“Who is Daduwal?” is how chief minister Parkash Singh Badal responded on being asked about the arrest of controversial Sikh preacher Baljit Singh Daduwal. Badal, who has mastered the art of ducking uncomfortable queries, denied having ever met him or knowing anything about developments related to him.
The chief minister may be feigning ignorance or may not have been briefed by his police. But Daduwal, the 40-year-old chief of Panthik Sewa Lehar, isn’t an unknown figure in the radical Sikh spectrum. Nor is he a stranger to controversies.
A firebrand Sikh preacher, who once made common cause with the Shiromani Akali Dal by leading protests against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Daduwal has now earned the ire of the ruling Akalis. On August 22, the Faridkot police arrested him and he has been in jail since. He has been booked under the arms Act after the recovery of seven rifles, two pistols and 300 cartridges. The police have also reopened an old case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) that was recommended as withdrawn earlier.
Daduwal’s family and supporters are crying foul. They dub his arrest as “vindictive action” and a fallout of his involvement in the formation of a separate Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) for managing Sikh shrines in Haryana, besides alleging political motives. However, Mohkam Singh, former spokesperson of Damdami Taksal, accuses the Badal government of going after Daduwal “to please the BJP, RSS and the Dera Sacha Sauda”. “The timing of action against the preacher also coincided with the Talwandi Sabo bypoll where the Badals had to win support of the dera followers,” he alleged.
Apparently, the genesis of Daduwal’s recent troubles lies in his political ambitions in the Bathinda-Faridkot belt that is the turf of the Badals. A frontline role that he played in the agitation for the formation of the HSGMC had raised the hackles of the Akalis. The final straw in their strained ties was his nomination to the 41-member ad hoc panel of the HSGMC.
RISE OF THE RADICAL PREACHER
Daduwal, who is the head of the Daduwal Sahib Gurdwara in Haryana, hails from Bhaini Banger village in Gurdaspur. He shifted base to Daduwal in Sirsa a long time ago, establishing the gurdwara. A preacher from the Damdami Taksal seminary that was once headed by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, he slowly gained following in the Malwa region of Punjab and parts of Haryana. His followers include leaders of Sant Samaj and various political parties, bureaucrats and police officers. He has another base at Gurdwara Jandalisar at Kotshamir, 12 km from Bathinda. Soon after the police booked Daduwal, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee lost no time in taking over the gurdwara that it claims was illegally occupied by him.
Though he gained ground slowly in Malwa, Daduwal came into the limelight with his hard-hitting speeches against the Dera Sacha Sauda head much before Akal Takht gave the call for his (dera chief’s) social boycott in 2007 for allegedly trying to imitate Guru Gobind Singh.
Daduwal was involved in clashes between Sikhs and dera followers following the Akal Takht’s edict against the dera. When clashes between Sikhs instigated by Daduwal and dera followers left one person dead and several injured in July 2008, curfew was imposed in Sirsa town of Haryana. The two groups clashed over the ‘naam charcha’ (religious discourse) by the dera followers in Dabwali.
The preacher was also accused of attacking the Dera Sacha Sauda head at Ghukianwali village in Sirsa district in 2007 after a clash took place between his supporters and the dera followers when the latter was holding a ‘naam charcha’. Before the Lok Sabha elections in March 2009 also, the Bathinda police had arrested more than 100 radical Sikh activists, including Daduwal, when they reiterated their commitment for the “fight to finish” against the dera, declaring that they would form ‘shaheedi jathas’ (voluntary squads willing to sacrifice themselves for a religious cause).
DABBLED IN POLITICS
Though a religious preacher, Daduwal gradually got interested in electoral politics. He was ignored by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before the parliamentary polls earlier this year, despite his declaration to honour Arvind Kejriwal in the presence of one lakh Sikhs for announcing a probe into the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.
Later, the religious preacher expressed a desire to contest the Talwandi Sabo byelection as an Independent. While the relations between Daduwal and the Akalis have been tense for some time, his involvement in the separate gurdwara row was seen as a proof of his growing ambition in Punjab’s Sikh religio-politics. The Akalis accuse him of playing in the hands of the Congress. Last week, the police fed the media that Daduwal has resigned from the HSGMC, a claim denied by his family and supporters.
By turning the heat on Daduwal, the SAD-BJP government has tried to cut a politically ambitious radical leader to size. But, the tactic runs the risk of a “victimised” Daduwal becoming a rallying figure for the radical fringe that loves to hate the Akalis.