"--Indo-Asian News Service"
By Jaideep Sarin

The cash-rich Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages Sikh shrines across Punjab and two other states, has in recent days been grappling with matters unrelated to religious affairs. The Sikh body, known as the mini-parliament of the Sikh religion, is dealing with the issue of violence inside the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

The footage of the June 6 incidents inside the shrine complex in which scores of Sikh men brandishing swords, spears and long sticks, chasing each other in a near-bloodbath situation, turbans flying and abusive language being openly used, was certainly not the image that anyone in the Sikh religion or outsiders would want to associate with.

What happened at the complex June 6, on the 30th anniversary of the Indian Army's Operation Bluestar to flush out heavily armed militants in June 1984, has definitely sullied the image of peace, tranquillity and godliness associated with the shrine.

Having drawn flak for the incidents, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar announced a ban on carrying swords longer than three feet near the Akal Takht during such events. However, within hours, he did a U-turn as certain sections reacted adversely.

The SGPC, which had been encouraging radical and pro-Khalistani elements in recent years by honouring them and even permitting the construction a memorial to those who had died within the complex during Operation Bluestar, was caught napping as some pro-Khalistan elements tried to take control of the proceedings.

The violent clash happened as SGPC volunteers stopped the radicals from taking over the microphone. It resulted in a virtual free-for-all, with people from both sides trying to attack each other with swords, spears, sticks and other traditional weapons. Some police officers, present at the spot in plainclothes, remained mute spectators as they were unable to take any action inside the shrine complex.

What was deplorable was that the incident happened around the Akal Takht (the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion) which is just 50 metres from the sanctum sanctorum. The images which played out on national television and were also shown by international media reflected poorly on the Sikh community and its holiest shrine, Amrik Singh, a regular visitor to the shrine, said.

The SGPC should take more effective steps to curb such incidents in future. It has to show that it is in control of things. But the Akali Dal has made the SGPC a lame duck body, a Congress legislator said. The SGPC is largely controlled by Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.

Even leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)which is in alliance with the Akali Dal in the state since 2007, expressed their displeasure over the June 6 incidents.

Such incidents of violence lower the dignity of the Golden Temple that is known as the place of high reverence for all regions, especially the Punjabis, across the globe, Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma said.

Cautioning the people of Punjab not to get trapped in the hands of separatist forces, Sharma urged the state government and the SGPC to take strict action and punish the guilty.

The Sikh shrine is revered all over the world and across all religions and communities. It is time that Sikh leaders and radical elements kept their fight away from the holy shrine and not let the bad memories of recent history to again surface.

(Jaideep Sarin is a veteran journalist from Punjab. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

--Indo-Asian News Service

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