‘All Sikhs Want Khalistan’: Decoding Akal Takht Jathedar’s Remark
If govt offers us Khalistan, what else do we need? Which Sikh doesn’t want it?”: Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh
Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh said on Saturday June 6 that “every Sikh wants Khalistan” , a statement that is being interpreted in different ways.
He made this statement in response to a question regarding alleged pro-Khalistan slogans chanted earlier in the day after cadres belonging to outfits like Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) tried to enter Akal Takht to mark the 36th Anniversary of Operation Bluestar.
“There is nothing wrong if slogans were raised. If the government offers us Khalistan, what else do we need? We will accept it. Which Sikh in the world doesn’t want it?” Giani Harpreet Singh said.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gobind Singh Longowal, who was also present at the press interaction, concurred with what the Akal Takht Jathedar said.
The Akal Takht Jathedar also said that the government at the Centre is “anti-Sikh”.
Now how should the Jathedar’s statement be read ? Is it a call for a separate state of Khalistan? Or an acknowledgement of the sentiment in the Sikh community?
It would be simplistic to call the Jathedar’s remarks as being “separatist” or “an attempt to rake up the Khalistan demand”.
The timing of his statement is important. He said this on the 36th anniversary of a deeply traumatic event for many Sikhs - Operation Bluestar, that was carried out by the Indian Army between 1 June and 8 June 1984.
While from the perspective of the army and Indian state, this was an operation to “flush out militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib complex in Amritsar”, for many Sikhs it is part of the Teeja Ghallughara (Third Holocaust) that involved the destruction of their highest temporal seat - the Akal Takht and continued up till the anti-Sikh pogrom a few months later in 1984.
Many Sikhs say that the wounds of the Teeja Ghallughara remain unhealed because the Indian state is yet to acknowledge the trauma of the attack on Darbar Sahib or provide justice to victims of the massacre later that year.
“Khalistan” therefore doesn’t necessarily mean a separate state.
“Khalistan is also a way of asking the Indian state - what is your mighty judicial system that doesn’t give justice?” author Amandeep Sandhu told The Quint in an earlier interview.
It is in this context, we must see the phrasing of the Jathedar’s remarks: “If the government gives us Khalistan, we will accept it”.
It is a plea to the government of India, not a demand.
Addressing the Divide Within
There is another backdrop to the Akal Takht chief’s remarks. Giani Harpreet Singh took over as acting Jathedar of the Akal Takht in 2018 under trying circumstances.
The Akal Takht was seen as being too close to the Shiromani Akali Dal, which has been facing immense flak for the 2015 sacrilege incidents at Bargari and the subsequent killing of anti-sacrilege protesters at Behbal Kalan.
It was around the same time in 2015 that the Akal Takht had decided to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a decision they had to eventually revoke.
Ever since he took over as acting Jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh has been much more politically combative than his immediate predecessors.
Though he hasn’t said anything against the Akali Dal openly, he has spared no opportunity to call out their ally the BJP its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The Akal Takht Jathedar has been critical of the Modi government on its treatment of minorities, its handling of Kashmir and has accused the RSS of dividing society.
Even those who accuse the Akal Takht and SGPC of compromising with those in power, have found it difficult to dismiss Giani Harpreet Singh’s comments entirely.
This is precisely what happened.
When asked about Giani Harpreet Singh’s remarks on Khalistan, Dal Khalsa representatives did not counter him. All they said was that the Jathedar should do more to work towards it.
By saying that there’s nothing wrong with the slogans raised and calling the central government “anti-Sikh”, the Akal Takht Jathedar appears to be trying to bridge the divide in the community.
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