Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service
Amritsar, December 26. The Akal Takht and the SGPC hogged the limelight for a better part of the year for their decision to construct the Operation Bluestar Memorial, besides the move of rallying in the support of Delhi blast convict Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Beant Singh assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana.
The decision to construct the memorial sparked a huge debate with the Congress and other political parties, including the ruling SAD’s alliance partner BJP, condemning it, arguing that it may revive militancy in the state which has already paid a heavy price in terms of economy and loss of life during the dark days of terrorism. However, unfazed by the criticism, the SGPC went ahead with it while maintaining that the memorial will only house a gurdwara which will spread the message of peace. It justified the move, contending that the memorial had been a long pending demand of Sikhs and the Sikh leadership was well aware of the community’s sentiments. The SGPC handed over the “kar sewa” of the memorial to the Damdami Taksal headed by Baba Harnam Singh Khalsa.
The Sikh high priests then laid the foundation stone of the memorial on June 6, the 28th anniversary of the Army operation. The issue returned to haunt the SGPC once again in October when Lt Gen KS Brar (retd) who led the Army in the Operation Bluestar was attacked by some unidentified assailants in London. While the SGPC remained tightlipped over the incident, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde indirectly asked it to introspect on their move.
The Sikh clergy and the SGPC hit the headlines when they opposed the capital punishment being awarded to Bhullar and Rajoana. The SGPC had even moved clemency petitions before the President to save them from the death sentence. The then President Pratibha Patil had rejected the mercy plea of Bhullar on May 26, 2011, following which the SGPC had filed a clemency petition before the President on July 26, 2011.
Similarly, the Sikh high priests and the SGPC threw their weight behind Rajoana when a court ordered his execution in March this year. The state government had refused to hang him. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal even met the then President Pratibha Patil to seek clemency for Rajoana whose death sentence was later stayed by the Centre.
The Sikh high priests even bestowed the title of Zinda Shaheed (living martyr) on Rajoana. The clergy led by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh presented a plaque, a shawl, a “siropa” and a sword to Kamaldeep Kaur, Rajoana’s sister, who received the title on his behalf. Though Rajoana had declined the title, the Akal Takht had refused to withdraw it.
Meanwhile, the fate of the new SGPC House continued to hang in balance even after a year of the SGPC elections held on September 18 last year, as the hearing of the case over the Sehajdhari row is still pending in the Supreme Court.
At present, the SGPC neither has the old House nor the new one. Though the apex court has authorised the SGPC executive (elected in 2010) to manage the Sikh institution’s daily affairs, the legal tangle has hit its normal functioning. This is evident from the fact that perhaps for the first time in its history the SGPC could not pass its annual budget in March this year as there was no House. The SGPC executive passed the vote-on-account for managing the affairs.
The year gone by also saw the Sikh community coming face to face with Dera Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, over the alleged demolition of a gurdwara at Waraich village, although the matter was amicably resolved later on. The controversy also saw various Sikh outfits announcing their move to “boycott” the Akal Takht Jathedar for giving the clean chit to the dera over this issue. The Jathedar had attributed his move to an SGPC panel report which said no sacrilege was committed in “shifting” the gurdwara. Later, the dera head came forward and offered to reconstruct the gurdwara which led to the resolution of the issue.
The Akal Takht Jathedar got embroiled in another controversy when he supported a complete marriage Act for Sikhs instead of mere amendment to the Anand Marriage Act, 1909, though he quickly did a volte face and supported Anand Marriage Amendment Bill, 2012, which was later passed by both the houses of Parliament.
The Wisconsin gurdwara shootout in the US also brought to the fore the fact that the Sikhs abroad are still facing the issue of identity and the community needs to take urgent measures to deal with it.
Taking serious note of the rising instances of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh clergy initiated stringent measures for facilitating a copy of the holy book. The Sikh high priests also issued guidelines for transportation of religious books.
The SGPC finally installed jammers inside the sanctum sanctorum at the Golden Temple while it also started the facility of “pinni parshad” for the devotees visiting the shrine from far-flung areas.