Cries of “Khalistan” reverberated like never before at the “Sarbat Khalsa” organised in Chabba village in Amritsar this week. Nearly 100,000 Sikhs attended the gathering despite the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC) terming the meeting as improper. The SGPC insisted that only the Akal Takht, the Sikh community’s highest temporal body could convene such a congregation.
Politically, the high attendance at the meeting dealt a huge blow to the beleaguered ruling family of Punjab, the Badals, who are already struggling to defuse the unprecedented crisis caused by the spate of mysterious desecrations of the Guru Granth Sahib. The Badals’ back-door parleys succeeded in dissuading a few leaders from participating in the “Sarbat Khalsa”. However, the lakh-strong participants came from not only far corners of the state, but even the adjoining states to make the meet a grand success.
Many of those who turned up told The Sunday Guardian that they were forced to get down from their buses much ahead of the venue. “This was done by the government, but we were determined to make it, come what may,” said one of them. The massive gathering was a surprise, but what probably no one had anticipated was how Khalistan would dominate the proceedings. But the organisers had Khalistan on mind from the word go, as was evident from the bigger-than-life-size posters and billboards featuring militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale — who was killed in Operation Blue Star — dotting the venue. Even the hoardings welcoming the participants had Bhindranwale’s posters along with that of Major General Shabeg Singh, who led the militants against Operation Blue Star.
The speakers at the event showered praises on the militant leaders and emphasised how the Sikhs had been “betrayed” by India and its leaders for the past 68 years. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal came in for a lot of flak as well, just as in the 1980s when he was named one among “Sikh kaum de teen gaddar (three traitors of the Sikh community)”. Speaker after speaker attacked Badal, and stressed how they needed to work towards their goal of a separate Khalistan. Even a letter from jailed militant Narain Singh Chaura written along these lines was read out.
However, it was the resolution declared towards the end of the Sarbat Khalsa that took many by surprise. It was announced that the sacrifices of the militants would not be allowed to go waste, and the mission to create a separate country and International Sikh Parliament would be carried forward. K.P.S. Gill and Lt Gen K.S. Brar, who had led the charge against the militants in Operation Blue Star, were declared tankhaiyas (guilty) for that “sin”. The gathering erupted into a huge roar when it was announced that the jathedars of the Akal Takht stand relieved of their duties and Sikh militant Jagtar Singh Hawara would be taking over as jathedar. Hawara is lodged in a Chandigarh jail after his conviction for his role in the assassination of Chief Minister Beant Singh.
The resolutions sent the Punjab government into a tizzy as it had a fresh crisis on hand on how to deal with the “parallel jathedars”. The state responded by putting these jathedars under preventive arrest. Also arrested were the chief organisers, Akali Dal (Amritsar) head Simranjit Singh Mann and United Akali Dal chief Mohkam Singh. The government now anxiously awaits the next move of the hardliners.