An emergency meeting convened after the unprecedented suspension of the “Punj Pyaras” in Punjab ended deadlocked on Thursday, exposing the faultlines within the highest echelons of the Sikh clergy, as the state limped back to normalcy.
Many members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) demanded the suspensions be revoked as it had worsened the crisis in a state that has seen violent clashes and blockades over repeated desecrations of the Sikh holy book.
SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said he needed time to decide on reinstating the Punj Pyaras – the five beloved ones of the guru – a day after suspending them for summoning five head Sikh priests in connection with a controversial pardon granted to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
“The plight of Sikhs is pitiable – they are hurt, they are protesting, they are being arrested, they are getting killed and they are being blamed for the current situation and there seems to no immediate way out,” Makkar told reporters.
Outside the stormy meeting venue, hundreds of paramilitary force on the streets managed to rein in violence as protesters shifted their demonstrations to inner roads and the highways saw smooth traffic movement for the first time in over a week.
Punjab has seen at least seven desecration cases since October 12, when around 100 torn pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found in Faridkot district, triggering a wave of protests and blockades. Two people died and 60 were injured in violent clashes between the police and protesters two days later.
The local senior superintendent of police, Charanjit Sharma, was suspended after the incident and is set to be chargesheeted.
The protests have also singed the Shiromani Akali Dal-led government with the Opposition gunning for chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s scalp and numerous protests against the party in various regions of the state. On Thursday, Aam Aadmi Party MP Bhagwant Mann met Union home minister Rajnath Singh and urged him to ensure peace in the state. The Centre has already sought a report on the protests.
The SGPC – which administers gurdwaras across the country – had called the meeting to endorse the suspension after Makkar on Wednesday said the Punj Pyaras were trying to divide the community.
But after three hours, 14 of the 15 SGPC executive members opposed the suspension and left it to Makkar to take a final decision – reflecting the deep rifts within the clergy on the best strategy to handle the worst crisis that Punjab has seen in recent years. Outside, SAD activists shouted slogans against the SGPC and state government.
The Punj Pyaras have refused to back down from their stand and insist the five head priests will have to appear before them on Friday to explain the pardon, which many say was unfair and shrouded in secrecy.