In an attempt to defuse the rising tension and end confrontation between the two Sikh groups over the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) issue, the Akal Takht on Saturday ordered the cancellation of the Panthic conventions that were to be held in Amritsar and Karnal.
Abiding by the directions of the supreme temporal seat of Sikhism, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) cancelled its convention that was to be held at Manji Sahib Hall in the Golden Temple complex here on Sunday. The HSGMC (ad hoc) followed suit and cancelled its proposed convention to be held at Karnal on Monday.
The U-turn by the Akal Takht surprised many as till Friday evening, its jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh was unrelenting in his criticism of the HSGMC (ad hoc) leaders and even went to the extent of terming the formation of a separate gurdwara committee as an "attack on the entire Panth (Sikh community)".
The jathedar had paid no heed to the appeals by former Takht Damdama Sahib jathedar Giani Kewal Singh and others to avoid confrontation and bring unity in the Panth. The former jathedar had offered prayers at the Akal Takht for a peaceful solution to the issue.
Saharanpur incident comes in handy
The communal clash over a gurdwara at Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh seems to have come in handy for the jathedar in cancelling the two conventions, as in his directive, he made a mention of the incident, saying, "The incident is a matter of grave concern for all of us and we all must work together for defusing tension there."
Cleverly linking the Saharanpur incident with the HSGMC issue, the jathedar, in his directive, said the "critical situation" that the "quam" was passing through was a matter of concern for every Sikh. The worries of members of the community had been further compounded after the violence in Saharanpur, he added.
"At this juncture, I feel there is need to end this confrontation and work towards defusing tension. Therefore, as a sewadar of the Akal Takht, I order the cancellation of the conventions at Amritsar and Karnal," the directive released to the media said.
In the directive, the jathedar also called for finding an amicable solution to the HSGMC row to end the "politics of confrontation" and work towards a united Sikh Panth. He said a solution would be found in the days to come when the jathedars of all Takhts sat together at the Akal Takht and discussed the issue with the representatives of various Panthic groups.
Question mark over directive to HSGMC
No sooner had the jathedar issued the directive than it came in for questioning by a couple of Panthic leaders. Their contention was if the jathedar could issue a directive to those who had been excommunicated by the Akal Takht.
Pointing out flaws in the directive, former SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta said that according to Sikh tenets, the jathedar could neither issue a directive of this nature to any excommunicated Sikh, nor could he open any channel of communication with such a person. He was pointing to the excommunication of HSGMC (ad hoc) leaders Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Didar Singh Nalvi for their role in forming a separate management committee.
"You just cannot communicate with such leaders. They have to be first taken back into the Panth. It would be better if the jathedar withdraws the excommunication hukamnama against them," said Calcutta.
Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh also echoed similar views, saying, "It is strange that the jathedar has chosen to communicate with excommunicated leaders. How can he sit with Jhinda and Nalvi to find a solution to the problem?"
SAD welcomes directive
Reacting to the directive, SAD general secretary and education minister Daljit Singh Cheema said, "We accept the directive of the Akal Takht with folded hands as we have utmost respect for this institution."
On hearing the directive, Cheema informed chief minister Parkash Singh Badal over phone. Then, the SAD patron asked him to cancel the convention at Manji Sahib. Cheema was reviewing the arrangements for the convention with SGPC officials when he got the news of the cancellation.
SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar, who had termed the supporters of the separate gurdwara committee as "traitors of the Panth", also accepted the orders.
"We have always had a high regard for the Akal Takht, and as humble Sikhs, we abide by its orders," he said, while favouring an amicable solution to the issue.
The jathedar also discussed the Saharanpur incident with Makkar. An SGPC panel will soon visit Saharanpur for making an on-the-spot assessment.
The local administration and the SGPC officials, who were busy with the arrangements, heaved a sigh of relief after the convention was called off.
"The directive by the Akal Takht has been taken under political pressure. The pressure has come from the BJP. Moreover, Badal and company feared a backlash from within the Sikh community," said former SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta.
"The Akalis have once again used the office of the Akal Takht jathedar, but this time, for good reason. The organisation feels the cancelling of both the conclaves will provide an opportunity to the warring factions to reduce the tension," said Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh. "The Saharanpur incident is sad, and given the current situation, the incident would have led to more tension in the community," said SGPC member Kiranjyot Kaur.
"Whatever may be the reasons, but the jathedar has at least listened to the "aam aadmi di aawaz" and called off the two conventions to defuse the tension," said SGPC member Hardeep Singh Mohali. "The decision of the Akal Takht is welcome. Now, the jathedar and all others should work for an amicable solution and the "big brother" must bless the "younger brother", said United Sikh Movement chairman Bhai Mokham Singh.
"The decision of the Akal Takht is a welcome step as the need of the hour was to defuse the tension and create a peaceful atmosphere in which a solution could be found to the issue," said former Takht Damdama Sahib jathedar Giani Kewal Singh.
"We have all the respect for the Akal Takht and will always abide by its directions," said SAD general secretary Daljit Singh Cheema.