Congress criticism of Sikh calendar justified?

  • Harkirat Singh, Hindustan Times, Amritsar
  • Updated: Mar 20, 2015 08:24 IST

Is the Congress criticism of the Akal Takht’s new Sikh calendar, on the grounds that it mentions the death anniversaries of the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and former army chief general AS Vaidya, justified when contents have been same since 2003, when the party ruled Punjab.

Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh had released this calendar printed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) on March 14. The same day, certain Sikh radical groups had accused the SGPC of burying the “original” Nanakshahi calendar of 2003 and reverting to the Bikrami (Hindu) calendar.

Barely had this criticism died down that the Congress sought an answer from the Prime Minister and the Union home minister about the honouring of the assassins. In Parliament and in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, the opposition party condemned the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on the grounds that it controlled the SGPC that prepared the calendar every year.

Controversial dates

The Congress objects to these anniversaries marked on the calendar: Operation Bluestar (June 3); and the deaths of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Amrik Singh (June 5); Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda (October 9); and Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh (January 6). Jinda and Sukha had assassinated general Vaidya, while Kehar Singh and Satwant Singh had assassinated Indira Gandhi; and all were hanged.

The four men, besides Bhindranwale and Amrik Singh, are listed on the calendar as “Shaheeds” (martyrs). The Akal Takht has gone further and declared them “quami shaheed” or martyrs of the Sikh community.

Past calendars were similar

These dates are not a new feature on the SGPC calendar. Ever since the first Nanakshahi calendar was printed and released in 2003, these have been its part. The calendar this year did not mark the death anniversary of Beant Singh, the bodyguard of Indira Gandhi who was killed on the same day as the former PM. Asked about it, the SGPC claimed that it was not deliberate, and the date got left out probably as the calendar was printed in a hurry to meet the Sikh New Year (March 14) release deadline.

The Congress may be justified in its criticism the dates were on all Nanakshahi calendars that were in circulation when the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) was in power. The first calendar was released when the Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, ruled Punjab (2002 to 2007) but it made no effort to ban it then.

Bharatiya Janata Party (JP) national secretary Tarun Chugh also objected to the marked dates but he also questioned the silence of the Congress all these years.

Kanwar Pal Singh, spokesperson of radical organisation Dal Khalsa, said the Congress criticism was unfair. “It is our (Sikh) calendar, and Bhindranwale and others are our ‘martyrs’, so it becomes our duty to observe days connected with them,” he said.

Bluestar anniversary

Every year, the SGPC observes the anniversary of Operation Bluestar at the Akal Takht; and honours the families of Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh and others. It also observes the death anniversaries of the assassins of Indira, general Vaidya, and former chief minister Beant Singh at the same venue.

Akal Takht defends contents

Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh has defended calendar’s content. “Sikhs have the right to recognise those who laid down their lives defending the Golden Temple or for a cause connected to the shrine. We reserve the right to term them as ‘martyrs’ and observe days connected with them,” he said.

SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, however, did not respond to the attempts made to contact him over telephone. The other senior SGPC officials, when asked to react to the Congress allegations, replied: “Only Pradhan sahib (Makkar) can say anything.”

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