Partial response to bandh call against Dera chief pardon

Chandigarh, Sep 30 (IANS) Shops and other commercial establishments were closed in some parts of Punjab on Wednesday, as a one-day bandh called against the pardon granted to Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Akal Takht drew a partial response.

The shutdown call was given by radical Sikh organisations, including Dal Khalsa, Shiromani Akali Dal (Panch Pardani), Damdami Taksal, All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) and others to protest granting of pardon to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion last week.

Sikh activists forced owners of shops and commercial enterprises to shut their establishments. A few shops were closed in Amritsar, Moga, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala and Bathinda.

Punjab Police had to resort to a mild cane charge in Moga town, 160 km from here, as activists tried to force closure of shops. Some Sikh activists were also detained.

Leaders of these organisations accused the Sikh clergy of bowing to the diktats of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and pardoning the sect chief.

A controversy has erupted after the Akal Takht last Thursday said it had pardoned the sect chief after he submitted a written “apology”.

The Dera head courted controversy in May 2007 when he was accused of hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikhs by wearing, in an advertisement, an attire resembling the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.

The controversy led to violent clashes between Sikhs and the sect followers, particularly in southwest Punjab.

The Akali Dal leadership, including the Badals, and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Avtar Singh Makkar have said the decision of the Akal Takht on the sect chief’s pardon issue was final and the Sikh community should accept it.

The timing of the pardon is being linked to the state assembly elections in early 2017 and the interest of the Akali Dal leadership to build a rapport with the sect chief since he has lakhs of followers in Punjab.

The sect chief has submitted a written apology to the Akal Takht, stating that he had no intention of showing disrespect to the Sikh Gurus or hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikh community.

The Akal Takht said the sect chief has been asked to refrain from any actions which could hurt the religious sentiments of Sikhs in the future.

The apology and the pardon brought to an end a bitter controversy, which lasted for over eight years, and led to strained relations between the Sikh clergy and the Sikh community on the one side and the sect chief and his followers on the other.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who has millions of followers in Punjab and Haryana, resides in his sprawling campus near Sirsa town in Haryana, 275 km from Chandigarh.

Following the clashes, the sect chief had initially offered to hold talks with Sikh leaders but he was asked to first apologise for his actions.

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