First Post – Punjab Struggles to Maintain Peace

Chandigarh: The Panthic (religious) crisis in Punjab continues with the Panj Pyaras (five favourites of the Guru) and the Akal Takht Jathedars failing to resolve the conflict over pardon to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, head of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda. Though the Akal Takht revoked the pardon under pressure from various quarters on 16 October, the issue refuses to die down. The desecration of the copies of the Holy Granth Sahib has only added fuel to fire.Trouble started a month ago when in an unexpected move on 24 September, the Akal Takht Jathedars announced that they had pardoned the Dera Sacha Sauda chief. He was charged with blasphemy for dressing like Guru Gobind Singh. They said it was done on the basis of the clarification received from the latter. A wide section of Sikhs reacted angrily and there were protests all over the state.Representational image. AFP

It was alleged that the decision had been taken by the Akal Takht under pressure from the Akali Dal which was looking forward to some kind of settlement with the Dera before the 2017 assembly elections. Dera Sacha Sauda has a huge following in Punjab, especially in the Malwa region. The Dera’s support had been crucial for the victory of the Congress in the 2007 assembly elections.

Akali Dal leaders were quick to deny the charge of any understanding with the Dera, but there were not many takers for this. It is widely believed that Akali Dal controls the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and all its decisions are influenced by the Akalis.

Upset at the decision of the Akal Takht, the Panj Pyaras passed a `Gurmatta’ (resolution) to summon the Sikh high priests, including the Akali Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, before the supreme temporal seat of Sikhism for questioning. The `Panj Pyaras’ demanded their resignation as they had worked against the tenets of Sikhism. In case they did not give their resignation, the Panj Pyaras asked the SGPC to sack them.

The Akal Takht jathedars refused to oblige. Instead, in a dramatic turn of events the SGPC suspended the ‘Panj Pyaras’. Its president Avtar Singh Makkar said the decision to summon the jathedaras was against Panthic traditions and maryada (tenets) of the Akal Takht. While three of the `Panj Pyaras’ were asked to report to the Sikh Mission office at Hapur in Uttar Pradesh, two of them were transferred to Kurukshetra in Haryana. According to Satnam Singh, one of the Panj Pyaras, the suspension was not valid as SGPC service rules did not apply to them.

It led to another round of protests against the SGPC.

Meanwhile, the incident of desecration of the Holy Granth Sahib took place and there were several instances of the pages of the Holy Book being torn in different parts of Punjab. Many in the community suspected the hand of Dera Sacha Sauda in it. But it refuted the charge, condemned the incident and appealed to the people to maintain peace and calm. However, the protests continued unabated and the police had to resort to firing in Kotkapura resulting in death of two persons at Faridkot and injury to more than 60 people.

As protests continue in Punjab, the Sikh community is getting divided with people taking sides. Faridkot, Kapurthala, Barnala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Moga and Ferozepur districts have seen several protests in the last few days. Anger also seems to be growing against Akali Dal leaders. A vehicle of Akali Dal MLA Darshan Singh was vandalised by protesters near Talwandi Sabo.

Speaking to Firstpost, Didar Singh Nalwi, vice president of the Haryana SGPC, said what was happening in the SGPC was very regrettable. “The present crisis is dividing the Sikh community. This is the result of the political interference of the Akalis in religious matters. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who yields enormous influence over the SGPC, should desist from controlling the body.”

Professor (Retd) Manjit Singh of Swaraj Abhiyan, said the present chaos in Punjab is because of political interference in religious matters. Sometimes the leaders deliberately allow such controversies to linger to divert people’s attention from the real issues facing the state.

Via –

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