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Punjab burns in Sikh fury
- Centre puts northern states on high alert, priests call for social boycott of sect

Chandigarh, May 17: Sectarian violence continued to rock Punjab, prompting the Centre to issue advisories to virtually all north Indian states and ask the army to remain on standby.

Sikh groups clashed with followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect at Ramnagar village in Bhatinda, injuring six persons. Apprehending further attacks, thousands stood guard at the sect’s main branch in Talbotra.

A PTI report said one person died in clashes in Sangrur district.

The sectarian war has been raging across Punjab for the past three days after Dera leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh wore a robe in the style of the 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, and distributed amrit (nectar) like he used to.

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, asked for 50 companies of the CRPF. Delhi is sending at least 25.

Tempers also flared at a meeting of Sikh high priests near Bhatinda.

Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, head priest of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, had a close shave when a sword was hurled at him to vent anger at his soft stand on Gurmeet.

The priests called for a social boycott of the Dera and demanded that the government register a case within 10 days against the Dera leader for inciting violence.

But the hardliners were still not happy. As Vedanti spoke, they tried to shout him down. They even threatened to march to Salabpura, where a branch of the Dera is located.

Police have denied issuing orders to get all Dera branches vacated. “Rumour-mongers will be dealt with sternly. We are there to provide security to all in Punjab,” an officer said.

Unfazed by the protests, the Dera termed the “boycott” appeal by the high priests “unfortunate” and “divisive”.

“The Dera is open to a solution and backdoor negotiations are being attempted by both sides to defuse the situation,” said a spokesperson for the sect.

The Dera claims a following of two crore in north India. Scores of people from different states have reached Sirsa to take part in a meeting called by Gurmeet to plan their strategy.

The Centre has asked Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand, which have a sizeable Sikh population and reported instances of low-scale violence, to be on high alert. Advisories have also been sent to the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan governments.

Officials in the home ministry said the situation is being reviewed on an hourly basis and the Centre would do its best to contain the violence.

The row has raised fingers at former Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh’s trip to Kathmandu at this juncture. The Dera had helped the Congress win at least 25 seats in the last Assembly elections.

The Congress, however, condemned the violence and blamed the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government for its failure to maintain law and order.

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