Sikh-Sect row: Deadline day passes peacefully


Chandigarh : Punjab remained peaceful Sunday even as the Akal Takht deadline to the Dera Sacha Sauda sect to vacate its campuses in the state came to an end with no untoward incident being reported till evening amid heavy security arrangements.

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Nearly 100,000 Punjab Police personnel and over 40 companies of paramilitary forces were in place in the state Sunday – the deadline set by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism.

The move was in protest against sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, whose actions they say have hurt the religious sentiments of Sikhs.

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

The sect headquarters at Sirsa town in Haryana, 300 km from here, was provided unprecedented security by Haryana police and central forces as thousands of dera followers descended for their Sunday congregation.

Though Punjab and parts of Haryana remained tense, there seemed to be no sign of the sect issuing a public apology for the allegedly blasphemous act, despite mounting pressure.

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

"We are ready for negotiations with anyone on this issue. There has been pressure on us to apologise on this issue. We want peace and will talk to anyone in this regard," a sect spokesman said in Sirsa.

Efforts to work out a compromise between the sect and Sikhs by getting an apology from the sect chief failed to materialise even Sunday.

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

Hardline Sikh groups have been demanding arrest of the dera chief for hurting their religious sensibilities.

"The deadline has ended and the dera has not acted according to the hukumnama (edict) of the Akal Takht. Now we will decide on how we deal with this man (dera chief)," radical Sikh leader Jathedar Nandgarh said.

Security forces were on high alert particularly in the cotton-rich Malwa belt of south Punjab – which has a large number of dera followers – 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 police and the Border Security Force (BSF) to prevent any clashes.

Any recurrence of violence, like the one witnessed nearly a fortnight ago that left one dead, will put the Akali Dal government led by 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 in Sunam May 17.

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.

However, ruling Akali Dal leaders and other Sikh religious leaders descended in Sangrur to attend the memorial service. These included Akali Dal working president Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of Parkash Singh Badal and sitting MP, and former central minister S.S. Dhindsa.

Efforts by social activist Swami Agnivesh to resolve the row have not yielded the desired result.

Agnivesh, who earlier led a multi-religion delegation to the sect headquarters in Sirsa said the dera leadership should apologise to end the controversy.

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