Patiala: A day after violent clashes between Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) workers and Sikhs, an uneasy peace prevails in Punjab’s Patiala. But as facts emerge, it is coming to light that the protests that took place Friday were planned in advance.
On Saturday, members of Hindu religious outfits like Hindu Takht, Shiv Shakti Dal among others gathered outside the Kali Devi temple where the violence had taken place, calling for a bandh. Negotiations between the warring groups, police, and district administration have brought peace in the last 48 hours – on the condition that authorities will find the perpetrators soon.
What led to the violence on Friday?
The seeds of this violence which took place Friday were sown almost a month ago in March this year when certain groups protested a call by Gurpatwant Pannu, convener of banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) – to hoist its flag in Himachal Pradesh on April 29, which it recognises as ‘Khalistan Declaration Day’. The group had planned to conduct a similar event on 15 April in Haryana too.
In retaliation to the call, the Anti-Terrorist Front of India announced an ‘anti-Khalistani’ marches and burnt Khalistani flags outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office.
Patiala was also one of the areas where an anti-Khalistani protest was planned by the main accused, Harish Singla, who claims to be the working president of Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray).
Who is Harish Singla?
Harish Singla the leader of Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) — the Punjab unit of Shiv Sena —was sacked by the party on Friday by Yograj Sharma, state chief of the Sena for “anti-party activities” after orders from party supremo Uddhav Thackeray, youth wing chief Aditya Thackeray and national secretary Anil Desai.
The party was known as the Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) in Punjab to differentiate it from over a dozen other factions.
Singla, who has been campaigning for his anti-Khalistan rally, has been using his Facebook account to rally support for the last ten days. He has hosted live sessions using strong language against Khalistan supporters and shared videos of his interviews with local media.
He shared his speech posted by a local news portal – News Time – in which Singla can be seen raising anti-Khalistani slogans while a crowd brandishing swords followed him. Local media reported that during the protest, Singla was beaten up by people who alleged that he had disturbed ‘peace in the city’
However, his campaign and provocative speeches went unnoticed by authorities.
Singla was produced at the District Court in Patiala Saturday and sent to two days’ police remand.
Apart from Harish Singla, Daljeet Singh, Kuldeep Singh Danthal, and Barjinder Singh Parwana – head of the Damdami Taksal Rajpura – are among the 26 arrested in connection with the violence.
“We have also booked Barjinder Singh Parwana of Rajpura, who is one of the main accused and key conspirators in the case. He was the mastermind who allegedly created law and order issues in Patiala. Barjinder Singh Parwana is also wanted in connection with some prior cases,” Inspector General of Police (IG), Patiala, Mukhwinder Singh Chinna had told reporters.
What went wrong?
Giving their version of the violence that took place in Patiala, which left four people injured, Deputy Superintendent of the Police (DSP) Mohit Aggarwal, told ThePrint that Singla was denied permission to hold the march on the day violence broke out.
“Around four to five days ago, Singla had sought permission from us to conduct his anti-Khalistan rally, which we denied. Sikh hardliners had told us that if Harish Singla takes out his march, then they will also hold a counter-protest. After Singla was denied permission, we used it as proof to pacify Sikh hardliners who were planning a protest. They assured us that if this doesn’t happen, they will do a peace march in Dukh Niwaran Gurdwara,” says Aggarwal.
Meanwhile, district administration officials said that Singla wasn’t given permission to hold a rally. Though police can be seen with him on the day violence broke out, the matter, according to the administration, is being investigated.
Aggarwal said that as the “rumour” about Singla’s march reaching Kali Mata temple spread, a large group of people from the nearby Gurdwara allegedly rushed towards the temple. However, police claim that a majority of those who allegedly came from the Gurdwara were blocked at Leela Bhawan, (1.5 km away from the temple).
“There were about 40-50 of them who reached the temple, they saw nothing was going on (by 10.30-11.00 am). We convinced them to move away from the temple to Leela Bhawan, by that time we got an alert that another group had reached the temple using a different route. When people inside the temple confronted the Sikh groups then clashes happened from both the sides,” said Aggarwal.
Officials, locals claim outsiders were involved
Both police and Hindu Takth – a religious organisation situated next to the temple, allege that the Khalistani supporters who were outsiders were involved in the violence.
“80 per cent of the locals come here to offer prayers, some elements want to break the Hindi-Sikh unity we see here. The SSP has identified these people who started the violence, six of them were from Faridkot, who came in their Scorpio,” alleged Panchanand Giri Maharaj, head of the Hindu Takht.
“We do support those who are against Khalistan. We had our plans to raise anti-Khalistan slogans in Ambala but not in Patiala. We were not at all aware that he would arrive at the temple. There are about 15-16 Hindu groups in Patiala alone and Singla didn’t take anyone in confidence. He was supposed to go to the market from Arya Samaj Mandir. The Hindu groups are cross with Singla because he didn’t tell them in advance about his plans. They (Sikhs) reached in thousands of numbers while we couldn’t have much in front of them,” Rajesh Kehar, spokesperson of Hindu Takht, told ThePrint.
The Punjab Police told ThePrint that Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) had requested them to not let the anti-Khalistan protest happen, lest they will also launch their own protest.
Speaking to ThePrint, Iqbal Singh Tiwana, spokesperson Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), said that about 3500-4000 of their members were in Patiala on Friday.
“For the last 15-16 years, we have been celebrating the birthday of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale on 12 February. Around 20,000-30,000 people gather in Fatehgarh Sahib where we celebrate the event in peace. They (Shiv Sainiks) had protested against it at that time as well,” Tiwana said.
“Protest is a democratic right. We have never celebrated ‘Khalistan Declaration Day’, but since these (anti-Khalistani protestors) people were already booing against this particular day – we decided that we will celebrate in case they go on with their rally. When our people marched to the temple, those standing on its under-construction building started pelting stones, and that’s what triggered the Sikhs,” he added.
(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)
(This story has been updated to reflect new developments, including the arrest of Barjinder Singh Parwana)