By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – A Sikh group hoping to serve a federal summons on an Indian head of state while he’s in Wisconsin is doubling its reward for anyone who can deliver the papers to him.
Sikhs for Justice originally offered $10,000 to anyone who serves papers on Parkash Singh Badal, the chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab, when he was expected to be in Milwaukee this weekend. On Friday the human-rights group raised the reward to $20,000.
“This should tell you how serious we are in pursuing and protecting our rights,” said Gurpatwant Pannun, the legal adviser for the New York-based advocacy group.
Sikhs for Justice filed two federal lawsuits in Milwaukee against Badal. The suits allege that he oversaw a police force that terrorized and tortured countless Sikhs, including the lawsuit’s three plaintiffs. The first suit was thrown out in May over conflicting reports about whether the person served with court papers was actually Badal.
The group planned to step up its efforts on Friday, when it believed Badal would be arriving in Milwaukee for a Saturday wedding in nearby Mequon. It hired three agencies of professional servers to deliver the papers, and it also put a copy of the one-page summons online in hopes that regular citizens would also try to serve him to collect the reward.
Their goal is to deliver a court summons, which can be handed to him or even dropped at his feet. Pannun said servers would try to photograph or videotape the process to avoid renewed controversy.
He said his group has sources within the local Sikh community who tell him a pre-wedding ceremony will be held at a wooded Mequon home. The home sits in the center of 25 to 30 acres of private property, so servers couldn’t approach the house without trespassing.
Pannun said he wasn’t concerned. He said Badal, whose position is equivalent to that of a U.S. governor, couldn’t hide out for days because a chief minister would have to return to India promptly. So as soon Badal left private property to go back to the airport servers could do their job, he said.
Pannun acknowledged that Badal might skip the wedding altogether to avoid being served.
“But if somebody is clean they should not be avoiding anything,” Pannun said. “If he does not have any skeletons in his closet he should make a statement openly that none of these allegations being levied against me, none of this is true.”
Harcharan Bains, Parkash Singh Badal’s media adviser, previously declined to confirm to The Associated Press whether his client would be in the U.S. this week.
“We will give a legal response to the summons” if papers are served, Bains said. “The case against Mr. Badal is politically motivated but our response will be strictly in accordance with the law.”
The civil lawsuit lays out allegations by three Sikhs who say they were detained in Punjab for days without charges and subjected to beatings by a police force overseen by Badal and his son, Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. All three plaintiffs now live in Fresno, Calif.
The lawsuit says the Badals not only condoned the acts but rewarded some of the officers involved.
Parkash Singh Badal was represented in the first lawsuit by former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Even if papers are served, Badal could return to India and refuse to attend any U.S. hearings. But Pannun said a conviction in absentia would still expose him to the world, and to Indians in Punjab, as a protector of those who torture.
A Times of India report this week quoted a Punjab police officer as admitting he killed 35 to 40 people during police encounters. The Times quoted Surjit Singh, a police inspector, as saying he was confessing because he could no longer keep the truth to himself.
Pannun said the comment raised pressure on Badal to discipline those involved, as Badal pledged to do in campaign promises, but that the chief minister has instead worked to shield corrupt police officers.