CHANDIGARH:Trouble is brewing in Punjab. Recently, 150 radical Sikh organisations held a congregation in the state on November 10, which was attended by over two lakh people, which included a large number of youth. The meeting was held on lines of the 18th century practice of calling a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ (the entire Sikh nation) in times of hardship or conflict. The first ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ was called by the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, before his death in 1708.
Key chains, stickers, T-shirts, calenders and other memorabilia, bearing pictures of militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale sold like hot cakes, along with those of General Subheg Singh, the decorated Indian Army officer who had later joined Bhindranwale. On November 13, the state police booked 20 organisers of this ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ for sedition.
Posters of Bhindranwale were put up at the main entrance to the ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ and attendees were also carrying his posters and placards. Young men were sporting T-shirts, emblazoned with huge pictures of Bhindranwale carrying an AK-47 rifle and those of Gen. Subeg Singh. The collectibles were openly being sold at the venue at Chabba village near Amritsar.
A shopkeeper said he had sold thousands of calendars with Bhindranwale’s photos, each priced at Rs 20, besides key chains and car stickers. Posters at the venue bore pictures of the 1984 Sikh pogrom, illegal sand mining in Punjab, and photos of peaceful agitators, including teachers, being thrashed by the state police.
This comes at a time when the SAD-BJP government is at its weakest ever due to poor governance and an utter disconnect with the people. The recent ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ reeked of secessionism and potential violence and its dominant theme was the Sikh Raj. The outrage against the government, the sentiment of anger in the state following the coordinated attacks on the holy book Guru Granth Sahib, and the deepening religious-political quagmire has landed Punjab in the same situation that had triggered militancy earlier. The first spark to set off this militancy revival was the unconditional pardon extended to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in September this year for trying to take on the attire of the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, which had lead to widespread violence and clashes in the state. The Akal Takht had to retract its pardon a few days later due to public pressure.
It was the Sikh-Nirankari clash on Baisakhi (April 13) of 1978 in Amritsar that is considered to be the watershed that witnessed the phenomenal rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who emerged as the icon of Sikh militancy.
The revival of militancy after Operation Bluestar period started with a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ held on January 26, 1986 . The common factor between the then ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ and the assembly today is Bhai Mohkam Singh, who now heads the United Akali Dal, the main force which was behind this mega show. Speaker after speaker at the “Sarbat Khalsa” referred to the struggle for Sikh Raj although no formal resolution was adopted. Thirteen resolutions were passed.
Sources said around a dozen Sikh organizations based in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong funded the recently held ‘Sarbat Khalsa’. Sometime back, the Punjab Police wrote to the MHA to ban an online Sikh news channel through which the NRIs were making announcements for money they would give to the people who carried out assassinations of political leaders and cops in the state.
Last year, the state police recovered more than Rs 4 crore from the account of Baljit Singh Daduwal, who was appointed a high priest at the ‘Sarbat Khalsa’. The police will now be tracking the activities of these NRIs. Daduwal is under preventive arrest.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said former terrorists had reunited to finish the moderate Sikh leadership in Punjab and impose an ISI-Taliban like rule which would be resisted and defeated at all costs.
“It is quite clear. There was a feeling that the SAD-BJP government was set to come back to power in 2017. The sacrilege incidents and the resultant ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ were held to attack all Sikh institutions including Akal Takht, SGPC and the SAD and cripple the SAD-BJP combine in the run up to the elections,’’ he said. Meanwhile, the executive committee of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) has unanimously rejected the decisions announced at the recent ‘Sarbat Khalsa’.
1978: Forty protesters die in the Nirankari-Sikh clash that takes place on April 13 in Amritsar.
1980: Baba Gurbachan Singh of Sant Nirankari sect is shot dead.
1981: A plane is hijacked and taken to Pakistan. All passengers are rescued.
1982: Chief Minister Darbara Singh escapes assassination attempt. 1983: Massacre of Hindu passengers by Sikh militants
1984: Passengers are taken out of buses and trains, and shot dead.
1984: 300 people killed.
1984: Thousands killed in Operation Blue Star at Golden Temple.
1985: Passengers are taken out of bus near Jalandhar and shot dead.
1985: President’s Rule is imposed in the state.
1985 to 1995: Many terrorist incidents take place.
1995: CM Beant Singh is assassinated on August 31.