Giani Dhian Singh Mand, who has been appointed interim jathedar of the Akal Takht by radical Sikh groups, was detained by police after he and his followers marched on the roads of the Amritsar and shouted slogans in support of Beant Singh’s assassin Jagtar Singh Hawara.
Mand, who was detained on Wednesday, is being held at Chheharta police station.
Shop-owners in Hall Gate and Ram Bagh shut their outlets and people left the area in a hurry as Mand’s supporters marched through the streets on Wednesday evening. The large number of policemen present in the area failed to prevent the closure of markets.
Earlier, Sikh youngsters brandished swords, shouted slogans and waved black flags as Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh began reading out his annual ‘sandesh’ (message) to the community on the occasion of Bandi Chhor Diwas (Day of Liberation). The event coincides with Diwali and celebrates the release of sixth Sikh master Guru Hargobind from a Gwalior prison.
Pilgrims and tourists hurried out of the Golden Temple when the sloganeering began while police in plainclothes and members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) task force watched the tension unfold.
Though the embarrassed jathedar completed his address in eight minutes, Giani Dhian Singh Mand – the “acting jathedar” appointed by radical Sikhs at a congregation in Chabba village on Tuesday – surfaced soon after and started addressing the community from the platform under the Akal Takht, taking police by surprise.
Though police had cracked down on hardline leaders and arrested Simranjit Singh Mann and Mohkam Singh and detained Amrik Singh Ajnala and Baljit Singh Daduwal, Mand managed to dodge security personnel and enter the Golden Temple. The development raised questions about the efficacy of the police intelligence network, observers said.
Panic prevailed in areas around the Golden Temple as hundreds of followers of interim Dhian Singh Mand marched on the roads on Wednesday. Shops in Hall Gate and Ram Bagh shut down because of the tension and people left the area in a hurry.
Jathedar puts up brave face
Giani Gurbachan Singh has been facing the heat since he, along with four other Takht head priests, pardoned Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case on September 24.
Though the jathedar revoked the pardon following protests by the Sikh community, the hardliners have been demanding that he and two other Takht heads, appointed by the SGPC, should be removed.
Even as the jathedar continued to read his ‘sandesh’ on Wednesday, the slogan-shouting Sikh youngsters waved black flags and gestured that he should leave since they did not want to listen to him. They shouted slogans for half an hour against SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, besides the jathedar.
While pilgrims and tourists left the Golden Temple in panic, a large number of supporters of radical groups, including the SAD (Amritsar), Dal Khalsa and Sikh Youth of Punjab, entered the shrine with swords. Dhian Singh Mand emerged thereafter.
Mand asked the community to socially boycott the state government. He held the government responsible for recent incidents of sacrilege across Punjab. This despite the fact that police have solved several sacrilege cases and found the desecration was an insider’s job to settle scores.
He appealed to people to observe a “black Diwali” to protest against the arrest of Panthic leaders such as Mann and Mohkam Singh. While Mann was admitted to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital soon after his arrest, Amrik Singh Ajnala was put under house arrest at Ajnala village and Baljit Singh Daduwal was detained at Damdama Sahib.
After completing his speech, Mand and his followers entered the Akal Takht and paid obeisance. The police exercised restraint and kept a close watch on their movements.