Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday joined Sikh religious leaders and organisations in demanding an apology from Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for "the biggest insult to Sikhs".
"The Dera head's act of copying the holy appearance of Guru Gobind Singh was the biggest insult to Sikhs. What stops him from apologising now?" said Badal a day ahead of the Punjab bandh called by the Akal Takht to protest against the "blasphemous" act.
Despite heavy security arrangements, tension was palpable in many parts of the state. Sikh community leaders and various organisations have appealed to the people to maintain peace.
Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti urged Sikhs to observe restraint during the bandh and not display any weapons.
At its base in Sirsa, Haryana, the Dera said its expression of regret on Saturday, rejected by Sikh organisations and also the chief minister, had not been understood. "It is sad... people are playing with words," said Dera spokesman Dr Aditya Arora. The Dera appealed to the president and the prime minister to intervene and resolve the crisis.
The police have thrown a three-tier security ring around the Dera branches in Punjab, including the biggest one at Salabatpura in Bathinda district.
Speaking after a meeting convened to discuss the future course of action, Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh denied reports that the Taksal had given a call for the creation of "suicide squads" to dismantle Dera branches in Punjab.