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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Sant Nirankaris cont'd

The former S.G.P.C. Akali, and experienced politician Jail Singh, decided the best way to break up the S.G.P.C. Akali Dal/Bhartiya Jang Sang coalition was to wean the Sikh support away from the S.G.P.C. Akalis by propping up a another man. According to all independent sources, the man Jail Singh chose for this task was ‘Sant’ Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala.

Jail Singh
Jail Singh (left) greeting Gurbachan Singh (center) and his wife

Jarnail Singh always vehemently denied he had any association with the Congress or any political party yet, the historian Patwant Singh comments:

The person chosen for the role was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala, a seminary preacher with a considerable knowledge of the Sikh scriptures. Seen at the outset as devout Sikh and man of God, he was built up without his knowledge - with all the Brahmnical subtlety and skill perfected over millennium into a charismatic leader who eclipsed the Akalis by utterances more fiery than their own: whose larger than-life image was repeatedly projected through cannily manipulated press, radio and television. It came to appear as if he represented the aspirations of all Sikhs, though millions of them had no interest in him or the Akalis.’
‘The Sikhs’, by Patwant Singh Pa.232

Jaila played his clever card to destroy the Akali Dal/Bhartiya Jang Sang coalition by encouraging the Sant Nirankaris to hold a convention in Amritsar. This in turn gave Jarnail Singh a weapon with which to potentially smash the Akali Dal/Jang Sang coalition. Jaila was fully aware that the Sant Nirankaris were considered a heretical Sikh sect and perceived by most Sikhs as a enemy of Sikhism. When Sant Nirankaris asked the Punjab government permission to hold the convention in Amritsar, this put the Akali Dal in a predicament.

Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala
Jarnail Singh (holding the arrow) accompanied by Harchand Longowal

The Sant Nirankaris had strong intercaste links with the Jang Sanghias. By refusing the Sant Nirankaris permission to hold the convention, the Akali Dal would risk a bust up with the Jang Sanghias. On the other hand, if the convention went ahead the Sikhs would be upset. Jaila had played his card well and the Akali Dal decided to let the convention go ahead and weather the storm of Sikh protest.

On 13th April 1978, the Nirankari convention took place in Amritsar. A fanatical agricultural inspector named Fauja Singh, affiliated with the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and Bhindrawala marched through the streets of Amritsar to confront the Sant Nirankaris. They saw it their duty to stop what was in their eyes anti-Sikh preaching, however, along the way Bhindrawala and a few of his close associates slipped away. For this act, Bibi Amarjit Kaur, Fauja Singh’s wife and head of Babbar Khalsa called Bhindrawala a coward.

Fauja Singh
Fauja Singh and his wife, Amarjit Kaur

That day, 12 Sikhs including Fauja Singh and 3 Sant Nirankaris died in the ensuing clash. The 12 Sikhs were immediately declared as martyrs by Akhand Kirtani Jatha (A.K.J.), and Samparda Kartar Singh Sikhs (known popularly as ‘Dam Dami Taksal’). This situation presented Sanjay Gandhi and Jail Singh a with a potential political disaster.

Gurbachan Singh
Gurbachan Singh with Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who was at the time the Prime Minister of India)

The Congress Party began to whip up anti-Sant Nirankari sentiments amongst the Sikhs via their Congress-controlled Sikh temples in Delhi. Not wishing to alienate their coalition partners, the S.G.P.C. Akalis tried to play down the Sant Nirankari incident in Punjab. The Congress-held Gurdwaras in Delhi promoted Bhindrawala as a hero of the Sant Nirankari incident.

Meanwhile the Sant Nirankaris had their court case moved from Punjab to neighboring state of Haryana because they felt that in Punjab they would not get a fair hearing.

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