| Punjab police commandos stand guard near Amritsar’s Golden Temple complex on Monday. (AFP)
Amritsar, Nov. 11 (PTI): The stage has been set for tomorrow’s elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the top religious body of the Sikhs, amid heavy security cover and fears of violence.
Shiromani Akali Dal chief and former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who hopes to retain control of the SGPC, flew in from Delhi and, in defiance of prohibitory orders, led 98 SGPC members to the Golden Temple complex where the elections will be held in the afternoon.
Badal’s main challenger, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, also reached the city today with his supporters. Tohra held consultations over the choice of nominees for presidentship and other office-bearers for the SGPC executive committee.
To keep their rivals guessing, both sides have decided to announce the names of their candidates only at the last minute.
Badal, whose party has a high stake in the polls, was authorised by SGPC members in his party to nominate candidates for the post of president and office-bearers of the SGPC, which manages Sikh shrines across the country.
He told newsmen here that the candidates would be finalised after another meeting of his party tomorrow morning, just hours before the polling.
Badal also claimed the support of 98 members and said the number would swell to more than 108.
The Akali leader got a shot in the arm when Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the arrest of his supporter and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur in a power theft case.
The high court also stayed the order of the Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission debarring 12 SGPC members, mostly Badal loyalists, from voting in tomorrow’s election.
Badal said neither he nor NDA observers from Delhi, including Union minister Sahib Singh Verma, would be present inside the Teja Singh Samundari Hall — the venue of the polls. Punjab police personnel in riot gear, including commandos and mounted police, continue to maintain a vigil outside the shrine complex, which houses the Teja Singh Samundari Hall.
The police, however, did not stop Badal when he entered the Golden Temple complex with a cavalcade of 100 vehicles today, The Akali Dal workers not only defied prohibitory orders but also the order banning people from staying in guest houses within 500 metres of the Golden Temple complex.
A day after the police entered the temple complex and searched SGPC guest houses looking for weapons, Badal loyalists and SGPC members were lodged in Sri Hargobind Niwas, inside the SGPC complex. The Niwas is being guarded by the SGPC task force as police were not allowed near it today.
The Akali leader is also staying at the Niwas and is monitoring the situation personally. Only SGPC members and top Akali leaders are being allowed to enter the Niwas. This evening, mediapersons were also asked to leave the Niwas.
Chief minister Amarinder Singh said police “did not enter the darbar sahab” (sanctum sanctorum) as reported in a section of the media.
The police only went to the guest house in the SGPC complex, he said, adding that the government is duty-bound to maintain law and order in the wake of threats and counter-threats by rival factions.
The 190-member SGPC has an effective electoral strength of 176. While nine members have died, the five head priests do not have voting rights.
Of the 176, 120 are stated to be Badal loyalists, 52 Tohra supporters and four are aligned with the group headed by Simranjit Singh Mann.
Elections will be held for the executive committee consisting of a president, a senior vice-president, junior vice-president, a general secretary and 10 members.