Sad silence

There is a worrying assertion among Sikhs of the politics of violence and extremism. The Akal Takht’s honouring of the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of their hanging marks an unambiguous endorsement of an act of terrorism.

Their death anniversaries have been marked every year by the Akal Takht and other Sikh bodies. However, this year the clergy took this honouring a step further by describing the killers as ‘martyrs of the Sikh community.

’ In doing so, they glorified an act of terrorism. Although neither the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) nor the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party were present during the ceremony, their absence cannot be taken to mean a rift among these fraternal bodies on the question of terrorism. After all, some months ago, the SGPC honoured the assassins of General Vaidya as ‘martyrs of the Sikh community.’ It had also announced the building of a memorial inside the premises of the Golden Temple to those killed in ‘defending the faith’ during Operation Bluestar.  Most of those killed in that operation were terrorists who had taken sanctuary in the temple, desecrating it with their unholy crimes.

The public endorsement of terrorism by Sikh bodies is all the more worrying since the attempt on the life of Gen H S Brar, who led Operation Bluestar, in London last year. That attack signalled the possibility of a regrouping of Sikh extremists. There is a danger of the Akal Takht’s action encouraging retired radicals to return to the path of violence.

Punjab’s SAD-BJP government has been silent through all these disturbing developments. When the SGPC announced the building of the controversial memorial, the government distanced itself by claiming that this decision was made by the SGPC, not the government. However, SAD cannot absolve itself of responsibility. After all, the party controls the SGPC and it is the SGPC which in turn appoints the jathedars of the various takhts. It is unlikely that the Akal Takht’s chief would have acted on his own volition in honouring the assassins.

At a minimum, SAD leaders need to clarify their position on the glorification of violence. If they are not party to the Akal Takht’s decision, they need to articulate it and act to sever ties with that body. SAD’s silence makes it an accomplice of the dangerous politics indulged in by radical elements in the SGPC and the Akal Takht.

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