He is the man of the moment. SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann has a spring in his step. The main orgainser of the radical Sarbat Khalsa of November 10, Mann, unlike many who led the gathering, is unapologetic about bringing the issue of Khalistan back to Punjab’s centre stage. Assistant editor Chitleen K Sethi spoke to Mann about the radical Sarbat Khalsa and the politics that ensued over it.
What do you have to say about demanding Khalistan at the radical Sarbat Khalsa?
Sarbat Khalsa was a Khalistani stage and everyone present there knew it. Not just the Congress, many other parties also participated in it. There was the BSP, even SGPC members. The conversations between Congress leaders and (Satwant Singh) Manawa are not fake. (Harminder Singh) Gill and Manawa are neighbours. Why will they not talk to each other? What is wrong with it? And how is demanding a separate nation seditious? Recently Barcelona voted for a separate nation within Spain.
Why did the original protest leaders -- the Sikh preachers -- give the radical Sarbat Khalsa a miss?
The abbots (Panthpreet Singh, Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale, among others) have aligned themselves with the state for reasons best known to them. They chose to take the easy way out.
Other hardliner groups also opposed you.
It was suggested that we not call it the Sarbat Khalsa or postpone it by 20 days. But I did not agree. We were working towards uniting Sikhs to come on a common platform for Khalistan and also for the preservation of Sikh culture, ethos and religion. At the Sarbat Khalsa we saw unprecedented response to our cause. People of Punjab want Khalistan.
Your daughter, in her book, had said that you had realised that people of Punjab did not want Khalistan.
Her writing reflects her independent thinking. Sometimes when she keeps pestering me to say something, I say such a thing.
How do you justify ‘making’ Jagtar Singh Hawara as the Akal Takht jathedar?
Hawara has been made a jathedar continuing with the concept of a saint soldier. Our jathedars have the acceptability of Sikhs. On the day the Akal Takht jathedar addressed Sikhs at the Golden temple, he was booed and when (Dhian Singh) Mand, our temporary jathedar, spoke, he was cheered. Pinderpal Singh could have been made a jathedar but he is not ready for Khalistan; he would not have given voice to our ideology.
Why did you not speak at the Sarbat Khalsa?
I felt it would charge up the gathering. The government wanted a clash there. That would have suppressed the message of the Sarbat Khalsa and the clash would have hogged the limelight. I denied them the headlines they wanted.
But by speaking of Khalistan you gave the government legitimacy to crack down on the organisers.
That is what they think. How can demanding Khalistan justify the repression that followed? I was under house arrest till Sunday. And how could I not speak of something which my party has worked towards for 31 years? Khalistan is the aim and it had to be reiterated.
Now that all your organisers and jathdars are in jail, what next?
We will intensify our stir. Get them out. We will organise bandhs.
What about the 2017 elections?
Our party is ready to take along anyone who does not have a problem with our ideology. The Aam Aadmi Party is a good party but its leaders have used derogatory words for Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. There are many who want to join our party. I got a call from a Jat leader in UP who wanted the SAD (A) ticket from Ghaziabad.
So you have decided to change?
I am not a changed man. It is a strategic shift. When the idea of Khalistan was not resolute enough, I had to be strict. Now when it is resolute, I can afford concessions to take everyone along.
But SAD (A) has not done well politically after 1989.
There are ups and downs. My party did not fare well because I refused to compromise like others. I stuck to my ideology. People like (Parkash Singh) Badal and (Capt) Amarinder Singh used the cause of Khalistan when it suited them.