The Tribune – Ensure safety of Sikhs in Shillong: SGPC to Centre

The SGPC has appealed to the Union Home Ministry for ensuring the safety of the Sikhs in Shillong, Meghalaya.

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 11 June 2019. Following the threat by the banned organisation Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Sikh body Harijan Panchayat Committee in Shillong has also approached Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma for the safety of the Sikh families who have been residing there for the past two centuries.

Ironically, the Shillong Municipal Board has also served a notice on the Sikh residents of Harijan Colony to establish their ownership rights or vacate the place. A few days back, HNLC activists had threatened the colony residents to face consequences if they dare to contest the municipal board’s notice in the court.

Gurdwara Bara Bazar management committee chief Gurjeet Singh said after the threat, tension had prevailed among the Sikh families as they were attacked earlier too.

The SGPC has decided to send a delegation to Shillong.

Gobind Singh Longowal, SGPC president, said an appeal had been made to Home Minister Amit Shah and the Home Secretary too. “The delegation will also meet Meghalaya CM.”

The Hindustan Times – Amritsar turns into fortress ahead of Bluestar anniversary

On the anniversary of Operation Bluestar in 2014, a clash between radical Sikh activists and the task force of the SGPC had taken place in which several people were injured in the Golden Temple complex.

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 06 June 2019. Amritsar turned into a fortress on Wednesday with security being beefed up in the city on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Operation Bluestar to prevent any untoward incident.

Operation Bluestar was a military action ordered by then PM Indira Gandhi to flush out Sikh militants holed up in Harmandr Sahib Complex in Amritsar. The operation that was carried out between June 1 and June 8, 1984 claimed several lives and left the shrine damaged.

Around 5,000 police and six companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in the city amid apprehensions that various separatist Sikh outfits may create trouble on Thursday at the Golden Temple complex.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gobind Singh Longowal sought cooperation of the various Sikh organisations and devotees to observe the anniversary peacefully.

In 2014, a clash between radical Sikh activists and the task force of the SGPC had taken place in which several people were injured in the Golden Temple complex.

In view of a shutdown call given by the Dal Khalsa, a separatist outfit, in Amritsar on Thursday, the police have made security arrangements. CCTV cameras have been installed at vulnerable points to keep an eye on potential trouble makers.

“We have deployed adequate security in the city and no one will be allowed to disrupt peace,” said Amritsar commissioner of police SS Srivastva said.

“I along with around 600 cops will remain present on the premises of the Golden Temple,” said additional deputy commissioner of police Jagjit Singh Walia.

Flag marches were also conducted by the police, along with the paramilitary forces, at several places. The police also busted a few terror modules which allegedly operated at the behest of foreign handlers to cause communal disturbances.

Meanwhile, the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of the Sikhs, said the Centre should apologise for the Operation Bluestar. “A resolution should be passed in Parliament acknowledging that what the then government had done in 1984 was a mistake,” said the jathedar on Wednesday.

The Indian Express – SIT chargesheet into 2015 sacrilege: How Sukhbir Badal, Akshay Kumar and Dera Sacha Sauda came into play

The SIT alleged that actor Akshay Kumar arranged the meeting between the Dera chief and Sukhbir Badal, who is also the president of party which controls the SGPC, during latter’s visit to Mumbai in September 2015.

Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 04 June 2019. The SIT has also attempted to establish the unsuccessful attempt of Punjab Police to prosecute Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a 2007 blasphemy case registered in Bathinda for hurting Sikh sentiments.

Punjab Police had filed cancellation report in case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim just three days before Punjab assembly elections in 2012, when Shiromani Akali Dal was in power. It was done with an eye on the votes of Dera supporters.

It then goes on to create a link between the incidents starting September 16, 2015 when Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh was allegedly invited by then Punjab CM (Parkash Singh Badal) at his home to hand over the alleged pardon letter sent by Gurmeet Ram Rahim for 2007 blasphemy.

The video statement of one of the then Talwandi Sabo Jathedars, Gurmukh Singh, was used to establish that meeting did take place.

After eight days, on September 24, 2015, Akal Takht granted pardon to Gurmeet Ram Rahim. Of the five Jathedars who granted, one, Iqbal Singh, told the SIT that the letter was edited to make it look like a pardon letter, and Sukhbir Badal wanted this pardon granted.

The SIT noted that the sacrilege at Bargari and Burj Jawaharsinghwala village had happened in the intervening night of September 24 and 25, 2015.

The charge sheet also mentions that as soon as the Akal Takht pardoned the dera head, his movie MSG-2 was released in Punjab on September 25 “under heavy police protection” followed by another controversial movie “Singh is Bling” on October 2, 2015 starring Akshay Kumar.

Sukhbir Badal was then the deputy CM and also held the home portfolio.

The pardon granted to Gurmeet Ram Rahim was revoked by the Akal Takht on September 16, 2015, two days after the police firing at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in which two Sikhs were killed.

The SIT also highlighted the October 20, 2015 statement of then SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makar in which he had said,”The issue of pardon to Sirsa Dera chief on September 24 also contributes to the turmoil. I fail to understand why it was done in the most hurried way by the five head priests”.

The SIT alleged that actor Akshay Kumar arranged the meeting between the Dera chief and Sukhbir Badal, who is also the president of party which controls the SGPC, during latter’s visit to Mumbai in September 2015. “The the negotiation between Sukhbir Badal and the Dera head was not without a reason.

His own movie ‘Singh is Bling’ was questioned by Sikh masses on the point of hurting sentiments of the Sikh community. The movie of Akshay Kumar was also given go ahead and was released on October 2, 2015, one week after Sirsa Dera head’s movie MSG 2 was released,” reads the charge sheet. It has attached a copy of the approval granted by the SGPC to the movie ‘Singh is Bling’.

Akshay Kumar had earlier dismissed the allegations.

The SIT also noted that the SGPC spent Rs 36 lakh to advertise the pardon to Dera head and additional Rs 46.50 lakh to justify the pardon.

“As regards the plea taken by Sukhbir Badal that he was not in Punjab when incidents of police firing took place on October 14, 2015, it is nothing but an attempt to take a defence of alibi. The investigations suggest that he was aware of each and every development, which was taking place in Punjab. However the office of chief secretary has been requested to provide complete details in this regard,” the charge sheet reads.

“The police action in early morning of October 14 was totally unprovoked. This action, as per investigation, was an outcome of conspiracy between certain high-profile politicians and police officers of senior rank in connivance with head of Dera Sacha Sauda and his followers.

The investigation reveals in unambiguous terms the names of Umranangal, Saini, Mantar Brar, Prakash Badal, Sukhbir Badal,” the SIT said while pointing at the bigger conspiracy.

The Tribune – Clamour for SGPC polls grows louder

Phoolka wants Amarinder to expedite the process after LS poll results

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 21 May 2019. The clamour for holding the elections to the ‘mini parliament’ of the Sikhs after the declaration of the Lok Sabha poll results has grown louder, yet again.

However, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Gobind Singh Longowal predicted it as a political gimmick, with a justification that the issue of legitimacy of the existing body could not be challenged beyond the court.

Former Leader of Opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha H S Phoolka has shot off a fresh letter to Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh requesting that after the formation of the new Central government, his priority should be to expedite the process of appointing the Chief Commissioner of gurdwaras through the Union Home Ministry for holding the fresh SGPC elections.

With a majority of legislators, including the Congress and the AAP, accusing the SAD of controlling the Sikh body and “deliberately delaying the elections”, the Punjab Vidhan Sabha had passed a resolution on February 14, authorising the CM to take up the matter with the Centre to hold the SGPC polls.

Earlier too, the issue was raised by Phoolka. He had revealed a document of the PM office that certified that the term of current SGPC house stood completed in December 2016.

Hailing Phoolka’s move, SAD (Taksali) president Ranjit Singh Brahmpura said the existing members were “illegal occupants” of the Sikh body, who were the ‘puppets’ of the Badals.

He said Parkash Singh Badal had himself acknowledged the fact, saying that ‘the real Akali Dal is the one which controls the SGPC’.

“We will be the first one to challenge this ‘Badal brigade’ in the SGPC elections. The tenure of the SGPC body is over and the polls should be scheduled after the Lok Sabha election outcome. If they (Badals) attempt to hamper it, we, along with like-minded parties, will not refrain from taking a legal course,” Brahmpura added.

Longowal, however, said if the new Central government designated the gurdwara Election Commissioner and issue the notification to hold the elections then there should be no hiccups. “We are ready for the polls. However, even if everything goes according to the norms, it won’t be possible to hold the elections in the current year as the voting list will have to be revised first,” he added.

The Tribune – Calendar row casts shadow on SGPC jatha to Pakistan

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 09 May 2019. Owing to the Nanakshahi Calendar row, the SGPC may not send pilgrimage to Pakistan that was scheduled to commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev.

On the other hand, the other organisations have all set to send their jathas. The SGPC follows the amended version of Nanakshahi Calendar and has been commemorating the occasion on June 7.

The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Managing Committee, which follows the original Nanakshahi Calendar, has been observing the occasion on 16 June 2019.

The SGPC had sent documents of 80 pilgrims. It has been learnt that the Pakistan authorities were not obliging the SGPC’s demand for visas between June 5 and 14 to visit Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore to mark the occasion. According to norms, a maximum of 10-day visa is granted.

Officials said the Pakistan had agreed to grant visa between June 14 and 23.

Dr Roop Singh, SGPC chief secretary, said under the given circumstances, it would not be possible to send jatha. “The dates given by the Pakistan authorities do not suit our schedule. We will try to convince them, but if they don’t agree we will have to cancel the pilgrimage plan,” he said.

The Tribune – Trade halted, so have lives of porters, truckers

Affected Amritsar businessmen root for peace, make it an election issue

Sanjeev Singh Bariana and G S Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 07 May 2019. When the Modi government raised Customs duty to over 200 per cent on Pakistani goods post Pulwama attacks, the country, riding high on nationalism, hailed the move, little realising the havoc it created in the lives of hundreds of local traders, their workers and transporters.

Their livelihood hit, those in the import-export business, coolies, truckers and godown staff are now weighing options as to which party to vote for so that their lives are back on track. “Not all traders have shut shop, but each one has been badly affected.

They have fired staff, banks have confiscated a number of trucks for unpaid loans and the coolies at Attari are without a job”, a former president of the Indian Cement Importers Association, MP Singh Chatha told The Tribune.

A Customs official said trade worth Rs 748 crore had been hit after the rise in duty, Rs 228 crore between February 16 and April 6 against Rs 960 crore in December 15, 2018, to February 15, 2019. The Pakistan import stood at a mere Rs 28 crore post February 16.

At least 250 trucks have gone off road and many confiscated for non-payment of loan, claimed truck operator at the Attari Integrated Check Post (ICP) Kulwinder Singh. “Only about 15 trucks arrive with goods from Afghanistan these days,” he adds.

Gursahib Singh said of the 1,433 porters at the ICP, at least 1,300 had lost their job. “It is getting tough by the day. We need money for our children’s education and their other requirements. We never thought we would have to look for other job avenues and are not totally at the mercy of the government”, he said.

Suneet Kochhar, chairman, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), Punjab, said instead of hiking the import duty and burdening the Indian trader, a blanket ban should have been imposed on duty-free barter trade between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and J&K.

The Director, Confederation of International Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Ashok Sethi, said that India-Pakisan trade, especially the import component, generated income upto Rs 15 crore, Rs 20 crore every month.

Anil Mehra, president, Federation of Dry Fruit and Karyana Merchants’ Association, said the import of dry fruit from Pakistan had come to a standstill.

Leading importer Pardeep Sehgal said the government must resume trade ties with Pakistan so that a “sound economy in both countries results in peace and prosperity.”

A member of the Customers Clearance Agents Association, Manav Taneja, was of the opinion that while India needed to ensure that Pakistan stayed “within limits”, the government too needed to protect the interests of those dependent on the ICP trade. “We should allow Pakistan to import our vegetables.

Tomatoes were stopped a few years ago. Our government should push for Pakistan market accepting India’s agricultural produce. In fact, the trade with Pakistan needs a relook so that it works in favour of our traders”, he suggests.

The Tribune – Efforts on to bring Centre, state together: SGPC

Akal Takht for joint programme at Sultanpur Lodhi in November

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 06 May 2019. After the intervention of the Akal Takht, the SGPC is all set to make efforts to bring the state and the Centre under one umbrella to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev for which a series of activities have been planned.

While revealing the programmes, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal said efforts would be made to hold a joint stage to celebrate the main occasion that falls on November 12 (this year as per amended version of Nanakshahi calendar followed by the SGPC) at Sultanpur Lodhi.

“As per directions of the Akal Takht Jathedar that ‘one stage’ should be set up at Sultanpur Lodhi and all should hold a joint programme, I have already spoken to CM Captain Amarinder Singh seeking appointment to discuss a combined planning in this regard. He will spare time post elections,” he said.

In the backdrop, the yearlong tribute celebrations are already underway since November 2018. The Centre has made SGPC its “knowledge partner”, which is scheduled to hold the main programme at the historic Ber Sahib Gurdwara, whereas the state government has announced to hold separate event at Dana Mandi the same day.

Last year, CM Captain Amarinder Singh has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce financial package of Rs 2,145 crore for the yearlong celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev as his government was launching a series of development programmes to commemorate the historic occasion.

The schemes included establishing heritage Pind Babe Da depicting Guru Nanak’s life and times at Sultanpur Lodhi, setting up national institute of inter-faith studies at Amritsar, medical college at Batala and development of 47 villages associated with Guru Nanak.

Though the Centre agreed to it, it made the SGPC as the coordinating agency for these schemes. It was also made clear that for religious activities such as “kirtan”, “katha”, “prabhat pheri” and “langar” planned throughout the year, the SGPC will draw a calendar of activities and execute it.

Similarly, the educational activities such as seminars, workshops, lectures will be organised throughout the country by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in association with the SGPC.

Longowal revealed that the programmes chalked out by the SGPC were to be held between November 8 and 12. He said on November 12, during the main event, besides the Jathedars of all Takhts and other prominent religious personalities, the President, Prime Minister, Governors of various states and CMs are expected to participate.

The Tribune – Board outside Takht raises eyebrows

GS Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 18 April 2019. A yellow board outside Akal Takht has provoked curiosity in devotees. It proclaims that except for ‘patits’ (Sikhs with shorn hair) and those awarded ‘tankhah‘ (ex-communicated), anyone, irrespective of religion, can offer ‘ardas’ at the Takht. This norm is not new. The question is what has prompted its reiteration.

It is learnt that there was a board at Akal Takht prior to 1984 which went missing after Operation Bluestar. Akal Takht acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh could not be contacted, despite several attempts. His PA Jaswinder Singh said the board had been installed recently with identical ones at Takht Damdama Sahib and Takht Kesgarh Sahib too.

As per the Sikh Rehat Maryada, only an amritdhari (baptised Sikh) can enter the hallowed Takht enclosure. However, “ardas (prayer)” on behalf of any Sikh, except a tankhaiya, and non-Sikh can be offered at the Takht.

Only Gursikhs can be summoned for religious misconduct. In 2014, Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was accused of distorting ‘Gurbani’. It was demanded that he be summoned by the Takht. Since Sidhu was not a Gursikh, this was not done.

SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal said he had been away for the past two days and didn’t know about the new board. Golden Temple manager Jaswinder Singh Deenpur also expressed ignorance.

“There used to be a board there earlier, but it must have been worn out and replaced with a new one. It is a known fact that prayers can be performed on behalf of non-Sikhs,” he added.

Former Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh could not recall if there was any such board before. “The Sikh Rehat maryada does not bar non-Sikhs from performing ‘ardas’. But I have observed that non-Sikhs are hesitant to perform ‘ardas’ at Akal Takht”, he said.

The Tribune – Won’t visit deras for support, say Taksalis

Sekhwan denies rift within party

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 04 April 2019. Akali Dal (Taksali) president and Khadoor Sahib MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and senior vice-president Ratan Singh Ajnala today said their party would never go to deras to seek support.

“The Captain Amarinder Singh government has failed to show any result on ground and so he and his party men are approaching deras to seek support. But we shall rather go to the public to seek their support,” party leader Sewa Singh Sekhwan said.

Criticising former CM Parkash Singh Badal for “not listening to him” on the party platform, Brahmpura said he had tried his best to make Badal aware of the sharp decline in the party graph, but he did not listen to him.

He alleged that instead of working for public welfare by implementing schemes, both Badals and the Congress believed in dera politics.

Brahmpura also clarified that there was no change in the three candidates already fielded by the party, Bir Devinder Singh (Anandpur Sahib), Rajdev Singh Khalsa (Sangrur) and General J J Singh (Khadoor Sahib).

Sekhwan meanwhile refuted the reports of his differences with the party. Addressing a press conference, he said, “There is no truth in rumors spread by some mischievous elements on social media about my differences with the senior leadership of the party.”

The Tribune – In neglect, Jallianwala Bagh to be spruced up post centenary

G S Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 02 April 2019. Even as the Centre and the state government are gearing up to observe the centenary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the plan to revamp the dilapidated infrastructure of the historic spot is yet to see the light.

In the presence of Vice President Vankaiah Naidu, homage will be paid to martyrs on April 13 in an hour-long programme of the Centre. A candle march will be carried out a day before.

While the dusty paths and heaps of garbage point towards lack of maintenance, the light and sound show with Amitabh Bachchan’s voiceover of the massacre episode has been lying defunct for more than four years.

Similarly, the 18-minute documentary, which was shown through a projector daily in seven shows at a 50-seat hall at the park, too has been discontinued.

The century-old structures that share boundary wall with Jallianwala Bagh are on the verge of collapse.

MP Shwait Malik, who is also one of the members of Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, admitted the delay in sprucing up the memorial. He said, “It shows a lapse on the part of the Congressmen who ran the Trust for decades. We became members in May last year and furnished the tenders to renovate the memorial.”

Malik said a plan had been conceptualised to overhaul the infrastructure. Tenders worth Rs 19.36 crore have been furnished and would be finalised on April 10 for the first phase of the project.

There is also a proposal to fix a dome-shaped unbreakable glass or see-through fibre canopy over the outer area of the martyrs’ well to offer a better view inside the well from where 120 bodies were recovered.

“A new light and sound show will be installed. We have planned to keep the memorial open till 9 pm. In the second phase, we have planned to acquire public properties around it to transform the surrounds as a ‘galliara’,” he said. About the centenary preparations, Malik said a commemorative postal stamp and a coin would be released on the occasion.

ASI team at memorial

A team from the Archaeological Survey of India, led by Director General Usha Sharma, besides BSF IG Mahipal Yadav, BSF DiG JS Oberoi, DC Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon and other officials on Tuesday visited the memorial to take stock of the preparations.

“The ASI team visited the memorial for renovation. From state’s side, only two programmes have been approved by the EC, which included wreath laying ceremony by the CM. On April 12, a candle march will be carried out from Jallianwala to the Town Hall,” the DC said.