In a dramatic turn of events, the Punjab government on Wednesday withdrew the security cover of Balwant Singh Nandgarh, jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib, Talwandi Sabo.
Earlier in the day, he was reportedly told by the Akal Takht to either resign or soften his stand on the Nanakshahi calendar issue.
Bathinda-based police officials confirmed that the security was withdrawn and the orders were issued from Chandigarh. Nandgarh had been given two gunmen and a driver by the Punjab police. The vehicle he uses has been given by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
Nandgarh is looked upon as the most vocal opponent of the move to amend the Nanakshahi calendar or revert to the Bikrami calendar. Nandgarh had voiced his support of the original Nanakshahi calendar three days ago in Amritsar.
Nandgarh had toughened his stand over the issue after the Sant Samaj represented by Harnam Singh Dhuma, the Damdami Taksal chief, demanded reversion to the Bikrami calendar.
Nandgarh is of the view that the original Nanakshahi calendar is a symbol of the separate identity of the Sikhs, adding that demand to revert to the Bikrami calendar was a “conspiracy” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Nandgarh was not in favour of carrying out amendments in the 2003 calendar. However, he went along with Giani Gurbachan Singh and the other priests who went on to approve amendments to the Nanakshahi calendar in 2010.
Bone of contention
Once an ordinary Akali worker, Nandgarh has also remained an SGPC member. Nandgarh has been known to take a different line from the SGPC on many issues. However, his stand on the Nanakshahi calendar has been the major bone of contention.
Earlier this month, he had advised the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to snap ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and go back to raising Sikh issues. He has also raised the demand of Khalistan and a separate Sikh state earlier this month during a press conference at Gurdwara Hazi Rattan in Bathinda.
Nandgarh had also formed Ek Noor Khalsa Fauj to stop the religious congregation of Dera Sacha Sauda after Sikhs were told in 2007 to socially boycott dera followers. He is also known for his bitter relations with radical Sikh leader Baljit Singh Daduwal.
Though the other Sikh head priests, including Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, are also said to be “not very keen” to revert to the Bikrami calendar, it is felt that Nandgarh has been targeted for being the most radical among the clergy. Within the SGPC, too, there is support to the original Nanakshahi calendar.
When the calendar was amended in 2010 and put before the executive, SGPC general secretary Sukhdev Singh Bhaur and Karnail Singh Panjoli had opposed it. The action against Nandgarh is also a way to send a message to those within the SGPC who are opposed to Dhuma’s move.