As the Sikh community prepares to observe the 28th anniversary of 'Operation Bluestar' on June 6, the 'kar sewa' for erecting a memorial to those who died while fighting the security forces during the three-day operation in 1984 commenced at the Golden Temple complex here on Sunday in the presence of Takht Jathedars, heads of different Sikh religious groups and SGPC members and officials.
The ruling Akali leadership, including ministers, MPs and MLAs, were nowhere to be seen in the shrine complex during the ceremony, which lasted three hours from 7.30 am to 10.30 am.
After performing the 'bhog' of the 'akhand path' at the Akal Takht, jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh dug out the soil with a silver spade at the spot where the memorial is to be erected, to symbolise the commencement of the 'kar sewa'.
Simultaneously, Takht Keshgarh Sahib Jathedar Giani Tirlochan Singh, Takht Damdama Sahib Jathedar Balwant Singh Nandgarh, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar and Damdami Taksal head Baba Harnam Singh Dhuma also dug out a small portion of the soil from the spot with the silver spades.
After the 'panj pyaras' (five beloved ones of the guru) -- the three jathedars and the SGPC and Taksal heads -- had performed the digging exercise, the soil that was dug out was lifted in silver vessels and taken and discarded at a spot outside the premises of the shrine.
Those who performed the exercise included Baba Kashmir Singh Bhurewale; Baba Avtar Singh Bhidi Chand; Tirlochan Singh, son of former All India Sikh Students Federation chief Amrik Singh, who was killed in the June 1984 operation; Ishar Singh, son of former Taksal chief Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, who too was killed during the operation; and SGPC executive member Rajinder Singh Mehta, who was nabbed by the security forces during the operation and was later lodged in the Jodhpur jail along with the others who were taken into custody from the shrine.
The spot approved for the memorial by the SGPC and where the 'kar sewa' commenced is to the right of the Akal Takht (while facing the Takht building) and in the verandah near the two 'Nishan Sahibs', signifying 'miri and piri' (temporal and spiritual), in the 'parkarma'.
The marble slabs at the site were dug out in advance and the spot has been marked with ropes so that devotees do not step on it when the construction commences.
Keeping in view the Sikh traditions, no foundation stone was laid at the spot and no one has been credited with the 'kar sewa', which the SGPC has entrusted to Baba Dhuma.
The chosen spot for the memorial is believed to be the place from where the body of Bhindrawale was found by the security forces after the operation ended on June 6. As it was Bhindrawale who led those who resisted the entry of the security forces, the SGPC thought it best to hand over the 'kar sewa' of the memorial to the present Taksal chief.
There was some opposition to the handing over of the 'kar sewa' to Dhuma by groups like the SAD (Amritsar) led by Simranjit Singh Mann, who did not attend the function.
Giani Gurbachan Singh and Makkar, in their speeches after the 'bhog' ceremony, appealed to every section of the community to extend support to Dhuma, who had taken up the task. Dhuma himself sought the cooperation of every section.
Funds and shape of memorial
The funds for the memorial will come from the Sikh community and for this the SGPC chief has appealed to the community to donate liberally. Makkar, however, made it clear that no donation box would be put up in the shrine for collection of funds. Those wishing to donate would do so directly to the Taksal headquarters at Mehta Chowk or to Baba Dhuma.
The Taksal chief, when asked about the shape of the memorial, said the decision in this regard was yet to be finalised.
He refused to commit himself on the reports that it would be in the shape of a gurdwara or would be in some other form or shape.
However, SGPC secretary Dalmegh Singh said it would be in the shape of a gurdwara. But Makkar said the SGPC executive would take a decision on the final shape of the memorial.
Asked whether the SGPC would chip in with funds, Dalmegh said, "There will be no need for that as funds have already started pouring in from the public."
No timeframe has been fixed for completion of the memorial as the Akal Takht head in a chat with the media said that it would be completed in the shortest possible time.
Justification for memorial
Giani Gurbachan Singh in his speech after the 'bhog' ceremony said the memorial was the need of the hour as those who had laid down their lives had done so while defending their place of worship and their religion. He referred to Bhindrawale as a great martyr and others like Amrik Singh, Shahbeg Singh and Thara Singh as martyrs.
"Today is an important day in the history of Sikhs as we remember our martyrs. The memorial will remind our future generations of the sacrifices of the community," he said, while referring to the upcoming memorial as 'mahaan yaadgar'.
"Operation Bluestar was a 'ghallughara' (genocide), and along with the Golden Temple, 37 other shrines were attacked by the security forces in June 1984," he said.
Makkar, on his part, said a long-pending demand of the Sikhs was being fulfilled and all should extend cooperation for this novel task.
SAD leaders conspicuous by their absence
Chief minister Parkash Singh, who was taken into custody during Operation Bluestar (not from the shrine), stayed away from the ceremony, as did deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
When asked, SAD secretary Daljit Singh Cheema said, "The two are out of the state at present."
When pointed out that the entire SAD senior and junior leadership was not to be seen in the shrine, Cheema said, "It was an SGPC function. Perhaps no formal invite was sent to anyone."
In fact, the SGPC did not send any formal invite to anyone.
Radical groups like the Dal Khalsa, SAD (Panj Pardhani) and a few others were present on the occasion.
A number of those who were nabbed from the shrine during the June 1984 operation were also present. These included Rajinder Singh Mehta, Bhai Manjit Singh, brother of Amrik Singh, Jasbir Singh Ghuman, and Amarjit Singh Chawla. All of them were detained in Jodhpur jail and were charged with waging war on the state.