NEW DELHI, May 2: Who was Sarabjit Singh? The question remained as important after his death in a Lahore hospital on Thursday as it should have been in 1991 when the mysterious man arrested in Kasur was handed the death sentence for a string of terror attacks, which he carried out as an alleged Indian spy.
As the news of his death travelled in India, rage, accusation and threats followed. There was grief too, as Congress scion Rahul Gandhi broke down consoling the uncontrollably sobbing sister. There was shock and disbelief too. The sister began to deliver a political speech, calling for a united India to deal squarely with Pakistan. She accused Pakistani activist Ansar Burney, the man who had been helping the family all along to keep Sarabjit’s hopes of being freed alive, of quietly demanding money to facilitate Sarabjit’s freedom.
The Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh, true to form, told the government to recall the Indian envoy from Islamabad. Television channels demanded tough action, but stopped short of declaring war.
The question about Sarabjit’s identity was partly answered late on Thursday as a special Air India plane flew his battered body from Lahore to Amritsar. After a second postmortem, by Indian doctors this time, he would be handed over to the family for a state funeral on Friday in his Punjab village. A three-day mourning will see the national flag at half-mast in the state.
If the 50-year old Sarabjit Singh was an innocent tippler who carelessly strayed across the border into Pakistan, as claimed by his family, why would he be given a state funeral in India? If he was a spy who died for his country, as Pakistan’s law courts found him to be, why did no Indian leader take up the issue of his release vigorously from 1991 when Sarabjit was given the sentence. And why did Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not clinch the issue during the famed bonhomie in Lahore in February 1999?
In a more pragmatic mode, the Punjab government announced a financial assistance of Rs10 million for the family of Sarabjit Singh and declared a three-day state mourning. Flags will fly half-mast on all government buildings and there will be no official ceremonial functions during this period, an official spokesman said.
Sarabjit Singh was the second Indian prisoner to die in Pakistan’s Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore this year.
“Particularly regrettable that the Govt of Pakistan did not heed the pleas.... to take a humanitarian view of this case,” tweeted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after Sarabjit Singh’s death.
“May his soul be granted the peace that he could not enjoy in life. The nation shares his family’s profound grief with them,” said another tweet. In a separate statement Prime Minister Singh demanded punishment of criminals involved in the assault.