The Times of India – Pakistan Sikhs object to tomb at Mardana‚Äôs birthplace

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 14 November 2017. Pakistan’s Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has stalled the work for the construction of a memorial to Bhai Mardana, companion of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev. The foundation stone for the memorial was laid a year ago.

Santa Singh Mallawala, jatha leader of International Bhai Mardana Yadgari Kirtan Darbar Society, told TOI on Monday that they were surprised to know that the ETPB had not begun construction of memorial to Bhai Mardana which was to be constructed at his birth place in Gurdwara Bal Leela complex in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan.

“Upon inquiry we found that the Sikhs of Nankana Sahib had objected on construction of tomb as memorial of Bhai Mardana,” he said, adding that if a tomb was constructed Muslims would also visit the Gurdwara complex and that was not acceptable to the local Sikhs as it could lead to several social issues.

Bhai Mardana society president Harpal Singh Bhullar said the Society had written letters to office bearers of the PSGPC and the ETPB to construct a a suitable structure to mark the place.

Bhai Mardana belongs to Sikhs and Muslims, if you want a memorial to honour him you should involve Sikhs and (Sufi) Muslims
Man in Blue


The Times of India – Gangster on Facebook: I killed Hindu outfit leader

Chandigarh/Bathinda-Panjab-India, 14 November 2017. In a major embarrassment for the Punjab police, absconding gangster Saraj Sandhu, in a Facebook post on Monday claimed to have killed the Hindu Sangharsh Sena leader Vipan Sharma in Amritsar on October 30.

Police had not included Sharma’s murder in the list of targeted killings of religious leaders in Punjab, which they had “solved” a week ago by busting a terror module managed by Pakistan’s ISI.

Sandhu, who is main accused in the Amritsar case, has been on the run after the murder. He allegedly also posted on his Facebook account on Monday that the “killing should not be linked with any religion”.

“I want to tell my friends that the murder of Vipan Sharma which took place on October 30 on Amritsar-Batala road was committed by me,” Sandhu allegedly admitted in his Facebook post, which has now been deleted.

The incident comes just days after a Punjab gangster-turned-activist uploaded a Facebook video from Faridkot jail.
When contacted, Amritsar deputy commissioner of police (investigation) Jagmohan Singh, told TOI, “I do not believe that gangster Saraj Sandhu had himself put this post on his Facebook account. It seems to have been done by someone else. But we are investigating the case.”

It is learnt that the Amritsar police have brought Monday’s incident into the knowledge of its cybercrime cell so as to ascertain as to who is behind the Facebook post.

Sharma was shot from a close range in the afternoon on October 30 at Bharat Nagar on Batala road in Amritsar. CCTV camera near the accident spot had recorded the murder in which two turbaned persons, one of them Sandhu, shot at Sharma. At the time of murder, Sharma was accompanied by his friend on a motorcycle.

Sharma had died on the spot and the run-wielding assailants had fled from the spot. The Amritsar police are yet to arrest the culprits.

After announcing Pakistan link to the killings, chief minister Amarinder Singh had said the ISI was working in tandem with gangsters and “cells” abroad to create unrest in the state.

The victims in the targeted killings included senior RSS leader Brigadier Jagdish Gagneja (retd), senior RSS activist Ravinder Gosain, Pastor Sultan Masih and a Dera Sacha Sauda supporter father-son duo. Most of these killings had taken place in Ludhiana, Khanna and Jalandhar during past one year.

The Times of India – Part of Rawalpindi gurdwara razed, confusion over mosque construction

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 13 November 2017. There are conflicting reports about demolition of a portion of a gurdwara in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city and a mosque being constructed in its place.

According to Pakistan media reports on Sunday, a portion of the gurdwara was razed by the management of Zia-ul-Uloom High School for Boys in October.

However, chairperson of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which looks after properties of Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after the Partition and is involved in upkeep of temples and gurdwaras, created confusion as he denied there was any building on the land in question, be it a gurdwara or mosque.

Zia-ul-Uloom High School had been functioning on land owned by Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Rawalpindi, since 1969, a report published in a Pakistan newspaper said on Sunday.

According to the report, the school’s administration took the step after Rawalpindi municipal corporation declared the gurdwara’s structure dangerous and then constructed a mosque on the demolished part of the gurdwara.

Although the property board moved court and obtained a stay order on the demolition of a portion of the gurdwara, the school management went ahead and demolished it, according to the report.

However, ETPB chairperson Farooq ul Saddiq denied the media report in a conversation with TOI. “The disputed land was adjacent to the school in Raja Bagh, Rawalpindi. Neither was there any gurdwara on the land nor any temple,” he said.

Saddiq confirmed the land belonged to a local gurdwara trust and was in possession of the ETPB and said the board wanted to construct an orphanage and a space to offer namaz there. “We want to construct a building where Anjuma Faisal Islam could run its orphanage on one floor, second floor could be used for students and the third floor could be used for offering namaz,” he said.

Karachi-based Sikh leader Hira Singh alleged wrongdoing in the management of the gurdwaras in the country. “No ETPB leader has given a single statement on the issue, leave alone protesting it,” he said.

“The Pakistani government should conduct a general audit of the ETPB. We want to know how much evacuee properties have been plundered since the inception of the ETPB.”

The Times of India – Nankana Sahib lawyers, civil society slam ETPB

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar, 7 November 2017. Protesting against shifting of Baba Guru Nanak International University (BGNIU) from birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, the lawyers and civil society of the historical town staged a demonstration against Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) chairman Siddiq-ul-Farooq.

Anwar Jahid, an advocate from Nankana Sahib, told TOI on Monday that the ETPB chairman was trying to shift the prestigious BGNIU project to Islamabad for some vested interests. “We staged demonstration against Farooq and wouldn’t let the university project shift from Nankana Sahib,” he said.

According to information, following protests by an influential group of lawyers and local residents of Nankana Sahib, the Pakistan government has postponed the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the university.

Jahid said for the past several months they had been holding protests against the ETPB. “On late Sunday late evening, Farooq came to Nankana Sahib to join the Sikhs’ religious function despite local administration advising him not to visit owing to anger among local people.

We, along with traders, businessmen and youth, staged a demonstration against him following which he had to go from the function using the rear exit,” he alleged.

In 2009, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz had announced to set up a university on Sikh religion and culture after the name of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev at his birthplace Nankana Sahib and had also constituted a committee for the purpose.

However, when it came to acquiring land for the university, the ETPB officials ignored the norm which angered the local residents of Nankana Sahib, especially a strong lobby of advocates who blamed them of corruption and intimidating them.

The verbal duel between the two reached a flash point when in 2016 a group of lawyers stormed the ETPB office in Nankana Sahib.

After that the ETPB chief decided to shift the venue to Muridke, which also has the headquarters of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), and that was not acceptable to the residents of Nankana Sahib.

They started a movement pressurizing the Pakistan government to built BGNIU at Nankana Sahib only. Later, the board presented a proposal to make the university headquarters at Karachi too.

Jahid alleged that the police used force against the angry protesters leaving a few of them injured.

Sources informed TOI that various Sikh leaders, who had converged at Nankana Sahib to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, had convened a meeting of Sikh leaders, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) office-bearers, representatives of Nankana Sahib Bar Association and representatives of various trade and business associations of Nankana Sahib to discuss the BGNIU project.

The Times of India – PCOCA will be tool to fix political opponents, dissenters: Dal Khalsa

Jalandhar, 5 November 2017. Sikh outfit Dal Khalsa has expressed apprehensions that the proposed Panjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) would ultimately be misused as tool, like the sedition law, to ‘fix’ political opponents and dissidents, “given the biases in the system, a highly politicized state police and their ruthless working pattern.”

Dal Khalsa president advocate Harpal Singh Cheema said his party too wanted peaceful Punjab, free from organised crime and gang wars. He, however, said enacting stringent laws alone wouldn’t prevent gang violence.

The Panjab government has proposed to enact the PCOCA to deal with organised crime under which an officer of the level of the deputy inspector general of police (DIG) or above would have the authority to invoke it.

Cheema leader asked chief minister Amarinder Singh to explain how and who would ensure that the DIG level officer won’t succumb to political pressure and act with bias.

He called upon human rights and civil liberty groups to take up the matter with the legislators and deliberate whether Punjab really needed a new law like the PCOCA to curb gang wars as claimed by CM and the DGP Suresh Arora.

“Are existing laws insufficient to deal with the gangsters? And whether the government has incorporated any checks and balances to stop its misuse,” Cheema said.

The Times of India – Hindu outfit leader shot by unidentified assailants in Amritsar

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 31 October 2017. Nearly two weeks after the killing of a Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS) leader in Ludhiana, unidentified assailants shot dead Vipina Sharma, leader of a lesser known Hindu outfit Hindu Sangarash Sena in broad day light on Monday.

According to reports, four unidentified assailants arrived on two separate motorcycles at Bharat Nagar, Batala Road at around 3 PM on Monday.

Sharma was accompanied with his friend on motorcycle and was on his way to home. As the two turbaned gun wielding assailants intercepted the motorcycle, Sharma fell on the ground while his friend fled.

The accused opened fire on Sharma from close range while their two accomplice were standing at a distance. Sharma died on the spot.

The incident was recorded on CCTV in which two turbaned persons are seen shooting Sharma.

Notably on October 17th, RSS leader Ravinder Gosian was shot dead in Ludhiana.

Police have issued an alert and sealed all the exit points of the city.

Amritsar police commissioner S S Srivastava informed that they had ‘some’ suspects but added that police had not arrested anyone so far. He informed that till now there was no information of hand of any Sikh hardliner organization behind the killing. He said police was trying to trace the culprits on the basis of CCTV footage.

Local residents informed that Vipin Sharma had a cable TV agency and for nearly a decade was an active Hindu leader often organizing Jagran and other Hindu religious functions.

Police sources informed that in past Vipin had received life threats from unknown persons.

Meanwhile BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh blamed Punjab’s Congress government for its alleged failure to maintain law and order. “Incidents of attack on Hindu leaders are increasing, instead of providing them with security cover police had withdrawn their security” he said.

I have no sympathy at all for these right-wing Hindu outfits, but I also totally disagree with those that want to solve the problem of Hindu extremism by killing its leaders !
Man in Blue

The Times of India – SGPC calls emergency meet ahead of electing new president

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 28 October 2017. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has convened an emergency meeting of its executive body ahead of its general house session and election of new president.

SGPC additional secretary D S Bedi on Friday told TOI that the executive committee would meet on 6 November to decide the date of general house session which, he said, was held on 21-day notice. The general house elects the new executive committee and the president of the SGPC.

Earlier, Kirpal Singh Badungar was elected to the post on 5 November 2016, replacing Avtar Singh Makkar.

Sources said that though it is the Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD that would eventually take a call on the next president, going by the controversies over various Sikh religious issues, an experienced, non-political person could be chosen for the job.

Panthic sources informed that prior to the arrest of senior Akali leader Sucha Singh Langah in a rape case, the SAD leadership was mulling to appoint him as the SGPC president.

Some of the names making rounds earlier also included those of Sewa Singh Sekhwan, Rajinder Mehta and Amarjit Singh Chawla, said sources. “The party is on the back foot due to the Langah episode and it might consider a non-political old loyalist,” they added.

Sources are of the view that the present SGPC office-bearers had failed to resolve the Nanakshahi Calendar issue. It was during Badungar’s previous tenure as chief that the Pal Singh Purewal authored calendar was adopted by the SGPC but later various amendments were made to it despite opposition by a section of Sikhs.

Badungar came under criticism after he himself celebrated the 413th anniversary of the first installation of Guru Granth Sahib in Darbar Sahib according to the amended version of the calendar on August 24, while several other Sikh bodies celebrated the day on September 1, as set by the Nanakshahi calendar in 2003.

Similarly, the Badungar administration has not been able to curtail the activities of the parallel jathedars appointed during the tenure of former SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, said sources.

The Times of India – Sarna urges Sikhs to unite, attacks RSS

Ludhiana, 27 October 2017. President of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Delhi, Paramjit Singh Sarna on Thursday launched a scathing attack on the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, a wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and thanked the Sikh community for standing by its decision to boycott the “Sikh Sammelan” organised by the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat.

Sarna, who was in the city on Thursday also urged Sikhs to unite and fight against forces hatching a conspiracy to divide the community.

Sarna who also is the former president of Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, Delhi announced that SAD-Delhi will organise a grand event on December 2 at the Gujarkhan Campus Ludhiana to mark the 50th death anniversary of Master Tara Singh.

Sharing details, Sarna said, “Masterji was a towering personality and he has made immense contribution to the nation and religion. We are sending an open invitation to all religious and social organisations to attend the programme which will be led by chief minister Amarinder Singh.

We are also going to invite political representatives from Pakistan on this occasion and a delegation from India will visit the birth place of Master Tara Singh. Various seminars will also be organised to enlighten people on his personality and contributions in various fields.”

The Times of India – Government denies any U-turn on Kashmir approach

Bharti Jain

New Delhi, 24 October 2017. Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the Centre’s representative, former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma, will “engage with all walks of life in J&K and understand their legitimate aspirations”.

The decision, though a departure from a security-led strategy, is seen to flow from PM Narendra Modi’s August 15 speech where he hinted at dialogue by saying that the solution to the problems in J&K lay in embracing its people rather than bullets or abuse.

The opposition was quick to claim that the government had backtracked with Congress leader P Chidambaram saying he hoped the Centre has realised that its muscular approach has failed. The government denied any U-turn, saying it has followed a calibrated approach to J&K.

Interestingly, the talks move also comes before the visits of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Sources said Sharma had the adequate experience for the job as he had served in the state in 1992, when militancy was at its peak, and handled J&K from the IB headquarters here, including as its director during 2014-16. He will be based in Delhi but will frequently visit the state and his first trip could be some time next week.

According to top sources in the government, the Centre never ruled out talks but was keen to hold them at a time of its choosing. Even national security adviser Ajit Doval, considered a hawk, favoured talks, but insisted that terrorists and their backers in Pakistan should not be allowed to set the timetable and seek to impose terms.

Opening a dialogue under pressure where stone-pelters were challenging security forces on the streets of Kashmir in the aftermath of the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in July 2016 would have been read as a victory of the mob with Pakistan-backed groups mobilising thousands for funerals of killed terrorists. The situation of intense confrontation persisted till early 2017s, but has since abated.

Sources said while violence in J&K has still not been quelled nor terror eliminated, security forces have steadily gained the upper hand by eliminating several top terrorists.

There is a major dip in stone-pelting and turnouts at such funerals have grown smaller. Also, an official clarified that the dialogue process will neither affect security operations nor ongoing investigations by the NIA.

While sources said there would be no let-up in cases against Hurriyat leaders, some of whom have been arrested, it is believed that the action could have been intended to make them more amenable to talks.

The NIA action was also intended to signal that separatists enjoy no particular immunity, an important indicator for public opinion in the Valley.

“It is hoped and believed that Hurriyat, leaving aside their role of only being Pakistani stooges, they will make use of this opportunity to provide much-needed peace,” a senior intelligence source said.

Apart from the security situation, the political calculus seems favourable as the BJP has won major post-demonetisation elections in UP and Uttarakhand where it argued that notebandi had hurt terror funding and pitched its anti-terrorist strategies as evidence of its resolve to counter Pakistan.

“There will be no let-up in anti-terrorist operations, which have seen around 170 terrorists neutralised so far this year. The thrust on development projects and implementation of the PM’s package will remain. However, we are adding the third prong of ‘sustained and structured dialogue’ to the J&K strategy” an officer said.

Informal talks were being undertaken at the political level by Singh over the past two years during his five visits to J&K last year and one this year, the last barely a month after the PM’s Independence Day declaration.

“Some political parties in Kashmir, particularly those in opposition, Kashmiri groups, including Hurriyat and individuals, may not be willing to engage with a leader having political affiliations.

Besides, the youth in Kashmir, who are part of most violent protests, do not have an identified leader. These youth will find it easier to approach a permanent representative of the Centre with their grievances, who will then convey the same to the political leadership at the Centre for proper redressal,” a home ministry functionary told TOI.

This is not the first time that an interlocutor has been appointed. The NDA government under A B Vajpayee had on April 5, 2001 appointed then deputy chairman of Planning Commission K C Pant as interlocutor who continued till 2002.

Thereafter, it appointed former home secretary and current J&K governor N N Vohra till 2008. The UPA appointed a three-member interlocutor team comprising former information commissioner M M Ansari, senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and academician Radha Kumar.

The Times of India – NRIs transform their village near Jalandhar

I P Singh

Jalandhar-Panjab-India, 22 October 2017. With an ultra-modern gymnasium, a sewage treatment plant, properly built roads, a separate storm water and sludge sewerage system, absence of filthy ponds, potable drinking water supply and other facilities, Sanghe Khalsa village in Jalandhar district has scripted a new success story with the active involvement of NRIs from the village in which the state government also pooled in.

A village near Nurmahal with a population of 700, Sanghe Khalsa has all modern civic amenities. It was around a decade ago when departing from the usual practice of Punjab villages to construct a memorial gate in the name of their forefathers at entry of village, a few NRIs decided to construct a gymnasium in their names to channelize energy of the youth.

Now this gymnasium with modern equipments is catering to the needs of youths from nearby villages. Trainers paid by the NRIs impart world training to the youths at the gym.

As Jalandhar deputy commissioner Varinder Kumar Sharma visited the village on Sunday, NRI Nirmal Singh who was among those who conceived the development projects in the village said that after the state government came up with partnership scheme for development of villages, NRIs of this village came forward to develop their villages on priority and constituted an overseas committee for this purpose.

They said that the election of this overseas committee was held every year on Maghi and the eldest member of the committee was unanimously elected its president.