Saturday, June 14, 2003, Chandigarh, India

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Activists vacate Talhan shrine
‘Peace formula’ after 30-hour drama
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Youths raise anti-government slogans from rooftop in Talhan village on Friday. — Photo S.S. Chopra

Talhan (Jalandhar), June 13
The tiff between the administration and about 75 Sikh devotees and activists of the Damdami Taksal, who had seized the Gurdwara Shahid Baba Nihal Singh by locking themselves inside, was resolved this evening when the activists and devotees opened the gates and started leaving the shrine one by one, thus ending a 30-hour drama.

In the morning, about 50 female devotees who were holed up inside the shrine since last evening threatened to immolate themselves if the police dared to enter the shrine.

The piquant situation was defused after persisting efforts of a group of senior civil officers and the meditation of Mr Harminder Singh Gill, President of the All-India Sikh Students Federation (AIDDF-Gill faction), Bhai Manjit Singh, a close aide of Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and Mr Ajaib Singh Abhlyasi, a senior functionary of the Damdami Taksal, who were reportedly roped in by the administration and the police for striking some sort of compromise with the Damdami Taksal activists who were inside the shrine since morning and had bolted the door from inside. They were demanding release of five members of the “original” management committee of the gurdwara, who were arrested by the police along with five Dalit leaders in two different cases.

The sudden inclusion of Bhai Manjit Singh, Mr Harminder Singh Gill and Mr Ajaib Singh Abhlyasi, in the negotiations raised many an eye-brow. It is learnt that the three were allegedly involved at the 11th hour under a “government-sponsored plan” to unnerve a number of Akali factions and to scuttle their proposed move to take any credit by raking up the issue.

Under this plan, direct link was established by the authorities with the top leadership of the Damdami Taksal. Accordingly, the three leaders and a group of top administration officials led by Mr Pravin Kumar, persuaded a group of about 15 Damdami Taksal activists to leave the shrine as this would facilitate peaceful exit of all those present inside the gurdwara. The three leaders had started their efforts last evening and had regularly been in contact with the Damdami Taksal men since then.

Earlier in the day, they were taken to the gurdwara by the administration and the police where they held talks with the Damdami Taksal men who agreed to come out “In the interest of peace and amity”. Later, the three leaders also met the Dalit leaders and five members of the “original” management committee led by Mr Kewal Singh Bhangoo inside Central Jail.

According to the compromise formula worked out all those lodged in jails, including the five Dalits led by Dalit Action Committee chief Chanan Ram Pal, will be released within a day or two; the control of the gurdwara will be handed over to the original management committee; and the appointment of Mr I.S.Kahlon as Receiver of the shrine will be revoked since it is an “interim arrangement” by the government. Two members of the Dalit community will also be taken as members of the “original” management committee led by Mr Kewal Singh Bhangoo,maintained reliable sources.

Talking to The Tribune, Mr Harminder Singh Gill, Bhai Manjit Singh and Mr Abhlyasi, said since the matter related to people of the village, the Damdami Taksal wanted that it should be resolved at the village level, even though the “original” management committee had passed a resolution handing over control of the shrine to the Damdami Taksal.

“Punjab has seen enough bloodshed and nobody wants those days to return. Our effort was to strike a compromise which was acceptable to one and all and we are happy that our efforts have borne fruit,” said the three leaders. They maintained that there had never been a divide between Hindus and Sikhs or Dalits and Sikhs. “The Bani of saints and Bhagats is a prominent part of Sri Guru Granth Sahib so how are they different from Sikhs. We were united and we will remain united,” asserted Mr Gill.

He said the Damdami Taksal came into the picture only to ensure that there was no police interference in the affairs of the gurdwara and that there was no violation of “maryada”. They maintained that both sides had broadly agreed to the new “peace formula”.

During the course of the negotiations senior officers, including the Divisional Commissioner, Mr R.S. Sandhu, and Mr Dinkar Gupta monitored the situation from outside the gurdwara.

Earlier, following rumours that police commandoes were planning to storm the shrine, a group of women reportedly stunned the administration by threatening to immolate themselves if the police entered the gurdwara forcibly. The threats led the administration to make arrangements for wet blankets to avert any such tragedy.

Mediapersons were not allowed entry into the village. The Tribune team managed to reach the open space in front of the gurdwara by treading a kutcha path through sunflower fields. The policemen made all out efforts to push the mediapersons out of the village.

The Tribune team observed that the situation was calm but tense. Seeing mediapersons, Surjit Kaur, an elderly woman rushed out of her house in spite of the curfew and alleged that her family members who were inside the gurdwara were being threatened with dire consequences if they refused to come out of the shrine.

Later, a group of youngsters belonging to the Jat community surfaced on a rooftop and raised anti-police and anti-government slogans. They asserted that they would not allow the government to take control of the gurdwara through the receiver.

On the other hand, policemen were supplied tea by those holed up inside, in return for milk given to them by a group of policemen as per directions of Mr Dinkar Gupta. The Divisional Commissioner, Mr R.S. Sandhu, said milk was regularly supplied to those inside the gurdwara.

The gates of the shrine, according to a group of ‘‘sevadars’’ inside, were opened around 4 p.m. even as no relaxation was given in the curfew in the entire village. Nanak Singh, a ‘‘sevadar’’, said the gates were opened after negotiations by Harminder Singh Gill, Bhai Manjit Singh and Mr Abhlyasi, who gave an assurance to those inside that all of their problems would be taken care of.

Addressing mediapersons in the evening, Mr Dinkar Gupta, Mr Ashok Gupta, Deputy Commissioner, said that the government had been in control of the shrine since ‘‘last evening’’. The Receiver and the two committees — ‘‘Maryada committee’’ and ‘‘the Managing Committee’’ formed by the government to run the affairs of the gurdwara — would work as per yesterday’s orders.

SAD (Mann) General Secretary Anoop Singh Minhas alleged that the government had no right to either impose Section 145 or to appoint a receiver for the management of the shrine which was nothing but “interference” in Sikh affairs.

Mr Minhas said Section 145 of the Cr PC could be imposed only when there was doubt over the possession of a place. But in this case, there was no dispute ABOUT the possession of the place. He maintained that the management committee was in control of the gurdwara for about 50 to 55 years.

Senior Congress leader Umrao Singh has sent a letter to Mrs Sonia Gandhi apprising her of the developments and their possible negative implications on the poll prospects of the party, sources said. In his letter, an anguished Mr Umrao Singh said the issue could boomerang on the Congress and could cause allenation of Dalits and Jats from the Congress party in the Doaba region of Punjab.

Earlier, various Akali factions led by Mr Kuldip Singh Wadala, Youth Akali Dal leader Baljit Singh Neela Mahl, Mr Tarlochan Singh, chief of Singh Sabhas, opposed the imposition of Section 145 in the village at a meeting held at nearby Kukar Pind. They threatened that in case the government failed to hammer out a respectable solution to the problem, they would have no option but to launch a peaceful agitation on the lines of the famous “Jaitu Da Morcha.” 

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