Expressing readiness for an “open-minded dialogue” with the Sikh clergy, controversial head of the Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS) Ashutosh Maharaj on Monday said he had no reservations in appearing even at Akal Takht for an early end to the conflict in the interest of peace and stability in Punjab.
The dera head — who is the eye of a fresh controversy following the violent clash between police and Sikh hardliners opposed to his sect on Saturday, which claimed one life — said he was in favour of “neutralising” the hostility through open dialogue.
‘I abide by Guru Granth Sahib’
Asked to respond to the allegation that he has described “living gurus” as superior to Guru Granth Sahib, Ashutosh Maharaj said it was an “utterly fallacious” statement attributed to him. “I respect and abide by Guru Granth Sahib. It is an ocean of knowledge and to understand it, we all need to dive deep into it, and should live our life by its values,” he told HT.
On the other charge that he has sought to treat Sikhs as part of Hindus, the DJJS head said: “What I said was that the ancestors of Guru Sahibans and Sikhs were Hindus. In fact, Jathedar Puran Singh Ji had also agreed to this and mentioned in one of his articles that members of Bedi and Sodhi castes of Sikhs were descendents of Luv and Kush, the sons of Lord Ram. This fact is also mentioned in Vichitra Natak of Dasham Granth”.
“From my side, there were never any differences. Still, if they have any, and the Sikh clergy agree for an open dialogue, I have no objections and, as always, we are ready for reconciliation,” Ashutosh Maharaj told Hindustan Times in his first interview to any media house since the inception of his dera 25 years ago.
He said in 2002 he was “invited” for a clarification at Akal Takht, but was later disallowed on the plea that Hindus could not enter the temporal seat. “Now it is for them to take a firm stand,” he said.
The dera chief said he had made an attempt to resolve the issue in the past too, and submitted his institutional operations as well as literature to scrutiny by Akal Takht and Sikh scholars, but all efforts proved “futile” and “one-sided”.
“We had sent our entire literature to Akal Takht with the undertaking that that if any thing wrong or factual mistakes were found, we would make corrections or even stop the publication. But, they could not find a single mistake, and moreover, never responded despite several reminders,” he claimed. “Not responding to a dialogue and being adamant on opposing DJJS was in itself objectionable and wrong on their part,” he added.
Besides, he claimed, a three-member commission formed by then chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had examined their texts and issued a “clean chit” after finding everything in accordance with the preaching of Guru Granth Sahib.
Asked if it was appropriate to visit Ludhiana despite warnings and opposition from Sikh radical groups, Ashutosh Maharaj said: “Constitutionally, it was right as DJJS had obtained all requisite permissions, sanctions and NOCs.” Yet, he added, DJJS never wanted to disturb the peace, and voluntarily cancelled the planned “shoba yatra” and the second day’s programme.
“We operated within legal and moral codes of conduct and rule of the land. On the contrary, the warnings, behaviour and acts of radical groups were wrong, irrelevant, illegal and against the Constitution,” he asserted.
And where does the solution lie to the conflicts between DJJS and Sikhs, he said the sansthan was in conflict with “extremists”, not Sikhs. “It is between us and the extremists who are working for the creation of ‘Khalistan’. I repeat, it is not Sikhs but fanatics who oppose us. Please do not defame the Sikhs for malicious acts of such extremists,” he said.
Rejecting the allegations of being “disrespectful” to Sikh gurus and scriptures, Ashutosh Maharaj said had his discourses been against the gurus or the holy book, no Sikh would have associated with DJJS.
“But we have lakhs of Sikh followers… they are not insane. There were lakhs of such Sikhs present at the congregation in Ludhiana on Saturday. Do you think they were there to listen to the condemnation of Guru Granth Sahib, as falsely propagated by radicals?”
He said even during the Ludhiana congregation the radicals were invited for face-to-face discussion, but they did not turn up.
Would he want to hold more congregations in Punjab? The dera head has a counter-question, “When millions of youth have joined the mainstream of developmental activities and come out of the drug trap through activities and efforts of DJJS, then why should I stop doing good work because of some unjustified threats and warnings?”