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Sarbat Khalsa’s Outcome – Points to Worrying Signs for Punjab and its Politcs – Vipin Pubby

First Published: November 11, 2015, 4:58 pm Updated: Yesterday, 8:47 am

While the Sarbat Khalsa called on Diwali eve by a conglomerate of Sikh organisations, including the radicals, aimed at directing its ire to the ruling Badals and the jathedars backed by them, the hard-liners were able to have their way in some of the resolutions passed at the convention.

The well-attended Sarbat Khalsa, which included participation by a large number of villagers who did not seem to have any political affiliations as well as delegates from Sikh diaspora, was high on symbolism. The resolutions adopted at the conclave would remain disputed in view of the questions raised about the manner the Sarbat Khalsa, a traditional congregation, was called but these point at growing disillusionment with the current political and religious leadership.

Snapshot
  • The outcome of Sarbat Khalsa points at growing disillusionment with Punjab’s current political & religious leadership.
  • Section of the gathering raised slogans for Khalistan when Hawara’s name was announced but the speakers refrained from alluding to any such references.
  • Circumstances leading to the calling of the Sarbat Khalsa are similar to in 1986 when another militant was ‘appointed’ as Akal Takht jathedar.
  • The revival of post-Operation Bluestar militancy took place after the 1986 Sarbat Khalsa.
  • Resentment against Badals played pivotal role in the building up of the unrest in Punjab.
  • The problems of drug menace, crop failure, inflation and series of incidents of sacrilege, and police firing on protesters, in which two were killed, added fuel to fire.

Questioned Legitimacy, Growing Resentment

Sikh Panth leaders participating in Sarbat Khalsa. (Photo: PTI)
Sikh Panth leaders participating in Sarbat Khalsa. (Photo: PTI)

The legitimacy of the Sarbat Khalsa has been questioned by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) who claim that only the Akal Takht Jathedar can call such a gathering of Sikh community. However, in this case it was evident that the convention was called for the removal of the Akal Takht jathedar himself, among others, in view of great resentment in the community over the manner in which pardon was granted to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief in September this year.

Even the ‘withdrawal’ of the title of fakhar-e-kaum (community’s pride) bestowed on Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Shiromani Sewak Award to SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar was on expected lines.

However, the ‘appointment’ of Jagtar Singh Hawara, convicted in the Beant Singh assassination case, as the ‘new’ jathedar of the Akal Takht appears to have been influenced by the hard-liners. Hawara, self styled commander of the Khalistan Tigers Force, is serving a life term in the case. He had escaped from the Burail jail here by digging a 110 feet tunnel but was subsequently nabbed. As there is no way he can come out and ‘take over’, his nomination is symbolic aimed at ‘honouring’ the ‘hero’ of the community. Bhai Dhian Singh Mand was appointed as the ‘acting Jathedar Akal Takht’.

The congregation also excommunicated former DGP K P S Gill (for his role in countering militancy) and retired Lt Gen K S Brar (for his role in Operation Bluestar) from the Sikh panth. This decision was also taken at the behest of the radicals and is symbolic of harking back to the days of militancy when a struggle was launched for Khalistan. A section of the gathering did raise slogans for Khalistan when Hawara’s name was announced but the speakers refrained from alluding to any such references.

Radical Influence

Members of various Sikh panths covering themselves with shawls during downpour at the Sarbat Khalsa at Chaba village near Amritsar. (Photo: PTI)  
Members of various Sikh panths covering themselves with shawls during downpour at the Sarbat Khalsa at Chaba village near Amritsar. (Photo: PTI)  

Significantly some resolutions were read by former Khalistani leader Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, while the English version of the resolutions were read by a Sikh diaspora leader, Harinder Singh from the US. The influence exerted by the diaspora is also evident from the fact that some of the delegates had specially flown from other countries for the Sarbat Khalsa and demanded Vatican status for the Golden Temple.

Besides the SAD, which has ‘rejected’ the resolutions, former chief minister and deputy leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh, has also criticised the appointment of new jathedars. While blaming Badals for the ills plaguing the community, he has asserted that the manner of appointment of new jathedars was against the tenets of the Sikhism and would weaken the Sikh institutions.

Resentment Against Badals Major Reason for Unrest

Members of various Sikh panths at the Sarbat Khalsa at Chaba village near Amritsar. (Photo: PTI)  
Members of various Sikh panths at the Sarbat Khalsa at Chaba village near Amritsar. (Photo: PTI)  

The circumstances leading to the calling of the Sarbat Khalsa and the resolutions passed at the congregation hark back to a similar Sarbat Khalsa called in 1986 where another militant was ‘appointed’ as Akal Takht jathedar. Although no resolution was passed for Khalistan at the Sarbat Khalsa, the demand was subsequently made by a panthic committee appointed at the congregation.

The revival of post-Operation Bluestar militancy, which led to much bloodshed, took place after the 1986 Sarbat Khalsa. There is another uncanny parallel to the current situation – the trigger for the unrest started in 1978 after a bloody clash between the Sikhs and followers of Nirankari sect. In the present situation, the immediate provocation for the upsurge is the pardon granted by the Sikh clergy to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

Of course the resentment building up against the ruling Badal clan, who have complete control over the Sikh politics as well religious institutions, also played a pivotal role in the building up of the unrest. The problems of drug menace, crop failure, inflation and series of incidents of sacrilege, and police firing on protesters which killed two of them, added fuel to fire.

While pressure from a section of the community has so far ensured that controversial demands were not raked up at the Sarbat Khalsa, a fringe section may like to pursue its goal. Much would depend on how the community as a whole reacts to the resolutions, even though there is wide acceptance of the fact that the radicals have very little support base left in the state.

In view of the possibility of violence or clashes taking place during the bid to ‘anoint’ the new Akal Takht Jathedar, the police swung into action on Wednesday morning. The main organisers of the Sarbat Khalsa, Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) President Simranjit Singh Maan, United Akali Dal President Mokham Singh and the newly appointed Jathedar of Takht, Kesgarh Sahib Bhai Amrik Singh Ajnala, were arrested before they could start a march to the Akal Takht. This prevented the escalation of tension, but it’s not the last time that one has heard of the radicals.

Unless immediate and credible steps are taken to assuage the hurt feelings of the community, the radical elements may gather support which could lead to another disastrous period.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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