Even as Sikh protests against the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib multiply across Punjab, the events of the past week have led to the resurgence of little-known Sikh missionary outfits, pitch-forking new leaders while giving a fresh lease of life to the traditional hardliner groups in the state. The almost spontaneous rise and spread of radical sentiment seems to have not just silenced the moderate voices within the Panth, but also delegitimised, almost irrevocably, the hold of the SGPC members and SAD jathedars over Punjab Sikhs.
Sikh missionaries take the lead
The Bargari incident of October 12 that triggered the protest at Kotkapura Chowk was led by Sikh preachers Panthpreet Singh Khalsa and Ranjit Singh Dhadriawale. A popular Sikh preacher and kirtani, Dhadriawale has been speaking against the Dera Sacha Sauda for years. He supported the joint call given by the Dal Khalsa and Panch Pardhani to protest against the pardon granted to the dera head in September. Dhadriawale has built a gurdwara building, Parmeshar Dwar, on the Patiala-Sangur highway and is associated with the Parmeshar Dwar Gurmat Parchar Mission.
Panthpreet, a pharmacist by profession, runs a chemist shop at his village Bhai Bhaktaur in Bathinda. He has been a Sikh preacher and kirtani for 18 years and has been lending support to various religious, social and political Sikh organisations on various issues, including opposition to the dera and implementation of the Nanakshahi calendar. Spearheading the current spate of protests in the state, Panthpreet has asked protesters to limit the protests to a few hours daily so that normal life is not affected. “We are not trying to disrupt normal life. We are only demanding the arrest of those who are committing these crimes against the Guru Granth Sahib,” he said.
Use of social media
With a wide presence on the social media, including websites and Facebook pages, these leaders are communicating with the Sikh sangat almost on an hourly basis. While this is helping them spread their message, it is also drawing huge support from the Sikhs settled abroad. These leaders who have been holding samagams abroad have a strong following in the US, the UK and Canada. The videos of the speeches given by these leaders on protest sites are being uploaded everyday garnering support of NRI Sikhs.
Choose your own leader
With Sikh youth taking to the streets at many places spontaneously, these leaders have now asked them to choose a leader among themselves and follow the basic principles of the protest. These have been listed on Dhadriawale’s Facebook page. These include: allow ambulances, fire brigades and police vehicles to pass through the protest site; don’t indulge in arson; talk gently and convince others; don’t block village link roads; avoid anything that makes people detach from the cause.
The fresh crop of leaders has found support from a large section of traditional radical groups. Advocate Harpal Singh Cheema, president, SAD (Panch Pardhani), along with Dal Khalsa, said they were backing these “missionary leaders”. “They have been at the forefront of the protests from day one. We are fully with them. We agree that protests should be limited to a few hours,” he said.
However, SAD (Amritsar), SAD (1920) and United Akali Dal have decided not to follow the diktats of these leaders saying the protests should not be time-bound. “The protest should continue unabated till October 25. The missionary leaders will be brought around in a few days,” said Surjit Singh Arianwala of SAD (A).