Punjab continues to be on the boil for the past six weeks. Things took a new and serious turn on November 10 when a radicals-organised ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ (a representative assembly of Sikhs) in Amritsar announced the “removal” of four Sikh head priests (jathedars) and appointed a parallel set of head priests, including Jagtar Singh Hawara, a convicted and jailed assassin of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, as jathedar of the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of Sikhs. The congregation also swore by the 1986 resolution of a militant-sponsored ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ calling for a separate Sikh state. HT looks at the dramatis personae of an unfolding crisis and what’s next for them.
Parkash Singh Badal
Dented but not dwarfed
Five-time chief minister and the face of moderate Sikh politics, Badal is facing his toughest test amid an emotional upheaval among the Sikhs over defiling of Guru Granth Sahib. In the backdrop of a politically-managed pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, he is also at the receiving end of the Sikh ire as he is accused of misusing Akal Takht and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee for his political interests. In power since 2007, he is also facing the cumulative ire of people’s disenchantment. The latest religio-political crisis has only compounded his woes and dented his enormous credibility among the Sikh masses.
WHAT NEXT: He remains the tallest figure and is looked upon by both Sikhs and Hindus as the biggest guarantor of peace and social harmony in the border state. Badal’s immediate task is to win back the Sikhs’ confidence and retrieve the lost political ground.
Capt Amarinder Singh
Striking when iron is hot
With his return as president of the Punjab Congress on the cards, Capt Amarinder Singh, Amritsar MP and deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, has plunged headlong into the current turmoil against the ruling SAD-BJP alliance. Though he disapproved the radicals’ move to appoint parallel head priests, he is whipping up the anti-Badal mood to the hilt by accusing the Akali patriarch of undermining the Sikh institutions – a pitch that is cutting a wide swathe among the Sikhs — at least for now.
WHAT NEXT: Depending on how soon the party formally anoints him for the top job, Amarinder stands to gain significantly from Badal’s woes. A bubbling crisis on the Sikh religious front also works to his advantage in warding off the challenge from a resurgent Aam Aadmi Party ahead of the 2017 assembly polls.
Simranjit Singh Mann
Return of the radical
Heading a ragtag Akali faction, the former Lok Sabha MP from Sangrur has suddenly emerged as the lynchpin of a radicals’ conglomerate to capitalise on the Sikh ire against the Parkash Singh Badal government. A one-time IPS officer dismissed after the Operation Bluestar and a staunch protagonist of ‘Khalistan’, Mann had met political annihilation in election after election in Punjab as the Sikhs rejected his secessionist stance and opted for a moderate Akali Dal headed by Badal.
WHAT NEXT: Mann sees the latest turmoil as a godsend to resurrect himself politically. To that end, he has shrewdly toned down his Khalistan rant. But the Sikhs, despite their anger against the ruling SAD, are not enamoured of Mann.
One-time close associate of militant preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and a long-time activist of the Chowk Mehta-based Sikh seminary Damdami Taksal, a wily Mohkam Singh now heads the United Akali Dal, a party with no proven political standing. He has been the key backroom player in bringing myriad radical groups on a common platform of the controversial ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ in Amritsar. A fiery speaker, he swears by a separate Sikh state but through democratic and peaceful means.
WHAT NEXT: Mohkam Singh has been arrested and is likely to be kept in jail for a long term to foil radicals’ agenda. But, his supporters would try and keep the Panthic pot boiling.
Giani Gurbachan Singh
The head priest of Akal Takht, Gurbachan Singh has become the hate figure for radicals and a large section of the Sikhs who charge him with denigrating the highest temporal seats of the Sikhs by granting pardon to Sirsa dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh without following Sikh traditions and tenets. Widely accused of being a handmaiden of his political masters, he has been under tremendous pressure to resign. On Diwali day, angry Sikh youths showed him black flags when he delivered the customary message (‘sandesh’) to the community.
WHAT NEXT: With even the SGPC-appointed Panj Pyaras decreeing for his ouster, his days as the jathedar may be numbered.