The killing of six Sikhs in a United States gurdwara led to a slanging match between the opposition and treasury benches in the Lok Sabha on Thursday with Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal accusing Akali Dal of "baking the political cake on funeral pyre" of the victims.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Harsimrat Kaur (Akali Dal) demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lead a delegation of Sikh MPs to the US and the government carry out a global campaign to "enlighten" people abroad that Sikhs were not terrorists.
Heated exchanges between Opposition and Congress members ensued when Partap Singh Bajwa (Cong) started speaking on the issue and Akali Dal members stormed into the Well of the House.
This prompted M Thambidurai, who was in the chair, to adjourn the House for over an hour.
Like Wednesday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi was seen marshalling the forces when Kaur became sharply critical of the Congress and the government accusing them of doing precious little when the community was the target of attacks.
She also accused the Congress of being responsible for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
"Whatever has happened is a tragedy for the whole nation and it is a matter of concern. .... We should not bake our political cake on the funeral pyre of the victims. It is not good," Bansal said, apparently taking the signal from Gandhi.
The minister said he had suggested that the Akali Dal should bring a calling attention motion on the issue which would have facilitated a response from the government, instead of raising it during Zero Hour.
In an apparent dig at the Akali Dal, he said their members should have been in the gurdwaras where prayers were being held for those killed.
Kaur lamented that since 9/11 terror strikes in the US, there have been thousand-odd attacks on Sikhs as their attire, including the turban and beard, "resembled a terrorist" or "Osama bin Laden's community".
This was objected to by Shahnawaz Hussain (BJP) as also some Congress and National Conference members who said a terrorist like Laden did not belong to any community. Bajwa said it was not proper to say that the attire of Sikhs resembled that of a terrorist.
Bajwa said US President Barack Obama had assured the prime minister that Washington would investigate and take action against those responsible. Among the six killed, four were
Indian nationals and their next of kin should be given adequate compensation by the Indian government, he said.
Kaur said though the US government spoke of zero-tolerance against terror, hate crimes against Sikhs were instances of home-grown terror there. "The killer was an ex-US Army veteran, known as a neo-Nazi who believed in white supremacy," she said.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj demanded statement from the government as to what it had done so far to protect the members of the community abroad.
JD-U chief Sharad Yadav said the August 5 incident in Wisconsin was not a matter of concern in Punjab or of Sikhs alone, "it is a matter of concern for the entire country and the House."
Bansal suggested that the concern in the US over the issue was reflected when their national flag was flown half mast. He said Obama had assured the prime minister that strict action would be taken on completion of the probe into the August 5 incident in Wisconsin.
The minister said the call from the US president to the prime minister showed the growing prestige of India in the comity of nations.