Security blanket over Punjab as dera deadline draws close


Chandigarh : Nearly 100,000 Punjab Police personnel and over 40 companies of paramilitary forces were in place in Punjab Sunday as the deadline set by the Akal Takht for the Dera Sacha Sauda sect to vacate its campuses in the state drew near.

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The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, had set the Sunday deadline for the dera, protesting the actions of sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, whose actions they say have hurt the religious sentiments of Sikhs.

The sect leader had last week attired himself like the 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh, offending many Sikhs and resulting in large-scale violence in Punjab.

Though the state remained tense, there seemed to be no sign of the sect issuing a public apology for the alleged blasphemous act, despite mounting pressure.

There were no indications of the dera vacating any of its campuses either.

The Sikh clergy will meet again under the aegis of Akal Takht May 31 to decide their future course of action against the dera.

Hardline Sikh groups are demanding that the dera chief be arrested for hurting their religious sensibilities.

Security forces were on high alert particularly in the cotton-rich Malwa belt of south Punjab and the Sikh holy city of Amritsar.

The sect campuses at Salabatpura, the biggest campus of the sect in Punjab located 30 km from Bathinda, Malout, Sangrur and Sunam were virtually fortified by the police and Border Security Force (BSF) to prevent any clashes.

Any recurrence of violence, like the one nearly a fortnight ago, is likely to put the Akali Dal government led Parkash Singh Badal in an embarrassing situation.

In Sangrur town, 160 km from here, a memorial service was held for Kanwaljit Singh, who was killed in a clash between sect followers and Sikhs at Sunam 10 days ago.

Sikh leaders have described him as a martyr of the community. But his father Bant Singh urged Sikhs not to politicise his son's death.

Peace efforts to resolve the religious row by social activist Swami Agnivesh have not yielded much result.

Agnivesh, who earlier led an all-religion delegation to the sect headquarters in Sirsa, 300 km from here in Haryana, said the dera management was acting unreasonably and should come out with an offer to end the tensions.

He has urged the Sikh clergy to give him and two-three days more to sort out the issue.