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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Discord between the Sangh and Akal Takht resurfaces

The provocation by the acting head of the Akak Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remark that India was a “Hindu Rashtra.” RSS hasn’t responded directly to the ban call although its affiliate, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, said the Takht has miscontrued Bhagwat’s comments.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2019 03:20 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat(Sunny Shende/ HT)
         

A call by the Akal Takht, or throne of the timeless, this week for a ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has revived the simmering discord between the highest temporal authority of Sikhism and the RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The provocation for Tuesday’s demand by the acting head of the Akak Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remark that India was a “Hindu Rashtra.” RSS hasn’t responded directly to the ban call although its affiliate, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, said the Takht has miscontrued Bhagwat’s comments.

In his annual Vijaydashami speech in Nagpur last week, Bhagwat said that in the view of the Sangh, the word Hindu was not confined to just those who call themselves Hindus.

“…Those who belong to Bharat, those of who are descendants of Bharatiya ancestors, those who are working for the ultimate glory of the nation and joining hands in enhancing peace by mingling with each other and accepting, respecting and welcoming all diversities; all those Bharatiyas are Hindus,” he said.

The Takht, one of the five seats of Sikhism, perceived his statement as an indication of the Sangh’s intention of subsuming the Sikh identity with that of the Hindus.

This isn’t the first such confrontation.In 2017, the two sides faced off against each other when the Akal Takht called for the boycott of an event held by the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat to mark the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru.

The motives attributed to Bhagwat’s speech by the Akal Takht are specious because the RSS chief referred to Hinduism as a way of life, said GS Gill, national president of the Sangat. “In 1996 the Supreme Court also said Hindutva cannot be confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices; it is a way of life,” he added.

On the 2017 conflict between the Sangh and the Takht, Gill said the statements made by the Takht were political in nature and the grounds for disagreement were unfounded. “Guru Gobind Singh is known as the Jagat Guru so it should be a matter of pride for us if other people want to celebrate his birth anniversary,” Gill said.

A senior RSS functionary said on condition of anonymity that periodic outbursts against the Sangh were designed to “discredit” the organisation.

While the Sangh has a limited presence in Punjab, it relies on the Sangat to build bridges with the Sikh community in the state and in neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan. In these states the Sangh has expressed concern over “forced conversions” being carried out by missionaries, especially in the border areas.

Of late, the RSS has also expressed concern over the resurgence of the Khalistani movement in Punjab. It pointed to a charge sheet filed by the National Investigation Agency against 11 men for the killing of an RSS worker, Ravinder Gosain, in Ludhaina in 2017.

Both Gill and the RSS functionary cited above said the Sangh considered Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism as separate religions.

“Statements to incite differences between Hindus and Sikhs are par for the course ahead of the so-called Referendum 2020.Therefore, the RSS does not want to comment on these statements,” a second Sangh functionary said.

Referendum 2020 is a secessionist campaign organised by the US-based Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) to assess if Sikhs across at least 20 countries want a separate homeland of their own.

Commenting on the differences of opinion, SS Jodhka, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said it was a tussle between the Sangh that wants to push for a nation state based on homogeneity and the Sikhs’ struggle for a distinct identity.

“To club the Sikhs with a larger Hindu identity is unnecessary; even the Khalistan movement was not supported by the larger Sikh community who take pride in being nationalists,” he said.