Hours after Sikh hardliners ‘removed’ four head priests, including Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, before ‘appointing’ Giani Dhian Singh Mand as the acting jathedar besides Amrik Singh Ajnala and Baljit Singh Daduwal as the head priests of Takht Keshgarh Sahib and Takht Damdama Sahib, respectively, police launched a crackdown across Punjab and arrested the three by Diwali night.
The police also arrested the key organisers of the radicals’ Sarbat Khalsa (congregation), including United Akali Dal chief Mohkam Singh and Gurdeep Singh Bathinda, while Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, who was detained on Wednesday, was released on Thursday.
Mand was arrested around 8.30pm on Wednesday after he dramatically surfaced at the Golden Temple and gave a parallel ‘sandesh’ (message) to the ‘quam’ (the Sikh community), while his supporters raised slogans against chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar and Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh. The police arrested Ajnala and Daduwal earlier in the day. Mand was sent to Nabha jail, while Ajnala was lodged in the Amritsar jail and Daduwal in the Patiala jail. Mohkam Singh was arrested around 4am on Wednesday and sent to Ludhiana jail. Mann was hospitalised in Amritsar on Wednesday before he was released on Thursday.
Tension in Golden Temple
Tension prevailed at the Golden Temple when Sikh youth belonging to radical groups, including the Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and Sikh Youth of Punjab, waved swords and black flags while raising slogans against the Badal government and the SGPC when jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh was giving the annual ‘sandesh’ to the community on the occasion of Bandi Chhor Diwas or Day of Liberation that coincides with Diwali and celebrates sixth master Guru Hargobind’s release from a Gwalior prison. Pilgrims and tourists hurried out of the shrine when the sloganeering began even as police in plainclothes and members of the SGPC task force watched the tension unfold.
Though the embarrassed jathedar completed his address in eight minutes, Mand dramatically surfaced soon after and started addressing the ‘quam’ (community) from the platform under the Akal Takht, taking the police by surprise. Mand’s appearance pumped up the radicals and the protests grew louder. Mand called for the “social boycott” of the Badals and members of the government as, he claimed, they had failed to prevent the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib recently. He accused the government of “betraying and suppressing the quam” and called to the community to “free the Akal Takht and the SGPC from the clutches of the Badals”. He accused the chief minister and SGPC chief of “undermining the supreme authority and status of the Akal Takht”, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs. He accused the Badals of promoting their family rule and indulging in corrupt practices besides promoting drug, land, sand, transport and cable mafia in Punjab. He called to Sikhs to observe a black Diwali to protest the arrest of the radical leaders.
Panic in walled city
Thereafter, Mand along with his supporters paid obeisance at the Akal Takht and at the sanctum sanctorum before doing a ‘parikrama’ (taking a round) of the shrine. The police in plainclothes followed him from a safe distance. He left the shrine and led his sword-wielding supporters, who raised slogans in support of Jagtar Singh Hawara, the assassin of former CM Beant Singh who has been appointed Akal Takht jathedar by the radicals. The supporters marched through markets in the vicinity of the Golden Temple, including Hall Bazaar, where shopkeepers shut their shops in panic. Vendors selling fire-crackers along the roads also fled, stuffing their goods in sacks. The police finally caught up with Mann and arrested him and three of his supporters at Sikandari Gate.
Timeline of events
2:45pm: Radicals’ Sarbat Khalsa ‘removes’ four Sikh head priests, names three new ones
4am to 6am: Police start crackdown, SAD (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann and United Akali Dal chief Mohkam Singh detained. Jathedars announced during radicals’ Sarbat Khalsa, Baljit Singh Daduwal and Amrik Singh Ajnala arrested.
11am: Mann taken to hospital in Amritsar, admitted after check-up
3.30pm: Head granthi of Golden Temple Jagtar Singh begins address from Darshani Deori followed by SGPC chief Makkar and Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh
3.50pm: Protests begin, black flags shown to Giani Gurbachan Singh and slogans raised against Badal, Makkar and jathedar
4pm: Panic-stricken pilgrims start fleeing from Golden Temple
4.30pm: Interim Akal Takht jathedar Dhian Singh Mand starts reading out parallel ‘sandesh’ from platform below Akal Takht
4.45pm: He pays obeisance at Akal Takht and later at sanctum sanctorum
6 pm: Mand and followers sit in Plaza outside Golden Temple Clock Tower entrance
7pm: Start march from Clock Tower to Hall Gate as traders close down shops in panic
8.30pm: Mand arrested along with three supporters at Sikandari Gate