Chandigarh: Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh Sandhu Wednesday started a month-long ‘Khalsa vaheer’, or Khalsa march, across Punjab, invoking an age-old tradition of spreading Sikhism. This march, though, includes supporters sporting automatic weapons and bullets.
This comes at a time when the central government has raised questions about the Khalistan ideologue’s “track record” in Dubai from when he was living there.
For the past several months Sandhu has been addressing gatherings at various places in Punjab, openly espousing the cause of Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs.
Answering media questions over Sandhu’s sudden rise in Punjab, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri had Tuesday said there was a need to look into the reason behind his rise. “We all know that he is from Dubai but has anyone checked his track record there? Do find out,” said Puri.
He was talking to media persons at the Rozgar Mela organised in Chandigarh. “It should not happen that such a phenomenon is encouraged because of our own weakness. I am hopeful that this will be handled with utmost maturity,” he said, adding that the central government was keeping a close watch on the otherwise deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab, and that the matter was of “concern”.
The Khalsa vaheer, during which Sandhu will address gatherings in over a dozen towns in Punjab, began with an ardas at the Akal Takht — one of the five Takhts of the Sikhs — located within the premises of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and will end at the historical gurudwara at Anandpur Sahib in the last week of December.
“Khalsa vaheer is an old tradition of Sikhism, as part of which dharam prachar is done in the sacred presence of Maharaj (Guru Granth Sahib). The vaheer will stop at various places where hymns will be sung and stories will be told from lives of the Gurus,” Sandhu told media persons in Amritsar Wednesday.
“We will not be allowing mobile phones inside the samagam (meeting) halls where every ritual and rite will be done with traditional sacredness,” he added.
According to Sandhu, the aim of the Khalsa vaheer is to bring the youth of Punjab closer to religion so that they do not move towards drugs.
Sandhu, 29, originally from Punjab’s Amritsar district, was living in Dubai for 10 years and working at his family’s transport business. He returned to Punjab earlier this year and took over as the leader of pressure group ‘Waris Punjab De’ formed by actor turned Khalistan ideologue Deep Sidhu, who died in a car crash in February.
Speaking to the media in Tarn Taran Monday about Sandhu, Punjab DGP Gaurav Yadav said, “The law is the same for everyone. The constitution of India gives freedom of expression to everyone. We have to maintain a fine balance between freedom of expression and hate speech. Nobody will be allowed to vitiate the atmosphere in the state through hate speeches but if someone is only limiting himself to dharam prachar (spreading the religious word) they are free to do so,” said Yadav.
While the huge gathering at the Akal Takht Wednesday points to Sandhu’s growing popularity, opposition leaders in the state have lashed out at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government for giving him a free run and allowing him to move around in the state, openly espousing the setting up of a Khalsa Raj.
Also read: Fiery orator, ‘Bhindranwale 2.0’ — who’s Amritpal Singh, new ‘head’ of Deep Sidhu’s Waris Punjab De
‘Nothing inappropriate about carrying weapons’
Joined by hundreds of supporters, some of them armed with weapons, Sandhu claims that the aim of the month-long Khalsa march is to spread Sikhism and conduct baptism ceremonies.
When asked about his supporters openly carrying weapons into the precincts of the Golden Temple, including the Akal Takht, he said arms used by Sikh gurus were on display in all five takhts of the Sikhs.
“There is nothing inappropriate about carrying weapons. Except for a few Hindu organisations, our other Hindu brethren do not object to our carrying of weapons. In fact, these Hindu organisations should closely read their own history and they will know that their gods and goddesses also carried weapons. No one should be scared of these,” he said.
Talking about the Khalsa march, Kultar Singh Sandhwan, Speaker of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, said that if somebody is praising Sikh Gurus and Sikhs, and “if it was their duty to do so”, they should be allowed to. He was speaking to the media at a function in Mohali.
On the trend of people openly carrying weapons in the state, he said, “If the weapon is in the hands of a Gursikh (a pious Sikh) it is a blessing, but if it is in the hands of a frivolous elements then action needs to be taken.”
‘When will the state act?’
Speaking to the media on 14 November, senior Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia said that the silence of the Punjab government over Sandhu will cost the state a lot in the future. “When will the state act? When it’s too late and blood is already spilling? Is there an attempt to polarise the state and cause friction between Hindus and Sikhs?” asked Majithia.
While addressing a gathering at Moga on 19 November, Sandhu had responded to Majithia’s statement, saying the Akali Dal was in cohorts with the Shiv Sena. “When people were abusing Khalistanis, they did not utter a word,” he said.
Senior BJP leader Lakshmi Kanta Chawla, too, lashed out at Amritpal last week, alleging that he was an agent of foreign intelligence agencies. She asked him to come to Amritsar, meet her and answer three questions about Punjab, failing which she suggested he go back to Dubai.
In response to Chawla, Sandhu told an interviewer that she should ask him questions in Punjabi because he will not answer any questions asked in Hindi.
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring Monday had also tweeted a picture of Sandhu with a supporter displaying weapons, saying that Punjab was being pushed back into the dark era.
“We welcome & appreciate baptising youth & bringing them close to Sikhi, but for Gurus’ sake don’t promote weapons which will eventually lead to violence. We have already paid a heavy price. Those horrible memories are still haunting us. Please don’t push Punjab again into the dark era”, he tweeted.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
Also read: ‘No trust in Sikhs in Delhi’s Hindutva govt’ — leaders up ante against Centre at Punjab event