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Bhindranwale makes a comeback in Punjab
Onkar Singh in New Delhi | June 17, 2003 00:09 IST
Exactly 19 years after the Indian Army launched Operation Blue Star to flush out militants from the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar, Akal Takht head priest Joginder Singh Vedanti declared Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers to be martyrs.
At the ceremony held in the temple complex on June 6, Vedanti presented a robe of honour to Bhindranwale's son Isher Singh.
Despite pressure from various Sikh outfits, particularly students' organisations, since 1999 to declare Bhindranwale a martyr, Vedanti, head of the highest temporal seat in the Sikh religion, had studiously avoided the issue, even in private conversations.
The Damdami Taksal - which Bhindranwale once headed before he came into prominence � continued to insist he was alive and that he would reappear at an appropriate time to once again lead the Sikhs.
Some said the latest development was a bid to end the controversy surrounding Bhindranwale's death, but others were unwilling to buy this theory.
Former director general of Punjab police K P S Gill and Maninderjit Singh Bitta, who heads the All India Anti-terrorist Front, described the event as an attempt to boost the profile of the Akalis.
"The trouble with Akali politicians is that they are restless when they are out of power. They are eulogising Bhindranwale hoping to regain power. I would not give much importance to the event on its own, but if you look at it in the context of Akali politics, then it has wider ramifications," Gill told rediff.com.
Gill said the Akalis were playing into the hands of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, but Bitta went a step further and described Bhindranwale as an ISI agent.
The two are known leading protagonists of the 'Khalistan' movement for an independent nation for the Sikhs which, at its peak, lasted for over a decade and claimed over 36,000 lives.
The ceremony has evoked a muted response from the otherwise belligerent Bharatiya Janata Party, which was in the forefront of the fight against terrorism in Punjab and vows to fight it in Jammu and Kashmir.
"We are watching the situation for the time being. Declaring Bhindranwale a martyr amounts to eulogising a terrorist who got thousands of innocents killed in the name of religion," a senior BJP Member of Parliament told rediff.com.
Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa does not agree.
"It was a plain and simple ceremony. People who know about Sikh religion would understand the Sikh psyche. Anyone who laid down his life while defending the Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star is a martyr for us."
"Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale died while fighting the Indian Army, which had invaded the holiest of Sikh shrines on June 6, 1984. This is an internal matter of the Sikhs and those who do not understand our religion should refrain from interfering in our affairs," Dhindsa told rediff.com.
Whether one likes it or not, the ghost of Bhindranwale has been resurrected. Whether it will help fundamentalist or separatist forces is to be seen, say those who have been watching Punjab closely for the last two decades.
More reports from Punjab
Read about: Striking a Discordant Note