SGPC row: Akal Takht steps in, Sikh leaders call off congregation

Written by PTI | Amritsar | Updated: Jul 27 2014, 04:46am hrs
Congregations of Sikhs here and in Karnal against the formation of a separate Gurdwara Management Committee in Haryana were today called off after the Akal Takht's intervention but Haryana Sikhs today went ahead with the election of office-bearers for the ad-hoc committee.

In a bid to defuse the situation, the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs, stepped in by directing calling off all Sikh congregations planned by ruling Akali Dal here tomorrow and in Karnal on Monday against Haryana's decision to create a separate committee to manage Gurdwaras in the state.

Governor-designate Kaptan Singh Solanki, who is tipped to 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 Haryana government's new law "must be obeyed".

As tensions mounted, Jathedar Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh issued a directive to all Sikhs of Haryana, the ruling SAD (Badal) and the entire Sikh community not to hold any kind rally or convention tomorrow in Amritsar and in Karnal on Monday by Haryana-based Sikh leaders that could lead to further tension.

Punjab's ruling Akali Dal and Haryana Sikhs subsequently announced calling off their respective conventions which were scheduled to be held at Amritsar and Karnal.

Meanwhile, a congregation of Haryana Sikhs in Kurukshetra elected Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Didar Singh Nalvi, who spearheaded the movement for formation of separate SGPC for the state, as the President and Senior Vice President respectively of the newly notified 41-member ad-hoc HSGPC.

At a hurriedly-convened press conference here, the Jathedar said that in the light of the prevailing circumstances, nobody could be allowed to hold convention or rally anywhere in Punjab and Haryana as it may deepen the crisis in the Sikh panth.

Keeping in view the violence in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, everybody should focus attention on easing the situation there, he said.

A SGPC team led by President Avtar Singh Makkar has been directed to reach Saharanpur to ease the situation, the Jathedar said.

Talking about the separate Haryana Gurdwara Management Committee, the Jathedar said both the parties (Sikh leaders from Haryana and Akali leaders from Punjab) would be asked to come to Akal Takht to find a solution to the problem.

Sunday's meet in Amritsar was convened after Haryana government refused to pay heed to Centre's directive to revoke the law passed for the creation of a separate SGPC for the state that Punjab has termed "unconstitutional" and "illegal".

District President of the Amritsar unit of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Upkar Singh Sandhu told PTI that they have called off the World Sikh Convention which was to be held in the Golden Temple Complex at Amritsar tomorrow.

"Akal Takht is the supreme authority for the Sikhs. Its directive is binding on us," he said.

Didar Singh Nalvi, who was spearheading the movement for the formation of separate SGPC in Haryana, told PTI that they have called off their Sikh Convention at Karnal on Monday following directions of the Akal Takht.

The standoff between the Amritsar-based SGPC and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal led by Badals in Punjab and Sikhs of Haryana follows the recent decision of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government in Haryana to form a separate SGPC for managing Sikh shrines in the state following demands of the Sikhs of the state.

The Haryana Assembly had at its session here on July 11 passed the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Bill 2014 to which Governor Jagan Nath Pahadia gave his assent on July 14 despite opposition from SGPC leaders from Punjab.

Welcoming the Akal Takht intervention, former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said, "It is a right step taken to ease the tension. I welcome the decision of the Akal Takht as its intervention has defused the situation. Otherwise the Akali Dal would have ended up fighting with Haryana Sikhs."

Terming the directive "historical", Singh in a statement said the Akal Takht had acted at the right moment considering aspirations of Sikhs across Punjab and Haryana.

It is a historic directive by the Akal Takht which led to the easing of the situation that was building up across the two states and had the potential of pitting "Sikhs against Sikhs", he said.

"Sikhism is a democratic religion and everyone should welcome a democratic system," Singh said, suggesting to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal that his Akali Dal can contest the polls to the Gurdwara Committee in Haryana just as he has done in Delhi.

Reacting to the row, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said Haryana's right also has to be recognised and respected.

"It was in November 1966 that the erstwhile state of Punjab was reorganised and successor states were carved out. Haryana became a successor state similarly Himachal Pradesh. Delhi has a separate act," he said.

Asked whether it was becoming a Centre-State issue, he said, "Why Centre... because Akali Dal is an allay of the BJP. Do they have to remind that Delhi has its own Gurudwara Prabandhak committee through an Act Is Delhi part of India or not Delhi is the capital of India.

"Takh Hazoor Saheb, Nander Saheb, Patna Saheb... these are all independent of the SGPC. SGPC is controlled by the Akalis. They cannot be the sole custodians of the Sikh shrines. I am sorry," Sharma said.

"It's a successor state and anybody who understands Constitution and law would respect that. Both Haryana and Himachal as separate states have their own right," he said.

The Akali Dal, BJP's ally in Punjab, knocked at Centre's doors and sought its intervention in stopping Haryana from going ahead with a separate Gurdwara body.

The Centre had issued a directive to Haryana asking the State Governor to revoke the new law, which has been rejected. Haryana has instead asked it to "forthwith withdraw" its letter seeking annulment of the Act creating a separate SGPC.

Haryana has claimed that it has every right to enact a law and the Haryana Gurdwara Act has been passed under its legislative powers.

Haryana goes to polls in October and the Akalis and even Haryana's opposition parties, the INLD and BJP have criticized the Congress over the separate panel, which they claim has been formed only with an eye on the Sikh votes.