Akal Takht edict against Dera Sacha Sauda sect may lead to Constitutional crisis

23 May, 2007: The decree issued by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, that the Dera Sacha Sauda sect should close all its campuses in Punjab by May 27, 2007, could lead to a Constitutional crisis and embarrass the Akali Dal government in Punjab led by Parkash Singh Badal.

The edict has raised questions on how a faith can be asked to wind up summarily its activity in Punjab when the Constitution of a secular country allows freedom of religion and faith, reports news agency IANS.

The tough stand of the Akal Takht, taken under pressure from hard-line Sikh organisations like Damdami Taksal, has once again intensified tensions after violence erupted over faith in the second week of May.

The Sikh community had taken to the streets demanding the arrest of Gurmit Ram Rahim, chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, for allegedly blaspheming their religion by attiring himself like Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru.

The sect followers reacted with violence in Bathinda after effigies of their spiritual leader were burnt across Punjab.

A major crisis is on the cards with the Dera Sacha Sauda sect completely ruling out vacating its Dera campuses in Punjab – the largest one spread in 150 acres at Salabatpura, 30 kilometres from Bathinda.

The Parkash Singh Badal government, which is bound to ensure the safety of the Dera campuses and followers, has distanced itself from the Akal Takht edict. Harcharan Bains, the government’s media adviser, has maintained that “the May 27 deadline to close deras is for the sect and not for the government to implement.”

He said the government would only focus on keeping law and order.

The Parkash Singh Badal government has registered a criminal case against the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect even after Gurmit Ram Rahim expressed regret over the incident. The Sikh clergy rejected this apology under pressure from the angry crowds at the Akal Takht, and demanded the closure and announced a Bandh, which went off succesdfully.

There are reports of the Khalistani supporters coming out of the woodwork, to capitalise on the controversy. The Congress, which had taken the support of the Dera chief suring the Punjab state elections, is suspected of initially fomenting trouble with a view to embarass the Akali government, but is believed to be taking a different view now. The BJP has responded responsibly - even though they are a partner in the Punjab government - and refused to participate in the Punjab Bandh. It has asked Parkash Singh Badal to control the situation, and warned him that it would hold him solely responsible if the anger went out of hand.

With a view to saving the situation, the Badal government is now striving to get the Dera chief to apologise to the Sikh community.

The Congress Party has accused the Badal government of having failed to fulfill its fundamental duty of safeguarding life and property of citizens.

Meanwhile, the Dera Sacha Sauda has appealed to President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mediate to solve their dispute with the Sikhs.

Aditya Insaan, Dera’s chief spokesman, has declared that his sect would not close Deras in Punjab as directed by the Sikh priests.

The Sikh clergy was well within its rights to organise protests - but demanding that a sect or cult close down is clearly unconstitutional, and they are probably in as much as of a bind as the Akali government is.




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