Akal Takht Chief Calls For Ban On RSS, Slams Hindu Rashtra Demand
“RSS should be banned. Calls for Hindu Rashtra are not in India’s interest,” the Akal Takht chief said.
Giani Harpreet Singh, the acting Jathedar (head priest) of the Akal Takht, has called for a ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and said that the Sangh’s aim of a Hindu Rashtra is against the country’s interests.
"Yes, it should be banned. 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," the Akali Takht chief reportedly told the media in Amritsar on Monday 14 October.
This is a significant statement as it comes from the head of the highest temporal body of the Sikh community.
“In India there are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Parsis. People speak different languages here. It is wrong to say that this will be made a Hindu Rashtra,” he added.
The Akal Takht chief’s statement is in reaction to RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s Vijaydashmi address in which he called India a Hindu Rashtra and linked lynchings to Christian and Muslim texts.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gobind Singh Longowal had earlier condemned Bhagwat statement and said that “RSS’ call for a Hindu Rashtra is in contempt of the Constitution”. He asserted that India is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country and every faith has been guaranteed rights by the Constitution.
Akal Takht vs RSS
Though the relationship hasn’t always been troubled, the Akal Takht has time and again criticised the RSS. In 2004, the Akal Takht had issued a Hukamnama directing Sikhs to stay away from RSS affiliate Rashtriya Sikh Sangat and calling the outfit “anti-Panthic”.
Sikh bodies’ main complaint against the RSS is that it denies the separate identity of Sikhs and tries to appropriate Sikh Gurus, particularly Guru Gobind Singh, and present them as Hindu figures.
In 2017, the then-Jathedar of the Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh had slammed an event organised by the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat for the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.
“No one can be allowed to distort Sikh history and this kind of act cannot be tolerated. Sikhs are a separate qaum (ethnic group) and they have a distinct identity and unique history. They don’t interfere in rituals, beliefs and code of ethics of any other religion. How can they tolerate interference from others in their own faith and its ethos,” Giani Gurbachan Singh had asked.
Who Is Giani Harpreet Singh?
Many say that the Akal Takht’s strong positions against Hindutva have intensified under Giani Harpreet Singh, who took over as acting Jathedar in October 2018.
When the Narendra Modi government abrogated Article 370 and placed Jammu and Kashmir under lockdown, Giani Harpreet Singh condemned the move and issued a strong statement against BJP leaders for saying that they would "get Kashmiri brides”. The Akal Takht chief also said that it was the duty of every Sikh to protect Kashmiri women.
Observers say that Giani Harpreet Singh’s statements are the result of two factors. First, they are an acknowledgement of the strong anti-Hindutva sentiments within the Sikh community and he wants the Akal Takht’s positions to reflect the community’s views.
Second, he wants to correct the perception that pro-Hindutva elements have secured a foothold in Gurdwara bodies through the Shiromani Akali Dal, which is an ally of the BJP.
But his background could also explain why the acting Akal Takht Jathedar has become a vocal critic of the Sangh.
46-year-old Giani Harpreet Singh is the son of a Granthi and hails from Gidderbaha in Muktsar district. According to reports, he became a granthi in Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Muktsar when he was around 30 and resumed his higher studies after that. After a diploma in divinity and a master’s degree in comparative religion, he pursued a PhD from Punjabi University, Patiala.
His research area is a comparative study of the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and the Quran. During the course of his research, Giani Harpreet Singh has keenly engaged with Muslim scholars and religious texts. He is also known to be a strong votary of inter-faith solidarity and the advocacy of minority rights.
The political impact of Giani Harpreet Singh’s statement is that it will now put the Akali Dal in a tight spot. The party will find it difficult to explain its alliance with the BJP, the political wing of the same body that the Akal Takht chief wants banned.
On the other hand, the party may also face pressure from its alliance partner to assert greater control over Sikh bodies and rein in those who are criticising the Sangh.
It remains to be seen whether the SAD chooses to assert itself and demand more concessions from BJP or whether it bows before its alliance partner.
Not surprisingly, the sole Akali Dal Union Minster Harsimrat Kaur Badal chose not to respond to the Akal Takht chief’s statement. Punjab-based journalist Mohammad Ghazali posted a video of Harsimrat Kaur in which she says, “As a humble Sikh, I cannot comment on this (the Akal Takht chief’s comment)“.
What is clear is that the Akal Takht chief’s statement can complicate the already uneasy relationship between the BJP and the SAD.
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