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Sword fight at Golden Temple
- 12 injured as radical group clashes with SGPC members

(From top) Sikhs gather during the clash inside the Golden Temple complex on Friday; a youth shows her injury to the media; rival group members clash inside the temple compound. (Reuters and PTI)

June 6: Two groups of Sikhs clashed with swords, sticks and spears at the Golden Temple complex today, the 30th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, leaving 12 people with minor injuries, police said.

The half-hour clash took place at the Akal Takht, the highest Sikh temporal seat, between supporters of the radical group Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which maintains the temple, and its security task force.

The SGPC is controlled by Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) is headed by the pro-Khalistan Simranjit Singh Mann.

An SGPC spokesperson said that Mann’s supporters insisted, like they do every year, that he be allowed to deliver a speech from the Akal Takht’s podium. Traditionally, it’s the Akal Takht jathedar (head priest) who addresses devotees on the anniversary, with the privilege sometimes extended to moderate Sikh leaders but never to radicals like Mann.

“When they (Mann’s supporters) tried to snatch the microphone from jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh’s hands, the security task force intervened to stop them. But they did not relent and attacked the guards with swords and sticks,” the SGPC spokesperson alleged.

Within minutes, the swordfight had spilled onto the courtyard outside. Video footage showed people clashing and chasing each other while many devotees ran for cover. Mann’s supporters shouted pro-Khalistan slogans.

The SGPC spokesperson said the trouble broke out “just after Mann left the Akal Takht” after being denied a chance to speak.

Among the injured were five members of the SGPC task force, which handles security at the shrine where the police aren’t allowed. Police sources said that none of the 12 wounded suffered serious injuries and that 19 people had been detained.

There was no disruption of worship at the Golden Temple, an official said.

Operation Bluestar was a military operation launched in June 1984 to flush militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale out of Sikhism’s holiest shrine. In retaliation, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in October that year.

Every anniversary, prayers are held for the memories of those killed during the operation.

“The SGPC has been observing Bluestar’s anniversary every year along with radical groups like the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and Dal Khalsa, but the proceedings had remained peaceful so far,” a police officer said.

In Delhi, MPs from Punjab condemned the clash and said religion should be kept out of politics. Among them were Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Bhagawant Mann.

Amarinder Singh of the Congress, former Punjab chief minister and now MP, said the “sacrilege” could have been avoided had both sides restricted themselves to the purpose of the event and not indulged in one-upmanship to gain publicity.

Amritsar observed a bandh, called by hard-line outfit Dal Khalsa on the occasion of the anniversary. Some 1,500 riot police were deployed across the city.