When Indira Gandhi declared Amritsar as Holy City on  February 27, 1983


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, September 9: Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwal, after paying obeisance at Golden Temple today morning, made the all announcement to make Amritsar a Holy City. Perhaps he wanted to this sacred city to be holier. He might have been repelled at the sight of heaps of rubbish on the roads leading to the holiest of the holy shrine of the Sikhs. Jallianwala Bagh where hundreds of unarmed people participating in a political conference were brutally gunned down on April 13, 1919 is also en-route.

Today was his second day in Punjab to dress up the self-inflicted wounds that his party has received in the state. On landing in the state yesterday, he had made another very important commitment. He said he would not rest till Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his other family members were put behind bars.

Both these issues betray bankruptcy of ideas with AAP which,  just little more than a month back, appeared to be the party that was in a position to form its government in this state.

Kejriwal and his advisers need to brush up their knowledge of Punjab history.

It was Indira Gandhi who made the announcement on February 27, 1983 to remove liquor, tobacco and meat shops from specified areas around the Golden Temple complex that is what the holy city status means in practical terms. These shops were later shifted out of the entire walled city. This was one of the three religious demands the acceptance of which Indira Gandhi had announced unilaterally. The two others were direct transmission of kirtan from the Golden Temple by Jalandhar station of All India Radio and permission to the Sikhs to carry 9-inch kirpan with 6-inch blade on the Indian Airlines flights. She also announced the removal of such shops around Durgiana Mandir in Amritsar. She made the announcement at a huge gathering at the historic Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. She had visited the shrine to thank the Sikhs for the support extended by the community to the Congress in the Delhi Municipal Council and Municipal Corporation elections.

It is pertinent to mention that the Shiromani Akali Dal had included the demand for holy city status for Amritsar in the 45-point demand charter submitted to her in September, 1981. This demand charter was reduced to 15 demands the following month. The party demanded “Grant of holy city status to Amritsar on the pattern of Hardwar, Kurukshetra and Kanshi”. Thus these three cities already had this status.

The Akali Dal had perhaps woken up to this demand after the dismissal of the party government headed by Parkash Singh Badal in March, 1980. The party had come into power in the state in 1977 in alliance with the Janata Party of which then Jana Sangh was a constituent. Perhaps going by his bitter experience during his first term as the chief minister, Badal perhaps did not want to annoy the Sangh Parivar affiliate by declaring Amritsar as Holy City.

That was the time when the All India Sikh Students Federation had already raised this issue under the patronage of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

The sun was hot on the morning of May 31, 1981 but as the day advanced, the temperature suddenly hit the ceiling and the city trembled.

That was the day when Sant Bhindranwale headed the 30,000 strong procession through the bazars of Amritsar organised by the AISSF to demand ban on these shops in the walled city area. He was escorted by his armed associates. Amritsar had never witnessed such sight. However, there was no provocation and the march passed off peacefully. The message had been conveyed.

It might have been a normal procession of few hundred young boys. However, the provocation for this massive show was  provided by the Hindu organisations on May 29, 1981  which staged pro-tobacco procession. Among those leading the procession was a prominent woman leader of the Sangh Parivar who was then  a college lecturer turned social activist. The processions carried cigarette packets hanging from lathis.

It was Baba Kharak Singh of Jhabal, one of the most respected religious leaders in the region, who was furious and summoned Sant Bhindranwale to organise retaliation to Hindu organisations. For years, Amritsar was not the same again after May 31, 1981.

Anandpur Sahib, Muktsar and Talwandi Sabo are also among the holy cities, declared so by the state government from time to time.

The second issue raised by Kajriwal is that of putting Badal family to jail. There is nothing new about it. This was the agenda on which the Congress headed by Capt Amarinder Singh captured power in 2002. Despite advice to the contrary, Capt Amarinder Singh kept up his promise and sent Badal and Sukhbir to jail, only to revive them. He is pedalling the agenda that is now 14 years old.

Kejriwal should come up with something new.

He should also know that there has also been the demand for according Vatican status to Amritsar and Nankana Sahib in Pakistan.


Jagtar Singh


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