Sikh groups opposed to Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) here on Sunday rejected the Akal Takht’s decision to exonerate Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and demanded an apology from the Sikh clergy and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for “lowering the Takht’s dignity”.
The radical groups have given a call for a Punjab bandh on Wednesday if the apology is not tendered within 48 hours. If there is no word from the clergy or the chief minister for a month-and-a-half, the bodies have decided to convene a Sarbat Khalsa (congregation of Sikhs) on Diwali day in November. The Sarbat Khalsa would be aimed at replacing the Takht jathedars who were party to the decision on the dera head and passing strictures against Badal.
“You (clergy and CM) will apologise to the Sikh Panth for the manner in which you exonerated the dera head without following the procedure that governs the Akal Takht in such cases,” said the resolution that was passed at the end of a conclave of these Panthic bodies on Sunday.
The resolution asked Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh to take back the decision and restore the previous one to socially boycott the dera head for blasphemy.
“Sarbat Khalsa can be called at the Akal Takht or any other Takht or shrine,” Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann said while briefing the media after the conclave.
‘Will give them time’
Regarding the demand by some Panthic leaders for a social boycott of the clergy, Mann said, “This will be taken up at an appropriate time, but first we want to give them enough time to tender an apology. Even the Akal Takht gives time to an individual to tender an apology before excommunicating him for an offence.”
On the bandh called for Wednesday, the resolution clarified that it would be from morning hours to about 2 pm. However, health and educational services would be exempted.
When pointed out that only the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) could appoint or remove Takht jathedars, Mann and the other leaders observed that a Sarbat Khalsa was more powerful than the SGPC as it was the voice of people. Moreover, in the past also, jathedars had been appointed through Sarbat Khalsa, Mann added. The leaders also decided to hold a joint conference at Khadoor Sahib on October 2 to “educate” the masses about the manner in which the dera head was pardoned.
Withdraw cases against Sikhs, dera asks followers
Hailing the Akal Takht’s decision to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case, the Sirsa-based sect on Sunday asked its followers to withdraw all their cases against Sikhs and announced to “forego all bitterness”.
The dera’s official statement came on the day a clutch of Panthic organisations and radicals announced their action plan against the Akal Takht, slamming the clergy’s decision on Thursday to pardon the dera chief. By directing its followers to withdraw the court cases against the Sikhs since 2007, the dera has extended an olive branch to the Sikh bodies protesting against the Akal Takht.
A two-paragraph message in Hindi signed by dera spokesman Aditya Insaan reads: “Appreciating the large-heartedness of Shri Akal Takht and the Sikh high priests, we (Dera Sacha Sauda) forego all our bitterness.” The note from the dera spokesman eulogising the tenth Sikh Guru also reads: “Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his entire family to save the faith. We consider him the saviour of the nation. Any disrespect was never and would never be shown to him. Sikhs are a respected community of the country.”
Ram Rahim had run afoul of Sikhs in 2007 when he appeared before a congregation, allegedly dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh. The consequent violence between dera followers and Sikhs took a few lives. The Akal Takht ordered a ban on all dera congregations and Ram Rahim survived a murderous attack in Karnal by a Sikh.
Besides the Akali factions headed by Mann and Mohkam Singh, there were representatives from SAD (Panch Pardhani), Dal Khalsa, Damdami Taksal (Ajnala group), SAD (Delhi), Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Sant Samaj, Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and All India Sikh Students Federation.
The chief minister and the Akal Takht jathedar were at the centre of criticism by speakers with remarks such as “Panth de gaddar”, “zalim Badal te jathedar” and “backstabbers of the Panth”.
The speakers also labelled the jathedars as “puppets” of the Badals.
Baldev Singh Sirsa, jointly representing SAD (Panch Pardhani) and Dal Khalsa, linked the pardon of Ram Rahim to the 2017 assembly polls and the SAD strategy to win over dera voters, especially in the Malwa belt.
Mann also claimed that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had played a role in Ram Rahim’s exoneration.
Addressing the conclave, Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, a professor of history at Panjab University, Chandigarh, said that instead of holding meetings, Sikhs should use the Internet for circulating their views on the Sirsa dera case.
“In the past, Sikhs were few in numbers, so it was easy to call a Sarbat Khalsa. However, now we are spread in all corners of the world, so such a gathering is impossible. We must initiate an online signature campaign on the verdict, on the basis of which we can approach the jathedars for their resignation,” he suggested.