Amritsar, July 27: The ceremony was simple. But its message far-reaching. Gloating in his new-found success, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who was elected the 37th president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), today sounded a warning to chief minister Amarinder Singh by asking Sikhs to “get ready” to take part in an anti-government rally “soon”.
Amid pouring rain and applause, Tohra addressed hundreds of supporters here immediately after his coronation as SGPC chief for the 26th time. He had been sacked from the post by Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal in March 1999, but recently buried his differences with the Akali leader by merging his faction, the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal, with the parent party.
Tohra — who recently suffered a cerebral attack — said that despite health problems, he had accepted the post to serve his community “at this hour of need”.
Known as a hawk and a schemer in Punjab politics, Tohra was SGPC president during Operation Bluestar in 1984 and is alleged to have played a critical role in allowing Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale into the Golden Temple complex. Bhindranwale turned the temple complex into a headquarter of Khalistani terrorism from where orders to kill innocent people were passed everyday. Tohra, however, denies playing any role.
Referring to the ongoing state vigilance bureau raids on properties owned by Badal and his family and former Akali ministers in Punjab, Haryana and New Delhi, Tohra said: “I have been away from the SGPC for over four years. But that has not diminished my service to the Sikh community. We are passing through a dark phase in our history with the government letting loose a policy of repression against our leaders and community members, and I appeal to Sikhs and party workers to get ready to launch another morcha soon against the government.”
“We have shown in the past what we can achieve with our agitations. The Centre and the state government have been shaken when we have agitated. Even the British have felt shaken by our morchas. The world has watched in awe what we have been able to achieve through our agitations,” Tohra said amid loud cheers from supporters.
Badal brought Tohra to the SGPC complex next to the Golden Temple earlier today. “This is a great day for the Shiromani Akali Dal,” Badal said, before leaving for a party meeting in Ferozepur.
The resignation of Kirpal Singh Badungar as president of the SGPC executive committee paved the way for Tohra’s elevation. Acting president Alwinderpal Singh Pahoke had proposed Tohra’s name and it was seconded by Gurbux Singh Parain and endorsed by Partap Singh.
“I have seen the politics that is practised in the Rajya Sabha. But I can tell you that it is worse here in the SGPC,” Tohra said in a lighter vein. “But we have to come closer and work for the welfare of our people.”
Referring to the Akali Dal, Tohra said: “We have fought with each other. The feuds have created problems for farmers, party workers and labourers. It is time now to bury all differences and help the community.”
Tohra, who refused to address the media, said he wanted some rest.
Expressing gratitude towards former executive member Sukhdev Singh Bhaur for vacating his seat from the executive committee, Tohra said it was an honour to lead the SGPC.
He also showered praises on Jagir Kaur, Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Kirpal Singh Badungar, the three Akali leaders who succeeded him after his ouster in 1999.
Former SGPC general secretary Kiranjot Kaur said the move has come as a blessing in disguise for the community. “It will help strengthen the Akali Dal which is facing grave challenges in the form of Amarinder’s raids. It is a time of joy for us.”
Tohra loyalist Manjit Singh Calcutta said the Akalis have finally reunited. “So many leaders have come today that it is hard to believe. We did not call the SGPC house members because that would have meant a bigger crowd. But they will be invited soon to listen to the views of their new chief. Nothing much should be read into the absence of Badungar and Jagir Kaur,” he added.