asked about his earlier statement calling Bhagat Singh a “terrorist”, said, “Bhagat Singh had killed a young, English naval officer, he had killed an Amritdhari Sikh constable, Channan Singh. He hurled a bomb at the National Assembly at the time. Now you tell me whether Bhagat Singh was a terrorist or not?”

The statement has generated widespread condemnation, but the most strident of reactions have come from the AAP that ceded its bastion Sangrur to the IPS-officer-turned Khalistan-sympathising politician. In the past 48 hours, the party has unleashed two of its frontline leaders Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer and Malvinder Kang to take Simranjit Singh Mann head-on over his statement.

Hayer, while flaying Mann’s remarks, claimed that Bhagat Singh will be declared a martyr for his great sacrifice for the cause of the country’s freedom. On Sunday, Kang went a step ahead, stating the Sangrur MP was trying to cover up the “hurtful” act of his grandfather.

Quoting some historical reports, Kang said Mann’s maternal grandfather Arur Singh, then sarbarah (in-charge) of the Golden Temple, honoured General Reginald Dyer with a “siropa” at Akal Takht after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919.

Ironically, the Sangrur MP has defended his grandfather. He told the Tribune that his grandfather honoured General Dyer to pacify his anger as the British wanted to conduct aerial bombing in Amritsar. “He did it to save the Golden Temple from bombing on the advice of then principal of Khalsa College GA Wathen,” he told the newspaper.

The AAP has trashed these claims. Kang said that Mann was justifying the act of his grandfather with dubious claims. “Arur Singh faced a revolt from Sikhs of Punjab as he was seen as a pro-British Sikh, after the ceremony at the Golden Temple. Mann should not attempt to whitewash his family’s dubious past and should instead apologise for hurting the sentiments of the people. Because Punjabis know the truth and cannot be misled,” fumed Kang.

Even historical facts seem against Mann on this. In his book ‘The Akali Movement’, Prof Mohinder Singh has put forward the conversation between Arur Singh and General Dyer in detail.

“While the country was busy condemning the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and was engulfed in a wave of shock, horror and consternation, Arur Singh invited General Dyer to the Golden Temple and honoured him with a ‘siropa’, declaring him a ‘Sikh’,” Prof Singh wrote.

Observers say that after Mann’s shock win, there has been an attempt by hardliners like the MP to project Bhagat Singh in poor light and glorify terrorists like Bhindranwale for consolidating political gains accrued from a section of hardline supporters in the Malwa region.

“There is no bigger hero than Bhagat Singh. All these attempts will fail eventually,” commented a politician from Malwa.

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