M A I N   N E W S

Amritsar dropped from Obama’s itinerary
Ashok Tuteja & Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

New Delhi/Amritsar, October 19
The Golden temple in Amritsar has been dropped from the itinerary of US President Barack Obama, who is visiting India in early November, apparently in view of a row over the required headwear for entering the shrine.

According to informed sources here, though the American leader’s programme in India was still being finalised, he was unlikely to visit Amrtisar.

President Obama was said to be keen to visit the holy city but it is understood that the White House team, which visited India last month, had ruled out the American leader wearing the traditional headscarf to cover his head, due to fears that it might feed rumours circulating about his alleged Muslim beliefs. Reportedly, the President’s aides proposed a modified version of Obama’s now customary baseball cap as a compromise. But a sports cap does not conform to the regulations.

Obama, who is likely to arrive in Mumbai on November 6, will directly come to New Delhi now after a day’s stay in the country’s commercial capital. In Mumbai, he will stay at the Taj Hotel, which was one of the places attacked by Pakistan-trained terrorists on November 26, 2008. He will also visit other spots that were attacked by the terrorists that night, apparently to express solidarity with India in its fight against terrorism.

Americans are likely to inform the Indian side about a change in the President’s plan when the US Under Secretary of State William Burns and chief point person for South Asia Robert Blake visit New Delhi on Thursday for a final round of talks to set the agenda for Obama’s visit.

Earlier in the day, the SGPC made it clear that US President Barack Obama may sport anything on his head, a golf cap if he likes, as and when he enters the Golden Temple. Queen Elizabeth of Britain and, more recently, the Canadian Prime Minister have been to the Golden Temple, the former with a hat and wearing cotton socks.

Talking to The Tribune on the phone from New Delhi, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said, “There is no issue from our side. We welcome the US President. He can cover his head with anything except an army hat. He should definitely pay a visit to Sri Harmandar Sahib. He said that Obama’s headgear should not be unnecessarily made an issue, adding that nobody should be stopped from visiting such a holy place.”

SGPC Secretary Dalmegh Singh said, “President Obama can cover his head with anything. It may be a sober cap. We have no problem with it.”

The Golden Temple has four entrances, symbolising it is open to all religions, castes, creed or colour. “Therefore, we have no problem until the President follows the “rahat maryada” (Sikh code of conduct) for entering the sanctum sanctorum,” he added. As per the Sikh code of conduct published by the Dharam Parchar Committee of the SGPC, no one can enter a gurdwara bare-headed. Also, one should remove shoes and wash the feet.

However, in October 1997, as a special gesture, the SGPC agreed to allow Queen Elizabeth to enter the shrine wearing a hat and a pair of cotton socks instead of walking in barefoot, as is customary. Former Akali Minister Manjeet Singh Calcutta, who was SGPC secretary during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Golden Temple, said, “The headgear should not be an issue if someone is visiting Sri Harmandar Sahib, though it should be ensured that the head is covered. It would be unfortunate if Obama’s visit is cancelled due to this reason.”

The controversy over Obama’s headgear arose as back home he is still grappling with claims that he is a Muslim, Hussain being his middle name. Coincidentally, Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Amritsar was also dogged by a controversy, which arose following the demand for an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The demand was raised by Jagmohan Singh, the nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.





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