Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the first 'Veer Bal Diwas' programme at Delhi's Major Dhyan Chand Stadium on Monday, 26 December, even as his government faced flak from Sikh bodies.
The Akal Takht and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee have accused the Modi government of "trying to undermine Sikh history".
So what is 'Veer Bal Diwas'? Why are Sikh bodies opposed to the nomenclature? And what is the larger context behind this disagreement?
We will try and look at some of these questions in the piece.
What is Veer Bal Diwas?
On the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh on 9 January 2022, the Modi government had announced that it would declare 26 December as 'Veer Bal Diwas' to mark the martyrdom of Guru Gobind's Singh's Sahibzaada Fateh Singh and Sahibzaada Zorawar Singh at the hands of the Mughals. They were just nine and seven years old respectively.
Why are Sikh Bodies Opposing Govt's Nomenclature?
The Akal Takht - which is the highest temporal body for the Sikh communty - as well as the SGPC, have opposed the government's move.
"Veer Bal Diwas" according to them constitutes a distortion of Sikh history.
According to SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami, "They were not Bal, like 8th Guru Sri Guru Harkrishan Sahib who became the Guru at the age of 8. Sahibzaade were the warriors of 7-year-old and 9-year-old. So, calling them ‘Bal Veer’ is not correct".
Calling for a boycott of Veer Bal Diwas functions, the SGPC called it a "conspiracy to destroy the sanctity of the greatest martyrdom in history".
The argument is that this was an act of bravery that has historic importance and consequences and can't be reduced to just "brave children".
The SGPC had even written to the central government to adopt the title They have said that the government should accept the term used by the Sikh community - Sahibzaade Shahadat Diwas.
"The fact that the government didn't agree to our request shows that their intention isn't really to honour the Sahibzaade," a senior SGPC functionary told The Quint.
The Larger Context
This row over 'Veer Bal Diwas' comes at a time when the Akal Takht and SGPC have been accusing the Modi government of trying to take over Sikh institutions in collaboration with the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.
Current DSGMC president Harmeet Singh Kalka had appealed to Sikhs to vote for the BJP in the recently concluded MCD elections. Former DSGMC president Manjinder Singh Sirsa is also part of the BJP.
The Akal Takht and SGPC had earlier accused the BJP of interfering in the management of Huzur Sahib, Nanded.
The BJP is trying expand its influence in the Sikh community.
According to surveys, the BJP had performed poorly among Sikh voters in both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The distance further increased due to the farm laws. The split in the over two-decade old SAD-BJP alliance was also a symptom of the increasing alienation of Sikhs from the BJP.
Since then, the BJP has been trying to challenge the Akali Dal's domination over Sikh institutions. With the help of the DSGMC, the BJP wants to emerge as the primary articulator of Sikh interests.
It is with the same intention that the party included Iqbal Singh Lalpura in its Parliamentary Board. Lalpura is known to have a keen understanding of Sikh issues.
PM Modi too has tried to portray a pro-Sikh image - taking part in various Sikh functions and announcing the scrapping of the farm laws in Guru Purab in 2021. A book was also released claiming that PM Modi has a special relationship with Sikhs.
These efforts of the BJP are being strongly resisted by the Akal Takht and the SGPC. The Akal Takht has also issued a number of statements slamming the the Narendra Modi government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Akal Takht had issued a Hukamnama urging Sikhs to stay away from the RSS. That Hukamnama is still applicable.
The fear among Sikh bodies is that the BJP and RSS are trying to undermine the unique identity of Sikhs by "distorting Sikh history and narratives" and "giving them a pro-Hindutva spin".