In a bid to defuse a fast-escalating situation, the Akal Takht on Saturday directed calling off of Sikh congregations planned in Amritsar on Sunday and in Karnal on Monday over Haryana’s decision to create a separate committee to manage gurdwaras in the state.
The directive came even as Haryana governor-designate Kaptan Singh Solanki, who will be sworn in in a day or two, said he would look into the whole issue once he takes over but his personal opinion was that the Centre’s directive against the Haryana government’s new law “must be obeyed”.
In a hurriedly called press conference on Saturday, Jathedar Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh issued a directive to Sikhs of Haryana, the ruling SAD (Badal) and the entire Sikh community not to hold any kind of rally or convention that could lead to violence.
Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal and Haryana Sikhs subsequently announced calling off of their conventions, in Amritsar and Karnal respectively.
Addressing a press conference late on Sunday night in Amritsar, after a core committee meeting of the Akali Dal, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the struggle against Haryana’s plans would continue, “but in a peaceful manner”. While Badal had taken the situation to the brink, including putting own chair on the line, the announcement of the new governor in Haryana had already changed political equations.
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According to sources, there were a series of consultations between a concerned BJP and Akalis over the issue, with Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal meeting Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley on Friday evening. It may have been impossible for Badal to call off the agitation at the last minute otherwise, but a directive from the Akal Takht provided a good opening.
The preparation for the conventions by Sikhs in Haryana and Akalis in Punjab had been on in full swing. Senior Akali Dal leader and Education Minister Daljit Singh Cheema was present at the Manji Sahib Hall in Golden Temple, the venue of the Akali convention, to oversee the arrangements, when the directive from the Akal Takht came.
Jathedar Gurbachan Singh said that in the light of the prevailing circumstances, nobody could be allowed to hold a convention or rally as it may deepen the crisis in the Sikh panth. He cited the violence in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, saying everybody should focus attention on easing the situation there. A SGPC team led by president Avtar Singh Makkar has been directed to reach Saharanpur.
“Every Sikh appears worried over the state of affairs in the community. What happened at Saharanpur today has added to our worry and presented a challenge before the community. At such a time, I feel that any probable clash among the Sikh community be stopped at any cost. Being the chief sewadar of the community, I order all parties to stop the conventions being held at Amritsar and Karnal,” the Jathedar said.
On a separate Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC), the Jathedar said Sikh leaders from Haryana and Akali leaders from Punjab would be asked to come to the Akal Takht to find a solution.
The Akalis had convened a World Sikh Convention at the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar for Sunday after the Haryana government refused to pay heed to the Centre’s directive to revoke the law passed by it for the creation of a separate SGPC.
Confirming that they had called off the meeting, district president of the Amritsar unit of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Upkar Singh Sandhu told PTI: “The Akal Takht is the supreme authority for the Sikhs. Its directive is binding on us.”
Didar Singh Nalvi, who is spearheading the movement for a separate SGPC in Haryana, also told PTI they had called off their Sikh Convention planned at Karnal.
However, a congregation of Haryana Sikhs in Kurukshetra elected Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Nalvi as the president and senior vice -president respectively of a 41-member ad-hoc HSGPC.
Welcoming the Akal Takht intervention as “historic”, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said, “It has defused the situation. Otherwise the Akali Dal would have ended up fighting with Haryana Sikhs.”
Warning against pitting “Sikhs against Sikhs”, Singh said: “Sikhism is a democratic religion and everyone should welcome a democratic system.” He suggested that the Akali Dal could contest the polls to the gurdwara committee in Haryana just as it had done in Delhi.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said Haryana’s rights also have to be recognised and respected.
With PTI inputs