Why is Sikh Clergy Angry with RSS?
CHANDIGARH, OCTOBER 17— Akal Takht chief Giani Harpreet Singh asking Government of India to rein in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) from carrying out activities that would ‘divide’ the nation is being interpreted as giving a voice to the collective will of the Sikhs who have a deep distrust of the Hindutva organization.
This is not the first time that the Akal Takht which is the highest seat of earthly authority of the Khalsa (the collective body of Sikhs) has come out opposing the RSS.
“I believe what the RSS is doing will create divisions in the country. The statements being made by RSS leaders are not in the country's interests," Giani Harpreet Singh said during a media interaction in Amritsar on Monday, calling upon the centre to rein in the outfit.
The statement comes in the light of the RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speech in Nagpur where he reportedly said that India is a Hindu Rashtra and every person residing in Hindustan is a Hindu.
When it was pointed out that the RSS is the mother organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre, the Akal Takht Jathedar said, "Then it is not in the country's interests. It will hurt the country and destroy it."
The Sikhs have always opposed the RSS moves to meddle in their religious affairs. Hindutva forces have from time to time tried to project Sikhs as the ‘sword arm of Hindu religion’. It is no secret that the RSS has been trying to expand its base in Punjab and other places with substantial Sikh population through its affiliate the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat. The common perception among the Sikhs is that the RSS treats the Khalsa as a sect of the Hindus created by Guru Gobind Singh to confront Islam and Sikhs are often described as yet another Hindu 'shakti kendra'.
One has to just go back by two decades when things had come to a boil on the issue of Sikh identity. It has been reportedly alleged that the Atal Behari Vajpayee government had released Rs 100 crore for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa Panth in 1999 of which the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat also got some substantial amount through which it tried to boost up its activities in rural Punjab through distribution of literature, calendars and organizing meetings etc.
Reports that appeared in the media at that time suggest that the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat had approached the Damdami Taksal, the Sikh seminary once headed by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, to get their men trained in Sikh religion and philosophy. They were told that only Amritdhari (baptised) Sikhs were admitted there and they never returned.
Observers of Sikh affairs point out to the Akal Takht Hukumnamas (edicts) of that time and even the one issued in 2004 when the 400th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib was being celebrated that went on to term RSS activities as ‘a deep-rooted conspiracy against Sikhs’. The Sikhs have always opposed any force trying to usurp Sikh religious symbols and ideals to attain its goals.
The latest statement coming from Giani Harpreet Singh assumes significance as the Shiromai Akali Dal (SAD) that has influence over the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) which appoints Sikh clergy including the Akal Takht Jathedar, is an ally of the BJP in Punjab as well as the state. But Sikh leaders say that once elected Jathedars of the five Takhts, the clergymen are supposed to rise above political affiliation and on behalf of the collective will of the Panth or the entire community.
The Sikhs have always underlined that they are a separate community, with separate identity, have their own unique history. Their leaders have been saying that Sikhs never interfere in the religious beliefs, traditions and history of other faiths and they cannot tolerate interference into Sikh religion.
The Sikhs had once again cried foul when the Akal Takht boycotted the congregation of different faiths organized by the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat in Delhi on the occasion of the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. At that time Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh had directed the Sikh community to abide by the 2004 hukumnama.
At the same time the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat has been from time to time pointing at the misleading propaganda around it saying that the RSS clearly recognizes Sikhism as a separate religion. They have been saying that this had become clear in 2001 itself when a meeting was held between the then vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities Trilochan Singh and Madhav Govind Vaidya of the RSS. But Sikhs opposed to the RSS point out that this is the manner in which the Sangh functions as its leaders raise different noises aiming at long term goals.
A section of the Sikhs had last year raised objections on the booklets being printed in Nagpur under the 'Bharat Bharati' series where the address of the publisher was given as 'Shree Bharati Prakashan, Dr Hedgewar Bhawan Parisar, Nagpur'.
These books in Hindi were said to be in circulation in various parts of India with ‘blasphemous’ content on Sikh gurus.
Coming back to the present statement of Giani Harpreet Singh, it is being pointed that the recent developments have political connotations as well in the Sikh politics.
Dal Khalsa leader Kanwar Pal Singh said, “By remaining quiet on the activities of the RSS, it has once again been re-established that the Badals (Former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Nadal, his son and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and the latter’s wife and union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal) have mortgaged Sikh interests. Their silence is criminal.”
A large section of the Sikhs, like people from several other communities across India are also agitated over the manner in which defence minister went ahead to carry out ‘Shastrapujan’ in France on Dussehra by writing ‘Om’ on a Rafale fighter jet. “It is clear that the RSS theory is now being put into practice by the BJP. It looks the BJP has in practice started functioning as government of Hindu state,” said Kanwar Pal.
(Rajeev Khanna is a former BBC correspondent. He is currently based in Chandigarh).