Two groups of Sikhs clashed with swords and sticks inside the Golden Temple on Friday, turning the faith’s holiest shrine into a virtual battlefield during a ceremony to mark 30 years of a controversial army operation on the premises that killed hundreds of people.
The clash, which occurred early in the morning while prayers were being offered to those killed in Operation Blue Star, underlined lingering tensions among various Sikh groups that remain divided over a decades-old demand for a separate homeland for followers of the faith called Khalistan.
Golden Temple officials said at least 12 people sustained injuries in the violence. Jatinder Singh Aulakh, police commissioner of Amritsar, where the Golden Temple is located, said 19 people had been detained.
The violence broke out after Golden Temple officials stopped Simranjit Singh Mann, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD-Amritsar) president and former MP, from making a speech on the occasion. Mann’s supporters then raised pro-Khalistan slogans and went on the rampage with swords and sticks, injuring revered temple official, Bhai Satnam Singh.
Watch: Several injured in violent clashes inside Golden Temple
Soon, guards of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee (SGPC), the body that manages the Golden Temple, retaliated, forcing Mann’s supporters to flee. The clashes lasted about half an hour.
Later, police said peace had since been restored.
The SAD (Amritsar) is a splinter group of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal. It is led by Mann and advocates the formation of Khalistan, an independent state for the Sikhs through democratic process.
“The violent clashes will be investigated and action will be taken against those who are accused,” said Giani Gurbachan Singh, the leader of SGPC.
Police and temple authorities were studying CCTV footages to identify those involved in starting the clash.
Condemning the clash, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said nobody would be allowed to disturb the atmosphere of peace in the state and those found guilty would be dealt with firmly. His party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, dismissed Mann and his supporters as “fanatic fringe elements”.
Former chief minister and Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh also condemned the violence. In a statement, Amarinder said: “I fail to understand why they clashed with each other when everybody’s purpose there was the same, to commemorate the tragic events of 1984.”
He also demanded that the culprits must be brought to book.
In 1984, following order by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Indian army raided the Golden Temple to flush out Sikh separatist militants holed up in the premises for months. The army botched an attempt to clear them from the holy site, badly underestimating the resistance at first before being drawn into a three-day assault that left some 400 people dead.
The military operation outraged Sikhs and in a revenge attack a few months later Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh body guards. Almost immediately, retaliatory attacks against Sikhs killed some 3,000 of them. Sikh separatism was stamped out in the late 1980s.
Operation Blue Star: What happened at Golden Temple 30 years ago
Operation Blue Star: A timeline