By Chander Suta Dogra
For a month now, Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa has been on a fast-unto-death at Lakhnaur Sahib gurdwara near Ambala in Haryana. A former Punjab militant, he has been seeking the release of men who took to the gun and are serving time in different jails.
His sit-in is repeat of one he did at a gurdwara in Punjab a year ago and, after 44 days, managed to secure the release on parole of four convicts. But this time, none of the radical Sikh organisations are backing Khalsa. They now call him a turncoat, one who sought the support of the saffron Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh arm of the RSS.
Last month, Khalsa travelled to Delhi where he attended a kirtan organised by the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat for its newly constituted executive committee. RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi addressed the gathering and Sikh Sangat chief Gurcharan Singh Gill assured Khalsa he had their backing. “Sikh Sangat members are not just supporting Khalsa at Lakhnaur Sahib but are assisting him in raising his voice,” Gill said.
Khalsa, on his part, has been trying to play down his RSS link ever since a photograph of him at the Sikh Sangat function did the social media rounds: “This is a human rights issue. Who is supporting me or not is immaterial.”
The Sikh Sangat has not had it easy in Punjab. In 2004, the then jathedar of the Akal Takht declared the Sangat as “anti-Sikh” and and all Sikhs were forbidden to have any association with it.
In 2009, Babbar Khalsa militants shot dead Sangat chief Rulda Singh in Patiala.
Almost defunct in Punjab, the Sangat is out to revive itself by taking up Sikh issues.
Khalsa’s cause is not the only one. Sangat chief Gill, who is a Jaipur-based lawyer, claimed that the Sangat was behind the Centre’s announcement of Rs 5 lakh compensation to the kin of every 1984 anti-Sikh riot victim.
“Apart from the names of seven life-term prisoners Khalsa gave us, we have identified more. We will take up the matter of release of 15 prisoners with Home Minister Rajnath Singh,” he said.
Elected Sangat president last year, Gill is exploring the option of an employment scheme for the families of the 1984 riot victims and waiver of bank loans.
Of the 450 Sikh Sangat units, only 15 exist in Punjab – the others are in Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
“We have maintained a low profile in Punjab ever since 2009. While we do not hold any big programme there, several small functions are organised. We hope to expand our presence here,” Gill said.
The Sangat also has Sehajdhari Sikhs (non-baptized Sikhs) as members — mainstream Sikh bodies like the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee have opposed their participation in Sikh religious affairs.