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Sikh radicals at rebel AAP rally sparks fears party is flirting with separatists again

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The AAP rally saw pro-Khalistani slogans being raised, and the presence of Khalistan inscribed flags.

Chandigarh: The rebel faction of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has sparked fears that it is flirting with radical Sikh organisations in Punjab. The suspicions stem from a recent march-cum-rally that the AAP rebels held to protest against the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015.   

The desecration row has been roiling the state ever since a one-man judicial commission, appointed by the Congress government, indicted the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) dispensation, in its report released June-end.

On Sunday, the group of rebel AAP leaders, headed by former leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira, led a 15-km “ros (resentment) march” from Kotkapura to Bargari town (the epicentre of the desecration row).

A poster seen at the march
A poster seen at the march | By special arrangement

The rally, however, saw pro-Khalistani slogans being raised and the presence of Khalistan inscribed flags. The AAP MLAs later shared the stage with radical Sikh leaders, some of whom even hailed Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the presence of the AAP leaders. Without using the word Khalistan, some leaders also spoke of azaadi for the Sikh panth.

This isn’t the first time that AAP has been accused of hobnobbing with Sikh extremists. It is widely believed in the state that AAP lost the 2017 assembly elections due to its courting of the Sikh radicals.

The Sikh extremist groups in Punjab, supported by a small section of Punjabi NRIs, are generally kept at bay by mainstream political parties in the state.

Also read: Akali Dal’s gamble could end up pushing away its core Sikh vote base

Kanwar Sandhu, a prominent leader of the rebel AAP group, however, sharply denied that any pro-Khalistan slogans were raised during the march or on the stage.

“The march was organised by a 15-member joint action committee. It included representatives of various Sikh bodies,” Sandhu said.

“It was not about Khalistan at all. It was about seeking action against the culprits of the desecration as well as the Akali leaders and policemen responsible for the killing of Sikh protesters following the desecration,” he added.

Political stage for radicals

The AAP rebel leaders were flanked on Sunday’s stage by a number of radical Sikh elements — panthic leader Baljit Singh Daduwal, Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann, former SAD (Amritsar) MP Dhian Singh Mand, Harpal Singh Cheema, the head of the pro-freedom Sikh body, the Dal Khalsa, and Mohkam Singh of the United Akali Dal.

Daduwal performed the ardaas on the stage at Kotkapura from where the march began, before hailing Bhindranwale at Bargari, where the rally ended. He had also actively promoted the AAP march through video messages.

Simranjeet Singh Mann, the SAD (Amritsar) chief, took to the stage and said he considered Bhindranwale second only to the Guru Granth Sahib. Towards the end of his speech, he urged the audience to raise slogans for the panth’s azaadi.

The AAP march culminated at the site in Bargari, where Daduwal and Dhian Singh Mand launched the Insaaf Morcha in June 2018, demanding action against those accused of desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib.

The event was also reminiscent of the Sarbat Khalsa (universal gathering of Sikhs) that was hosted by radical Sikh organisations in November 2015, in the aftermath of the desecration incidents.

The Sarbat Khalsa was attended by over a lakh Sikhs from across the state and for a while, revived fears of militancy making a comeback in the state.

Those who gathered decided to announce a separate Sikh clergy, from the one already in place. Daduwal was appointed the ‘parallel chief’ of the Sikh seminary Damdama Sahib, while Sikh extremist Jagtar Singh Hawara, convicted in the assassination of former chief minister Beant Singh, was declared the chief of the Akal Takht, the most exalted of the five Sikh seats.

With Hawara serving a life sentence in jail, Mand was declared as the officiating jathedar.

The then Akali government had booked Mann and Mand for turning the gathering into a Khalistani event.

AAP’s Delhi group cold to march

The AAP MLAs backing the party’s Delhi leadership were expected to join Khaira and his rebel group during the Sunday march but the Delhi faction did not warm up to the event.

AAP MP Bhagwant Mann and MLA Baljinder Kaur spoke briefly on the stage at Kotkapura but left when Khaira arrived with his backers.

When asked if the AAP rebel group was trying to carve a profile for itself, Najar Singh Manshaiya, one of the rebel MLAs, said the desecration issue resonated with everyone in the party.

“The matter was also discussed threadbare in the Punjab assembly in which all AAP MLAs participated,” he said.

‘Desecration is core poll issue’

Besides the AAP march, both the ruling Congress and the Akalis had organised competitive rallies in each others’ bastions. While CM Captain Amarinder Singh was the star speaker at the Congress rally at Lambi, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal led the Akali charge at Patiala. Both rallies were well attended.

Also read: Akali Dal old guard revolts against Sukhbir, party unity in tatters

In his speech, Amarinder chose to harp on the Bargari issue. Sounding the poll bugle and launching Mission13 (13 is the number of Lok Sabha seats in Punjab) Sunday, Congress made it clear that the desecration issue will hold political centrestage in the run-up to the elections.

We saved the panth: SAD

The Akalis projected themselves as the real saviour of the Sikh panth. In his speech, former CM Badal attacked Jawaharlal Nehru for “deceiving Sikhs”. He said Indira Gandhi was responsible for the attack on the Golden Temple and her son (Rajiv Gandhi) for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

“And now the Congress has suddenly become the redeemer of the panth? All they want is to gain control over the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee and its gurdwaras,” Badal said.

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  1. Chittleen Kumari Sethi, your propaganda is the exact issue why these voices are getting stronger. The mainstream politics have subjugated these so called minor masses for a long time by the direction of State controlled propaganda. Now these voices are getting united under one roof PEACEFULLY (yet they are labelled as radicals) hence propaganda people are leaving no leaves turn to subdue them heat again through such media.

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