Scared of facing a hostile ‘panth’ (Sikh community) that is angry over pardon to Sirsa dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh - who had remained confined to his residence and office for the past two weeks - finally made a public appearance on Monday.
The jathedar took part in the ‘ardas divas’ held in the Golden Temple complex to pay homage to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Giani Gurbchan Singh looked tense as he stepped out of his residence and headed towards Gurdwara Jhanda Bunga that is adjacent to the Akal Takht. He was escorted by around 10-12 persons, including Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) task force members, who were carrying swords, and cops in civvies.
The jathedar along with Giani Jagtar Singh, additional head granthi of Harmandir Sahib, sat inside the room where the ‘akhand paath’ (recitation of gurbani) was in progress. At the conclusion of the ‘bhog’ of the ‘akhand paath’, an ‘ardas’ was performed in memory of the ‘84 riot victims.
The jathedar spent around 45 minutes at the religious ceremony which was attended largely by SGPC officials and employees. While SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar was not there, chief secretary Harcharan Singh, secretary Roop Singh, public relations manager Kulwinder Singh and Golden Temple manager Partap Singh and other officials were present .
The manager kept a close watch on those inside the ‘parikrama’ of the shrine. The security of the jathedar inside the shrine is his responsibility and he didn’t want a repeat of the October incident when some SGPC employees, including ‘Hazoori Raagis’, heckled the jathedar and called him a ‘paapi’ (sinner) outside the Diwan Manji Sahib Hall.
Giani Gurbachan Singh and other Sikh high priests have come under attack from the community over their role in pardoning the Sirsa dera head in a 2007 blasphemy case. Pressure is mounting on them to quit their posts with even ‘Panj Pyaras’ (the five beloved ones of the guru) seeking their resignations.
No public address by jathedar
The customary public address to the community by the jathedar after the ‘bhog’ was given a miss. In the past, the Akal Takht jathedars have always addressed the community at the end of a religious ceremony. Soon after the ‘ardas’, Giani Gurbachan Singh headed straight to his residence. A couple of mediapersons tried to question him, but the jathedar didn’t respond. However, when the media persisted, he said, “Okay come up, we will talk”.
Inside his first floor residence, the jathedar didn’t respond to any query on ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ (congregation of Sikhs) called by certain ‘panthic’ groups, pressing for jathedars’ removal. “I don’t wish to comment on it,” he quipped. Later, the jathedar went on to describe the barbaric manner in which Sikh men, women and children were killed in ‘84 riots. He described those involved in the riots as ‘sarkari gundas’ and pointed out that to date the community has failed to get justice.