Finally, the saffron juggernaut came to a grinding halt at the Akal Takht, the supreme religious seat of the Sikhs. For nearly three years the rss has been concertedly trying to appropriate the revered symbols of Sikhism. Last fortnight, however, when it decided to recite the Guru Granth Sahib in the Hindu temples of Punjab, it raised the hackles of the Akal Takht which was quick to issue a stern warning. Smelling trouble, the rss retracted its plan. The parivar paterfamilias discovered, much to its chagrin, that targeting Sikhs isn't the same as Christian- or Muslim-baiting.
Reacting sharply to the rss programme, Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti warned: "Once again we warn the rss and its affiliates that they must desist from publishing and distributing literature in which the pious religion propounded by Guru Nanak has been distorted. They better not test the patience of the Sikhs. Otherwise the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (sgpc), along with other Sikh groups, sants and Sikh intellectuals, will have to launch an agitation against such divisive activities."
The withdrawal of its plan to recite the Granth Sahib is perhaps a tactical retreat, only to be revived at a more opportune moment. There are indications that at the grassroots the Sangh will go ahead with its programme of highlighting the "similarities" of both religions. "We will continue our programme through personal contact. At times political things come into play. Like this time certain elements who wanted to corner Punjab CM (Parkash Singh) Badal have raised this issue," Pravin, Jalandhar vibhag pracharak of rss, told Outlook. For the moment, though, the rss strategy of bringing all religions of Indian origin into the Hindutva fold has boomeranged in Punjab.
The seriousness of the Akal Takht's warning can be gauged from the fact that since the hukumnama that excommunicated the Nirankari sect from the Sikh panth 22 years ago, it was the first time it had issued a warning against any organisation. The Nirankaris were then accused of distorting the Sikh maryada.
The warning to the rss to desist from its
activities "infringing on the Sikh maryada" was issued three years
after the saffron organisation started taking interest in Sikh religious affairs
through its outfit Rashtriya Sikh Sangat. The Sangat shot into prominence when
it participated in the 300 years of Khalsa panth celebrations in March '99. No
Sikh body objected to it then. But annoyance spread with the rss and its
affiliate circulating pamphlets and questionnaires in schools suggesting that
Sikhs were part of the Hindu religion.
The first of these pamphlets was distributed during the tricentenary of the Sikh panth. In this the rss stated that Guru Gobind Singh, in his autobiography Bichhitar Natak, had said that all the 10 gurus were Lord Ram's descendants. The pamphlet notes: "The followers of Lord Ram, Krishan and Guru Sahiban are not different but they are part of one society and that is the Hindu society. The entire Sikh sect is an integral part of Hindu society". In the same pamphlet the rss said that the gurus sacrificed themselves to "save the tilak and janeyu (sacred thread), symbols of Hindu superiority". The pamphlet concludes with the observation: "The rss is working to fulfil the objectives in the philosophy of Nanak and Gobind".
That was just the beginning. The matter was further complicated when the rss organised general knowledge tests. Some of these sought to link the Sikh religion and its symbols to Hinduism; a few had questions about the rss which were interspersed with those about Sikh gurus. In another pamphlet, 'Current Situation in Punjab and the Sangh Viewpoint', the rss disapproves of the Akali view that the Sikhs are a minority. The pamphlet says: "It's incorrect to say that Sikhs are a minority because only a foreign race can be called a minority."
What came as the last straw was the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat's decision to organise recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab temples last fortnight. The Takht's warning makes it clear that Sikh religious leaders have summarily rejected the rss perception. Says Jaswinder Singh Advocate of the sgpc: "The Sikh reht maryada strictly forbids the recitation of the Granth Sahib at a place where idols are placed. Placing a pitcher, ceremonial clarified-butter-fed lamp, coconut, etc, during the course of the reading of Guru Granth Sahib is contrary to gurmat (guru's way)."
Clearly, the rss has burnt its fingers with its Hindutva overtures to Sikhism. In fact, Jaswinder Singh has floated an outfit called Akal Purukh Ki Fauj, which has been distributing questionnaires countering the rss campaign.
The Sangh leaders obviously miscalculated when they thought that they could implement their agenda just because the Akali-bjp coalition is ruling the state. The Khalsa snub, it seems, has worked.