HT Explainer: On Bluestar anniversary, politics behind radicals’ ruckus at Akal Takht | punjab | Hindustan Times
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HT Explainer: On Bluestar anniversary, politics behind radicals’ ruckus at Akal Takht

Things didn’t go out of hands this time, but a band of radicals did create a ruckus by disrupting the customary speech of Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh. Pro-Khalistan slogans rent the shrine. HT unravels the politics behind the recurring spat in the Harmandir Sahib:

punjab Updated: Jun 07, 2017 09:33 IST
Ramesh Vinayak
Radical Sikh activist rising pro-Khalistan slogans at Akal Takht, Golden Temple, on the 33rd anniversary of Operation Bluestar, in Amritsar on Tuesday, June 6.
Radical Sikh activist rising pro-Khalistan slogans at Akal Takht, Golden Temple, on the 33rd anniversary of Operation Bluestar, in Amritsar on Tuesday, June 6. (Gurpreet Singh/HT)

Tension again kept its date with the Golden Temple on June 6, the anniversary of 1984 Operation Bluestar. In the past, the solemn occasion was marred by confrontation and even violent clashes between the Sikh radicals and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) that manages the shrine.

Things didn’t go out of hands this time, but a band of radicals did create a ruckus by disrupting the customary speech of Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh. Pro-Khalistan slogans rent the shrine. HT unravels the politics behind the recurring spat in the Harmandir Sahib:

Why do radicals assemble at Akal Takht on June 6?

Though politically marginalised, splinter radical factions rally at the highest temporal seat to resurrect their faded relevance as flag-bearers of ideology and legacy of militant preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In doing so, they try and strike a chord with the Sikhs who, even 33 years after the army action, nurse the pain of tragic events at their holiest shrine.

Who are the key espousers of the radical cause?

It’s a loose grouping of Shiromani Akali Dal faction led by Simranjit Singh Mann, United Akali Dal, Dal Khalsa and Sikh Students Federation and a few fiery religious preachers. Otherwise at daggers drawn, they are united by radical streak and a strident opposition to the moderate and mainstream Shiromani Akali Dal which controls the SGPC.

Why did radicals protest at Akal Takht today?

For the second year in a row, radicals’ ire was directed against the Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh who, they say, has “lost the trust” of Sikh community after his flip-flop on pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim over an allegedly blasphemous act that had offended the Sikhs. In 2015, hardliners had rejected the SGPC-recognised head priests and announced a parallel set of head priests including Jagtar Singh Hawara who is in jail after his conviction in the 1995 assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh Singh.

SGPC rejected the radicals’ move and has resisted pressures to remove Giani. Though SGPC was the organiser of the show, radicals opposed jathedar delivering from the Akal Takht pulpit his ‘sandesh’ ( ceremonial message) to the Sikhs. Instead, they wanted the parallel acting Akal Takht jathedar Dhian Singh Mand, former Lok Sabha MP, to do that. SGPC didn’t allow that, leading to a tense rumpus at Akal Takht.

What did SGPC do prevent the face-off?

In the run-up to June 6, SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar held meetings with radicals, calling for a solemn commemoration. But, they put a rider that Giani shouldn’t be allowed to speak- a demand SGPC didn’t accept. Taking a tough stand, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal dubbed the radical jathedars as “Congress agents”. Incidentally, Damdami Taksal, a venerable Sikh seminary once headed by Bhindranwale, kept distance from radicals as it is alligned with the Shiromani Akali Dal.

What did the Capt Amarinder Singh govt do to prevent clash in the Golden Temple?

Unlike the previous Badal government, Capt Amarinder Singh didn’t order pre-emptive detention of radical leaders, but it beefed up security around the Golden Temple by deploying seven companies of CRPF and Rapid Action Force and sent out a strong message to hot-headed elements against confrontation. Inside the shrine, the authorities worked in tandem with SGPC task force to rein in radicals. A firm and tactful handling paid off.