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Punjab govt doesn't want Sarbat Khalsa at Talwandi Sabo: What is Badal scared of?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:44 IST

The Parkash Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine government in the state does not want the Sarbat Khalsa congregation called for by certain Sikh groups at Talwandi Sabo on 10 November. The government has ordered a crackdown that has resulted in arrests of scores of people ahead of the event.

The current Sarbat Khalsa congregation comes a year after the massive convergence of masses in Chhaba village on Amritsar-Tarn Taran Road last year where the prime issue discussed was the desecration of holy texts.

The question doing the rounds in Punjab is that what are Badal and the Akalis so scared of that they do not want to allow the congregation to take place. Post their crackdown, the organisers are looking at a legal recourse to aid the congregation.

The call for the congregation had been given at the Baisakhi Mela at Talwandi Sabo earlier this year and organisers are pointing out that it should not matter as to who made the call - the hardliners or the moderates.

The issue being debated is why should the government stop a congregation if it is peaceful and the organisers just want the masses to come together to discuss certain issues related to the poll-bound state in general and the community in particular?

Those supporting the crackdown say that technically it is only the Akal Takht that can call a Sarbat Khalsa (a congregation representative of various groups of Sikhs). But the liberal elements say that the nomenclature of the event hardly matters. What matters is the democratic right of any group to call for a congregation to discuss any matter as long as they do so peacefully.

Matter of beliefs

Last year's congregation had seen the Sikh hardliners appointing Jagtar Singh Hawara, convicted for the assassination of former Chief Minister Beant Singh, as the new Akal Takht jathedar. This was a parallel appointment in place of Gurbachan Singh.

The hardliners had also appointed Amrik Singh Ajnala and Baljit Singh Daduwal as heads of Takht Keshgarh Sahib and Takht Damdama Sahib, respectively.

Since Hawara is in jail, former MP Dhian Singh Mand was asked to officiate in absentia for Hawara.

Observers say that the parallel appointments were reflective of the public sentiment over continuing instances of desecration of holy books across the state and the failure of the government to do anything about it.

Discontent in the masses

The masses were agitated over the complete hold of the SAD (Badal) over the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabankhak Committee (SGPC) that had refused permission to organise the congregation at Manji Sahib Gurudwara at Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.

Reports say that more than one lakh people had congregated at the alternative venue of Chhaba village last year where not only a parallel Jathedar was appointed but Badal was stripped off the 'Panth Rattan - Fakhr-e-qaum' honour bestowed on him in 2011.

The congregation had also nullified the 'Shiromani Sewak' title given to the then SGPC Chief Avtar Singh Makkar.

The congregation had also declared Operation Blue Star commander Lieutenant General (Retd) KS Brar and former Director General of Police (DGP) KPS Gill as 'tankhaiya' (guilty of religious conduct) and directed them to appear before the Akal Takht.

The call for that congregation had been given by SAD (Amritsar) led by Simaranjit Singh Mann and United Akali Dal (UAD) following a flip-flop by the five Takht heads, including the Akal Takht Jathedar, on the issue of pardoning the Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim.

This time around as well, these organisations have given the call which is being countered by the government with a crackdown.

Government crackdown

"What needs to be understood is that the government wants to strangulate the voice of the people. They do not want the world to know why people want to come together and what they want to discuss peacefully. Sikh congregations have been held in the past as well and not necessarily at the Akal Takht.," said senior UAD functionary Gurnam Singh Sidhu.

"This is the second occasion when people are coming together and this is their constitutional right to express themselves. The government does not want the people to come out and speak out against its failures," pointed out AS Chahal, a lawyer working with the organisers of the event.

Sidhu along with political observers pointed out the failures of the government that would be raised at the event -

"Our prime concern remains the continuing instances of the desecration of the holy texts. No Sikh would tolerate disrespect to the Gurus or the Guru Granth Sahib or any religious text for that matter. The government has failed to make effective arrests in these cases that have been coming to light over the last one and a half years now," Sidhu told Catch.

Situation out of control

It is common knowledge that the religious violence in Punjab has been spiraling over the last several months. Besides the continuing instances of desecration of holy texts of various faiths, there has been the killing of Mata Chand Kaur, the 88-year-old wife of the late Satguru Jagjit Singh, the former head of Namdhari sect, who was gunned down at Bhaini Sahib, the headquarters of the sect, near Ludhiana.

This was followed by the assault at a preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale. While he had a narrow escape, his aide Bhupinder Singh died when around a dozen assailants fired upon them at a 'chabeel' - offering cold drinks to passers-by - near Ludhiana.

More recently one of the senior most RSS functionaries Brigadier (Retd.) Jagdish Gagneja was killed after being shot at in Jalandhar.

All these cases have remained unresolved. The government has not been able to come out with any concrete explanation over its failure with Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal often blaming Pakistani agency ISI for trying to disturb peace in the state.

The case of Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Mehrauli MLA Naresh Yadav being allegedly framed for the desecration of Quran in Malerkotla earlier this year has given a new dimension to the religious violence.

The government's decision to pass a Bill paving the way for awarding life imprisonment to those guilty of desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib while increasing the punishment for desecration of other religious texts from two years to 10 years, has failed to cut ice with the masses as it is yet to be notified.

Mounting issues

The organisers of the Sarbat Khalsa congregation also want to raise the issue of the continuing farmer suicides and farm distress at the event. This is another area where the government has failed to check the trend and has had no explanation to give yet.

Badal has been referring to the passing of the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness 2016 Bill that provides a framework for expeditious determination and settlement of non-institutional agricultural debt.

He recently announced a price stabilisation fund to prevent distress sale by farmers. But the suicides have continued.

Sidhu said, "Another issue we want to talk about is the youth that has been ruined because of the continuing drug menace. This is another area where the government has failed. No one is happy under this regime and this is what we want to highlight. We are adamant of holding the congregation. If they barricade our entry to the venue, we will sit at the point till where we are allowed to go."

The administration has reportedly uprooted the tents that had been erected for the event.

Observers point out that there is also a fear among the ruling party following reports that the congregation might "ex-communicate" the Badal family which would be a matter of huge embarrassment.

Whether the organisers are able to hold the event or the government succeeds in scuttling it remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure that the SAD (Badal) will have lots of explanations to give in the days to come.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 7 November 2016, 6:51 IST