Chandigarh, Nov. 8: Hundreds of Akali workers have been arrested from various parts of Punjab to “prevent them from reaching the Golden Temple complex” for the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee polls scheduled for November 12.
The arrests follow Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal’s call to party activists to reach Amritsar by Monday.
Last night, Badal had to personally supervise to “rescue” SGPC member Harbans Kaur Sukhana and vice-president Kewal Singh Badal from Ludhiana police’s custody. Senior Akali leaders alleged that Sukhana and Kewal Singh were whisked away even before the police stationed outside their homes could react.
“The whole of Punjab has turned into a police state. Any Akali leader or worker opposing the Congress and chief minister Amarinder Singh is being harassed, intimidated and arrested. The government has let loose a reign of terror in the state,” senior Akali leader Kanwaljit Singh alleged, saying that he, too, feared arrest if he stepped out of Chandigarh.
Most of the arrests have been reported from Malwa — a traditional Akali stronghold — and Majha regions in the state. While senior police officers are tight-lipped on the issue, district officials in Faridkot, Moga, Mansa, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Bathinda districts said many Akali supporters were arrested as a “precautionary measure” to ensure that the SGPC polls “passed off peacefully”.
SGPC president Kirpal Singh Badungar today warned the government from arresting Akali workers, saying that the outcome would be disastrous. “This government is meddling in the internal affairs of the Sikhs,” he said.
The government, fearing large-scale violence between pro- and anti-Badal supporters on the polling day, has ordered security to be tightened in and around the temple complex.
Special attention is being paid to security outside and inside Teja Singh Samundari Hall — the traditional venue for the polls — with visitors being frisked before being allowed entry. Government sources said the control of the Golden Temple complex is likely to be handed over to the Amritsar deputy commissioner a day before the polls.
With Badal keeping his supporters in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and Haryana and enjoying the majority support in the SGPC, the veteran Akali leader has plans to transport supporters in a motorcade to Amritsar on Monday.
Many SGPC members owing loyalty to All-India Akali leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra enjoy the tacit support of the Congress government.
“We are apprehensive that the police would not allow our supporters to travel to the holy city. We have no option but to take them together. Amarinder has joined hands with Tohra and wants his own man to become SGPC chief. He is using all force at his disposal to browbeat us,” a senior Akali leader said.
Badal described the massive crackdown on Akali workers as “repression and rape of democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law”. He added that the arrests, launched in the early hours, continued throughout the day and was the biggest in magnitude since 1984. “Punjab has not seen anything like this in modern times, with the sole exception of Operation Bluestar and its aftermath,” he said. The senior Akali leader warned against the dangerous implications of the government’s action.
Akali leaders alleged that the Amarinder Singh government has come down with all its might to unleash repression against party workers, vindicating his stand that the SGPC polls would not be free and fair.