Staring out at the dusty road, Avtar Singh shakes his head in despair as he looks at the truckloads of men in blue turbans and women in salwar-kameezes entering the Manji Sahib gurdwara in Ambala. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-dominated Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has sent its “army” from Punjab, he says.
They have done so to guard the major gurdwaras in Haryana after its Assembly passed a Bill allowing creation of a separate management committee for Sikh shrines in the state, Avtar Singh adds.
“There is no doubt Haryana should get its own gurdwara committee. We are discriminated against in the current system. So much money goes from Haryana and yet we get nothing. This is a question of our rights,” he says.
However, Avtar Singh is wary of violence. “There is danger looming large. We don’t want any panga (trouble). We don’t want violence for this. Then it just won’t be worth it.”
Avtar Singh’s fears are reflected across all the major gurdwaras in Haryana, with the SGPC believed to have sent men and women in batches to eight of the main ones, including Manji Sahib, to “guard” them.
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While the Centre told the Congress-led Haryana government to withdraw its Bill on the creation of a Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC), on Wednesday the latter went ahead and constituted a 41-member HSGPC to manage, supervise and take over the assets of all the gurdwaras in the state.
With most of Haryana Sikhs backing the state’s move, The Indian Express visited four of the eight gurdwaras in the state that look primed for a fight.
Akalis in blue turbans sit at the entrance of the Panjokhra Sahib gurdwara in Ambala carrying kirpans, while a larger number roam inside the complex. In the market outside, most of the hushed whispers revolve around who the men and women are and why they are here.
Baldev Singh, who runs a shop selling knick-knacks, says the Akalis have “captured the gurdwara” by sending their men “mainly from Punjab”. “See, it’s simple. It’s like living in a rented house versus owning a house. Till now, it has been like the former for us from Haryana — it hasn’t been our own. But we want our own committee. Why should Punjab decide our fate?” he asks, as the five others around him nod their heads.
Same questions are being raised outside the Sahib Patshahi 6th gurdwara in Kurukshetra and the Nada Sahib gurdwara in Panchkula. Jaswant Singh, who owns a mobile shop outside the Kurukshetra gurdwara, and Harpreet Singh, a shopowner near Nada Sahib, say Haryana has been deprived by the SGPC on many counts, including in jobs in gurdwaras. The finances are used by and for Punjab, and all the benefits accrue to the bigger state, the Sikhs of Haryana say.
Of the 170 members in the SGPC, only 11 are from Haryana while one each is from Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. All the rest are from Punjab.
Baba Sukha Singh of Dera Kar Sewa gurdwara in Karnal says that for Punjab, it’s all about the money. A vehement supporter of Jagdish Singh Jhinda, who has been spearheading the HSGPC campaign, Baba Sukha Singh notes that Haryana gurdwaras account for “3,000 acres of land and generate an annual revenue of over Rs 200 crore”. “All they (Punjab and SAD) want is this money and to be able to use it for their benefits and to accumulate power,” he says.
Local Sikhs also accuse Punjab, being the “big brother”, of “using bullying tactics” instead of giving in to the “rightful demands of the younger sibling”.
The men occupying the Haryana gurdwaras, as well as their leadership, deny they are from Punjab. “They are all locals. Why should anyone come from Punjab? And we are not guarding anything, we are only working for God,” says Raghujit Singh Virk, senior vice-president, SGPC.
Virk, a SAD member, is sitting with a group of 10 other Akalis in a small office room of Patshahi 6th gurdwara in Kurukshetra. “The Hooda government is only trying to divide the Sikhs for political benefits. We will not allow a separate committee. But we are doing nothing, only sitting peacefully in gurdwaras,” he says. With a veiled threat, he adds, “Please quote me on this. If there is even the tiniest bit of violence, the Haryana government will be responsible.”
Not everyone is as discreet. SGPC member Sajjan Singh, who reached Nada Sahib gurdwara early Tuesday morning with “nearly 2,000 other Akalis”, openly says they have been sent from Punjab on instructions of the “high command”. “We are all being sent from Punjab to defend and guard the eight main gurdwaras. Everyday, thousands come and are put on duty while the others who have been here are relieved. It’s a proper system. We will be here till a solution is reached,” he says.
The fact that elections are due later this year in Haryana makes this even more complex. Several believe the Congress may benefit because of its move to create a separate gurdwara committee in a state with a 6 per cent Sikh population. However, others believe that while the Congress may gain a little, how the issue pans out will be of utmost importance.
Meanwhile Jhinda, who is part of the HSGPC nominated by the Haryana government, has said no office-bearers have been nominated so far. “We will have our first meeting in the next couple of days, after which a board will be constituted. We will decide our strategy and the next line of action only when the committee meets,” he said.