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Akalis facing crisis of credibility with Sikhs, urgently need a course correction, says DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK

In an hour-long conversation with Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak and Assistant Editor Gurpreet Singh Nibber on Saturday, GK analysed the Akalis’ woes with a rare candour and exuded confidence in overcoming the party’s worst political crisis in recent history.

punjab Updated: Sep 09, 2018 09:31 IST
Ramesh Vinayak and Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Ramesh Vinayak and Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Akalis,Sikhs,Manjit Singh GK
DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK(HT Photo)

A respected Sikh face in the national capital, Manjit Singh GK, 60, president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) was in the spotlight last month when he was assaulted by pro-Khalistan radicals during his trip to the US. True to his Facebook page credo ‘never give in’, he refused to get cowed down. A confidant of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, GK is playing a troubleshooter for the party besieged by a resurrected Sikh anger over the sacrilege issue in Punjab.

In an hour-long conversation with Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak and Assistant Editor Gurpreet Singh Nibber on Saturday, GK analysed the Akalis’ woes with a rare candour and exuded confidence in overcoming the party’s worst political crisis in recent history. Excerpts:

What is your take on the crisis that SAD has been facing since the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report blamed the Parkash Singh Badal-led govt for the incidents of firing and sacrilege in 2015?

Right now, we are facing a crisis of credibility with the Sikhs. The report has ignited anger against us, but it will subside when people understand the truth. Religious sentiments have washed away all the good we did in our 10-year rule till 2017. The Akali Dal failed to answer sentimental issues of Sikhs and we suffered the loss in the last assembly elections. On development, the Badal government was way ahead of what the Congress has done so far. (Chief minister) Captain Amarinder Singh has forgotten his promises and, in a diversionary tactic, has latched onto the Panthic agenda. He is trying to put the Akalis on the mat on Panthic issues. This will not work. The Akalis will bounce back.

For Akalis, the sacrilege issue seems to have become what Operation Bluestar is to the Congress?

Yes, I agree. This (sacrilege) is our Operation Bluestar. Even if we are not at fault, the blame is on us. Right now, people are taking our truth as a lie. Don’t forget that we (Akalis) are leading a sentimental community. You do 100 good things for them but if one incident such as the sacrilege happens, the good work is negated. The Akalis were not involved in the sacrilege but there is a negative perception against us.

The Badal government failed to stop the sacrilege and fired on Sikh protesters...

That doesn’t make us guilty of sacrilege. Since the Congress government took over last year, there have been more than 70 sacrileges. In the one-sided debate in the assembly, the Congress issued a ‘fatwa’ against us. It is the same party that was responsible for attacking Harmandar Sahib and killing thousands of Sikhs in 1984. Nobody is questioning the Congress for that, while the Akalis are at the receiving end and people are not trusting us.

Why so?

That’s because the Akalis are considered thekedars of the Panth.The Akali Dal has been synonymous with the panth for more than nine decades. The Sikhs never expected the sacrilege to happen under our watch. Badal saab, as chief minister, had no knowledge of the firing at Behbal Kalan. But the situation then was such that firing took place. The government immediately removed then DGP Sumedh Saini and ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. The Amarinder government should have trusted the CBI, but it is now taking the case back and referring it to the special investigation team (SIT). Through that, it will fix whoever it wants to fix. The key question is: Where is the involvement of Parkash Singh Badal? Since the Akalis were in power when the firing happened, public perception is against us and their anger is not subsiding.

There seems to be a disconnect between the Akalis and the Panthic constituency.

One reason is the generation gap in the Akali Dal. Senior Akali leaders feel they are in the backseat, while the new generation doesn’t have an understanding of Panthic matters. That is why the Akali Dal committed mistakes. Another reason is that SAD changed its character after the 1996 Moga declaration, calling itself as the party of Punjabis. That was a shift from being the sole representative of the Sikhs to an inclusive approach. Then, we gave tickets to non-Sikhs in the 2007 assembly elections. Both factors led to a discontent among the Sikhs and we failed to make them understand. We need leaders like Gurcharan Singh Tohra. After his death, the taksali think tank is missing in Akali Dal. That could be why we faltered on the Panthic agenda.

Are you referring to the pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?

Yes. The pardon was not wrong. The way it was granted was a blunder. There is a concept of pardon in Sikhism, but there is a process to be followed. The way this (pardon) was granted trapped us. We should have taken the matter to the Panth and evolved a consensus. A gap between taksali Akalis and the new generation has led to the situation we face today. When we realised the pardon was wrong, it was revoked. But the damage was done.

Is SAD open to atone its blunder?

In politics, the biggest punishment and repentance is when people reject you in the elections and make you sit home. That’s what we faced in the 2017 elections. We are leading a sentimental community that is not ready to listen to us at this stage. We have been pushed to the wall for a mistake we never committed. But I agree that the party should take the course of repentance.

What’s the way out?

Time is a big healer. When the community is angry, there is no point reasoning. I’m sure it will understand the facts soon. Yes, the onus to protect the honour of Guru Granth Sahib was on our government, but its intentions were not bad. So far, we have failed to explain this to the people.

Some Akali leaders want the Akal Takht jathedar to resign.

This is the prerogative of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). I don’t know whether jathedar sahib committed a mistake or not but the credibility of our party and that of the Sikh clergy is being questioned.

Why does the anger seem to be more against the Badals than the Akali Dal?

The general of an army faces the flak for anything that goes wrong. The Akali Dal is a 98-year-old party. It will not diminish. Parkash Singh Badal has been five-time chief minister because of his credibility. He has weathered graver crises before. The Akalis and he will emerge out of this crisis.

How about the reforms in the SGPC to restore credibility of Sikh institutions?

There is a need for reforms in appointing jathedars. They should be appointed the way Christianity appoints a pope. The community should have a say in the way jathedars are appointed.

At present, jathedars are seen as the handmaidens of the Akali Dal.

Even if the Akalis don’t interfere, people feel that we get what we wish done from Akal Takht. That has hampered the credibility and status of the jathedar. That’s why we need to redefine the process of the clergy’s appointment.

What do you think of those sitting on dharna at Bargari?

They are protesting in the name of Guru Granth Sahib which is why they are getting support from some Sikh quarters. But they have a shady background and can’t be given a clean chit.

The conflict between the Akalis and radical Sikhs is getting sharper?

Radicals are a handful. Social media is controlled by radicals, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress. Together, they are hitting out at the Akali Dal on the sacrilege issue. Yet, Sukhbir is leading from the front and mobilising cadres.

You were assaulted by radicals during your recent trip to the US. What’s the mood of Sikhs abroad?

I was attacked by Pakistan-backed elements behind the so-called Referendum 2020. It is a paper tiger created by social media. It is true that Sikhs abroad nurse a sense of grievance and injustice. Our government’s approach in dealing with them is flawed. That’s what I told Union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and home minister Rajnath Singh on my return from the US last week.

Many Sikhs who left India in the ’80s and ’90s and got political asylum abroad want to visit India. By refusing visas to them, we are antagonising and driving them to the fold of Khalistanis. There is a festering outrage over denial of justice in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. All Sikhs abroad are not Khalistanis. But the Modi government has failed to address their sense of grievance.

First Published: Sep 09, 2018 09:21 IST