SHAKEN BY the massive response to last year’s Sarbat Khalsa, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is determined not to allow the event this year, especially with the 2017 Assembly election being some months away.
Completely taken by suprise last year, SAD has tried to reinforce itself on the Panthic platform by taking a series of measures like celebrating the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in a big way, giving a makeover to the facade across the road leading to Golden Temple, changing the top SGPC leadership by replacing Avtar Singh Makkar with Kirpal Singh Badungar and even passing a bill in the Assembly to increase punishment for the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib to life imprisonment.
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This year, the government has been extra cautious by ordering a crackdown on organisers and supporters well ahead of the November 10 event at Talwandi Sabo. While police say 180 such activists have been arrested after Bathinda police denied permission for the event, several prominent leaders, including SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann, United Akali Dal president Mohkam Singh, UAD leader Gurdeep Singh Bathinda and others are either on the run or hiding with police desperately looking for them.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday said, “No one would be allowed to disturb the hard-earned peace in the state.” Responding to a query on the crackdown relating to Sarbat Khalsa during the Sangat Darshan programme at Fatehgarh Sahib, Badal said it was the “bounden duty of the state government to maintain peace, communal harmony and brotherhood in the state at every cost”. He said the government was “keeping a strict vigil on the entire situation and no one would be allowed to take law in their hands”.
The Opposition Congress has been maintaining a studied silence though. A senior party leader, who did not wish to be named, said, “We cannot toe what Badal is saying since he is our opponent. Nor can we support organisers of Sarbat Khalsa as that would put the party at a risk of losing out on Hindu votes in the coming polls.”
How seriously is SAD taking the November 10 event could be gauged from the scale of government crackdown and denial of permission for an event, the prelude of which did not start on an emphatic note this year. “We had a meeting with organisers of Sarbat Khalsa in Ludhiana. We were yet to decide whether we will participate. But, this crackdown has our sympathies with the organisers. In fact, every Sikh now has sympathies for them. The government is curtailing the voice of Sikhs. Whether we participate in the event or not, but what the government is doing is sarkari jyadati (government high-handedness),” said Akhand Kirtani Jatha Chief Spokesperson R P Singh. “Last year’s event was peaceful. Lakhs attended it. No officials were to be seen at large distances. There was no violence. To say that it is not being allowed in the wake of law and order threat is not correct at all,” he added.
“The Badal government fears that there will be a huge gathering this time, too, and that everyone will speak against them. This will harm SAD ahead of the 2017 elections,” said Dal Khalsa spokesman Kanwarpal Singh, adding that “Badals want to create bogey of unrest to reap political dividends.” He further stated that the crackdown was causing “fear psychosis” and there was “no legal reason to ban the Sikh congregation”. “We have principled differences and disagreements on issues with Sarbat Khalsa, but they have every right to hold a congregation peacefully,” added Kanwarpal.
The SAD(A) and UAD activists had launched a campaign to garner support for the event by going to villages and putting up posters. They have also moved court alleging that the Bathinda administration was not taking a call on the application filed by the organisers of the event. On Monday, too, a petition was filed seeking blanket bail for those associated with organising the congregation.