Chandigarh, December 6: It is difficult to recall in the recent memory whether any foreign dignitary was refused permission by the Government of India to visit the Golden Temple, the most sacred religio-political shrine complex of the Sikhs in Amritsar.
This is a shrine that is open to all irrespective of caste and creed and the doctrine is embedded and reflected in its very architecture. In the Sikh doctrine, every person on earth is equal. The Golden Temple is the embodiment of that doctrine.
The birthplace of the Sikhs, however, is not in India. It is Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. The Sikhs, in their daily Ardas (prayer), pray for unhindered access to their shrines across the Radcliffe line. The decision of the Indian government of refusing permission to Pakistan Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaz Aziz to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple has to be seen in the context of this unique relationship of the Sikhs with the neighbouring country, not through the prism of hate. This significant aspect of the Sikh religion was overlooked in this case.
It may be mentioned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi accompanied Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to the Golden Temple. Modi received Ghani at the head of the street leading to the Golden Temple that has been renovated in the Rajasthani style with red stone. They walked for about 500 meters to the shrine. There was no security threat although this is the most crowded area in the holy city.
In case of Aziz, his motorcade could have been allowed right upto the shrine. The vehicles of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and their entire clan has access to the Golden Temple gates. The area has been closed to the vehicular traffic after its renovation.
The security arrangements inside the shrine should have been left to the SGPC and the police in civvies, the way it is the practice in case of other dignitaries. Security forces in uniform are not allowed inside the shrine. The visit of Aziz to the Golden Temple also related to the relationship of the Sikhs with that country.
For years after partition, the upkeep of the Nankana Sahib shrine, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, was with the Pakistan government. It was during one of the visits of then SGPC chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra to Pakistan that the process was initiated to handover its management to the Sikhs. However, there were no Sikh families at that time in Nankana Sahib. The Pakistan government made arrangement for about 150 Sikh and Sindi families to settle in Nankana Sahib at Tohra’s suggestion. Sindis are followers of Guru Nanak. The shrine management was transferred to the Sikhs. Now the management of Sikh shrines in Pakistan is with the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.
There is another aspect. Going by the normal practice, wearing of topi (cap) is not allowed inside the Golden Temple and non-Sikhs are supposed to cover their heads with a big handkerchief or a scarf provided by the SGPC at all the gates of the shrine. However, both Modi and Ghani wore topis. They were accompanied by Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, besides the SGPC chief secretary Harcharan Singh.
SGPC chief Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar when questioned the next day about this violation of Maryada, said he would inquire into it. He was not there that day.
However, going by the recent history, Sindis used to visit the Golden Temple wearing topis. A former SGPC secretary said the Gandhi topi was never objected to till certain period. However, a visitor is now not allowed to wear a cap by the SGPC watch and ward staff.
The SGPC has its own security force that is known as the task force. The outer ring to the dignitaries inside the shrine is provided by this force. This force could have escorted Aziz to the shrine.
Neither the SGPC chief, nor Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh or Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal has questioned the decision of the centre refusing permission to Aziz to pay obeisance citing security considerations. Besides the SGPC, the Badal government too should have offered to escort him.
The situation during militancy was different issue and that tragic situation still to be fully debated by the Sikh community. In case some dignitary has been disallowed on security concerns by the government at the centre, it raises question marks over the functioning of the SGPC itself and the Punjab government too.