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The Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) began forcible takeover of shrines in the state on Wednesday from Gurdwara Sri Hargobind Sahib Patshahi Chhevin at Guhla-Cheeka, around 30km from Kaithal.
The 50-odd staff of the Amritsar-headquartered Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which stands in opposition to the HSGMC's very formation, left after around 250 HSGMC men, armed with sticks and swords, stormed the shrine around noon. Two relatively smaller gurdwaras, at Jagadhri and Yamunanagar, were also taken over by the HSGMC in the meantime.
The surprise takeover took place as the strength of the SGPC, which has termed formation of HSGMC as "an unconstitutional, pre-poll stunt of Haryana's Congress government", was concentrated at Kurukshetra, where the HSGMC has been on a sit-in outside Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi. A clash took place there too, requiring police intervention and resulting in injuries to 25 people, after the Kaithal takeover was announced. Reportedly, the HSGMC unsuccessfully tried to take over the historic Kurukshetra gurdwara too where it wants to have its headquarters.
The move at Kaithal came unexpected not just to the SGPC. Even the district administration was caught unawares. The SGPC employees led by manager Devinder Singh found no time to resist. As the HSGMC took control, deputy commissioner NK Solanki and superintendent of police Kuldeep Singh visited the gurdwara. Later, HSGMC ad hoc president Jagdish Singh Jhinda also visited and termed the takeover a historic move. A large number of police personnel were deployed.
The gurdwara at Guhla, whose complex cover 164 acres, is significant as the sixth Sikh master, Guru Hargobind Sahib, and the ninth Guru Teg Bahadur had visited the place. With 80 shops forming part of its property, it has revenue of around `1 crore a year.
The storming was led by former SGPC member Avtar Singh Chukka, who is now an HSGMC supporter, and Sant Baljit Singh Daduwal from Bathinda. Daduwal and Chukka said they had made the plan at night. "As the SGPC was engaged at Kurukshetra, we gathered here at 11am; and by 1.30pm we took control. SGPC's employees were busy watching news from Kurkshetra on TV," Daduwal said.
Chakku said the SGPC employees were offered jobs under the HSGMC, "but, as most of them are from Punjab, they refused". "We will not allow or engage in any violence. It is the SGPC which is illegally occupying the gurdwaras in Haryana," he added.
The HSGMC started langar (community kitchen) and offered prayers amid victory slogans of 'Jo bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal'. It also deputed a task force of young men at the entrance, and the police, apprehending violence, made elaborate deployment and put up barricades on roads leading to the shrine.
"It's a historic day for Haryana's Sikhs. This is just the beginning; we will take control of all gurdwaras of Haryana. It's not just our religious right but legal right too," said an elated Jhinda.
On the SGPC and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) - Punjab's ruling party that also controls the SGPC - possibly trying to retake control, the SSP said no one would be allowed to enter the gurdwara or disturb law and order.