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December 28, 1999
Sonia denied entry to Akal Takht
Under instructions from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Bibi Jagir Kaur, a task force on Tuesday prevented Congress president Sonia Gandhi from paying obeisance at the Akal Takht, the highest spiritual and temporal seat of the Sikhs.
After paying obeisance at the Harmandir Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple, Sonia Gandhi, with her head covered, moved towards the Akal Takht along with the Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh and other party leaders.
Immediately, two well-built SGPC task force members took up position on the stairs leading to the Akal Takht and blocked her entry. At this, the Punjab Congress leaders guided Sonia Gandhi towards the clock tower gate from where she had a final look at Harmandir Sahib before proceeding to the historic Jallianwala Bagh to launch the sanklap yatra.
The SGPC, true to its stand, did not present a siropa (robe of honour) to Sonia Gandhi either at the Harmandir Sahib or at the Golden Temple information office.
Normally, the SGPC presents a siropa to visiting dignitaries at the information office. The practice of presenting a siropa by a priest in the main shrine has been done away with by Bibi Jagir Kaur after she succeeded Gurcharan Singh Tohra to the post.
Sonia Gandhi, after making a customary offering of a siropa and Rs 5,000 in Harmandir Sahib, stood for some time with folded hands and then bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib. She was offered five patasas (sweets) by a priest on duty.
At the shrine she prayed for the safe release of the hijacked passengers and the crew of the Indian Airlines aircraft at Kandahar in Afghanistan.
When asked about their action, the SGPC task force members said they had ''instructions from the top'' not to allow Sonia Gandhi into the Akal Takht building. The task force comprises mainly of ex-servicemen.
An Akal Takht priest present on the occasion asserted that as per Sikh tenets, ''Akal Takht is the Takht of sachapatshah (the almighty) and any person representing a symbol of falsehood cannot be permitted entry. She (Sonia Gandhi) is a representation of such a symbol,'' he added.
The priest explained that any devotee could visit Harmandir Sahib to pay obeisance. But the Akal Takht had a special relevance. Those responsible for sacrilege cannot be allowed to bow his or her head before the seat.
The Akal Takht was damaged during Operation Bluestar in 1984 and the Akalis hold Indira Gandhi, her family and the Congress responsible for this.
Sonia Gandhi later expressed her deep anguish and regret over the 1984 happenings, which she said should not have happened. ''I have prayed at the shrine that such events must never happen again,'' she disclosed. ''We are entering a new millennium. Let us do so in a spirit of forgiveness,'' she added.
Sonia Gandhi said that the peace and tranquillity of the Harmandir Sahib had impressed her. ''I came here to renew my family's cherished association with the brave Sikhs,'' she said.
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