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Amarinder, Sarna Eye Khalistan Vote Bank


Tehelka, Dec. 31, 2005

Photo: Paramjit Singh Sarna

With an eye on the upcoming Assembly polls in the state, prominent Punjab politicians and Sikh leaders were seen sharing the dais with Khalistani ideologues in a Pakistan gurdwara.

If politics, religion and liquor were not a heady enough brew for the Punjab government-sponsored golden palanquin procession to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, the Khalistan element was all that was needed to make a Molotov cocktail. Evidences suggest close links of key Indian figures associated with the procession with blacklisted Khalistani ideologues in the West and Pakistan. At a seminar in Lahore, the main organiser of the procession, Harwinder Singh Sarna 'Palli,' brother of then Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (D.S.G.M.C.) President Paramjit Singh Sarna, was seen sharing the dais with Khalistani ideologues who made a call for a Sikh uprising and predicted that India would split into six parts.

The seminar took place on November 17, 2005, less than two weeks before the golden palanquin was brought to Nankana Sahib on November 30 by Sarna and Punjab C.M. Amarinder Singh with Cabinet ministers and 29 M.L.A.s in tow.

At the seminar commemorating Guru Nanak's birth, the U.S.-based Council of Khalistan President Gurmit Singh Aulakh declared that India would perforce be split into six parts, Kashmir would be liberated from India and that the Sikhs would rise against India. Apart from Sarna and Aulakh, on the dais were Khalistani ideologues and Dal Khalsa leader Manmohan Singh Khalsa, along with American Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Convenor Dr. Pritpal Singh. Manmohan, who also heads the World Muslim-Sikh Federation, spoke in favour of Khalistan at the seminar and later told mediapersons at Nankana Sahib on November 30 that he was working for a separate Sikh homeland. In the seminar's audience was another Khalistani leader, Ganga Singh Dhillon, who heads the Nankana Sahib Foundation. Also on the dais was Chandigarh-based Khalsa Panchayat Convenor Rajinder Singh, known for his moderate Khalistani politics. Both Manmohan and Dhillon are blacklisted by the Indian Government.

In September last year, a 15-member International Advisory Council to the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (P.S.G.P.C.) was set up with Dhillon as the Chairman. The Dhillon-led Council inducted Pritpal (known to have close links with the Dal Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa), the Dal Khalsa's U.K.-based Kesar Singh Mand and Manmohan Singh Khalsa, and U.K.-based Joga Singh from the Babbar Khalsa. Amongst the Indian members of the advisory council were Amarinder Singh and Paramjit Singh Sarna. Though Amarinder did not join the council, Harwinder Sarna did attend the council meeting held in Lahore on November 17. The meeting was also attended by Dhillon, Manmohan and Pritpal.

The Khalistan shadow loomed large even when the the golden palanquin rolled into Nankana Sahib on November 30. Amongst those present in the audience, apart from Amarinder, Pakistani Punjab C.M. Pervez Elahi and the Sarnas, were Dhillon and Manmohan.

The Amarinder-Sarna entourage had brought along noted singer and former Akal Takht Jathedar Prof. Darshan Singh. Brought along to sing 'kirtan' on the occasion, Darshan chose the occasion to also deliver a speech that sang paeans in devotion to Amarinder's contribution towards the Sikh cause. Darshan has in the past been closely associated with the Khalistan movement. One of Darshan's most controversial pronouncements has, in fact, been quoted by Aulakh in a recent essay deploring a section of U.S. Sikhs who had 'sold out' to India as also in a statement released from Washington in the aftermath of the Lahore seminar. Darshan, along with Dhillon, Manmohan and Aulakh, had met Musharraf in November 2000 in Islamabad in connection with the proposed pro-Khalistan 'Nankana Sahib Resolution.' But, Paramjit Sarna had at that time refused to go along with that delegation to meet Musharraf.

While Amarinder and Sarna have little compunction in linking up with the P.S.G.P.C. in the interest of the 'Sikh cause,' its background seems to have been lost on them. Set up in 1999, the P.G.P.C.'s first head was a known anti-India hawk, Lt. Gen. Javid Nasir (retd.), the chief of the I.S.I. at the time of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Apart from its objective of securing the maintenance and development of Sikh shrines in Pakistan, the P.G.P.C. was aimed at providing a platform for the remnants of the Khalistan movement outside India. Khalistani elements like Dhillon have been for long been associated with the P.G.P.C.

When Tehelka asked Harwinder Sarna, who on December 19 replaced his brother Paramjit Sarna as D.S.G.M.C. president, about his presence at the seminar, he said, 'I did not recognise these Khalistani speakers, so how would I know what was going to be spoken? Though I did share the dais with the speakers, when the objectionable Khalistani statement was made, I walked out.' Asked if he did not recognise Dhillon, Manmohan or Pritpal, Sarna was evasive.

Harwinder Sarna's claim of having walked out is contradicted by the person sitting right next to him on the dais, Rajinder Singh. 'The fact is that 15-20 people from the (Amritsar-based) Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.) group, led by Makhan Singh Nangal (an S.G.P.C. member), protested and walked out after Aulakh made those comments. They were joined in the protest by the members of the Youth Shiromani Akali Dal. Members of the group said they had come to Pakistan to forge Indo-Pakistan unity and not divide India. Harwinder Sarna was also there. He was getting late for his flight back to India. He did not walk out when Aulakh made those comments. Sarna left the venue a few minutes later,' Rajinder Singh told Tehelka.

A written statement released by the Council of Khalistan from Washington on November 22 spares Amarinder and vents its ire on the Shiromani Akali Dal. It said, 'On November 17, 2005, the Akali Dal again showed its true colours, as its leaders walked out of a seminar in Lahore after Dr. Aulakh predicted the break up of India during a speech in support of liberating Khalistan . . . About 1,500 people attended the (Lahore) seminar . . . The Akali leaders said, 'We came to unite, not to divide India.' This was a clear indication that those leaders were representing R.A.W., not those of the Sikh Nation. True Sikhs pray every morning, 'Raj Karega Khalsa (The Khalsa Shall Rule).' Former Jathedar of the Akal Takht Prof. Darshan Singh has said: 'If a Sikh is not a Khalistani, he is not a Sikh.' '

When Tehelka asked Paramjit Singh Sarna, he cited episodes that took place in Pakistan in 2000 and 2003 when he had refused to share the stage with Khalistani elements as had also refused to accompany a delegation led by Aulakh to meet President Pervez Musharraf. 'We also removed the banners and slogans for Khalistan slowly and steadily from Nankana Sahib,' said Sarna. The D.S.G.M.C. President admitted he was on the advisory council with Dhillon but stated he had 'not objected' to Dhillon's presence in the council. When confronted with numerous instances where the Sarnas had been associated with Khalistani elements in Pakistan, Paramjit clarified: 'I have no objection to sharing the stage with Khalistanis in Pakistan as long as they do not state anything wrong.'

The Sarnas' flirtations with Khalistani elements in Pakistan have stirred a hornet's nest back home. The exercise is being interpreted as being aimed at not only dividing the Akali vote bank but also furthering Amarinder's ambitions of becoming the 'Leader of the Sikhs.'

All India Anti-Terrorist Front President M.S. Bitta says, 'When Amarinder delivered a speech under a 'Khalistan Zindabad' banner in Canada, he claimed that he had not seen the banner. Harwinder Sarna shares the dais with Khalistanis and then says that he did not know who he was sitting with. Whoever may be involved, the fact is that Punjab's future is being jeopardised. With the polls coming nearer in Punjab, C.M. aspirants are playing with fire. Three to four senior Punjab Police officers along with one or two Congress politicians in Punjab are behind this move to garner the support of the Khalistanis,' Bitta told Tehelka. Bitta also said he had written to the Union Home Ministry on the Sarnas' dealings in Pakistan and that the Special Branch of the Delhi Police had launched an inquiry into the seminar episode. 'Why does not the government put sedition charges against the likes of Sarna?' asked Bitta.

When Tehelka had asked Amarinder on the eve of the procession's departure, why his government was promoting Sikh shrines and not taking up the cause of the shrines of other faiths with equal fervour, Amarinder had said: 'I can't help it if the commemoration of some major events in Sikh history have come up during my tenure. We are in the government today and it is our duty to celebrate them. Anyway, don't the Akalis do it too?'