Chandigarh: Punjab and Haryana were headed for confrontation over the issue of separate SGPC for the Congress -ruled state, with Parkash Singh Badal appealing to the Centre to intervene in the matter, while his counterpart Bhupinder Singh Hooda asserting that any decision will be taken keeping in view "aspirations" of Sikhs of his state.
Badal also said that Haryana`s move was "politically motivated" and with an eye on assembly polls due in October this year even though the issue had been hanging fire since long.
On its part, the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, which at present controls the affairs of the gurdwaras in Haryana but stands to lose authority if separate panel is formed, warned action against supporters of separate SGPC, saying that any such move will be "directly challenging" Akal Takht - the supreme temporal body of the community.
"If the separate SGPC is formed, the step will be directly taking on and challenging the Akal Takht. The word of the Akal Takht is final, but if some Sikhs still chose to ignore it and go against it, they are guilty and can invite any action as the supreme temporal body deems fit," SGPC President Avtar Singh Makkar said.
Badal slammed Haryana`s move, saying "its nefarious designs to divide the Sikhs" would never materialise.
"It is unfortunate that the Haryana Government is reviving this contentious issue despite of the fact that the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had refrained it from taking this step during the rule of the UPA government," he said speaking to reporters in Kapurthala.
"I hope that the Union Government will intervene in the matter," he said.
Later in the day, Badal while interacting with reporters at Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur said, "this election stunt of Congress will not yield dividends for them as the Sikhs of Haryana have time and again rejected the demand for having separate body for managing the gurdwara affairs in the state."
After the party discussed the floor strategy in the top level meetings, Azad indicated that the issue of price rise will be the prominent one that would be raised by the Opposition given the fact that Narendra Modi came to power by raising the issue of inflation under the UPA rule.
"Modi and the BJP would have been under 100 if they had not exploited the sentiments of people on the issue of price rise," he said.
"We will be both constructive and offensive depending upon the interest of the people. If some promises to the people are not being implemented then we will definitely be offensive," Azad added.
The high-level meetings have also come in the backdrop of speculation about imminent organisational changes in the party. The Congress Vice President is learnt to have discussed the political situation in Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam, where there was talk about a change of guard sometime back.
However, a party functionary, who attended the meeting with Rahul Gandhi, downplayed talks of a change of guard in states.
Those who met Gandhi included AICC general secretary in-charge for Haryana, Delhi and Punjab Shakeel Ahmed, Mohan Prakash, who is looking after Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and CP Joshi, looking after West Bengal, Bihar and Assam.
Badal said that he had kept the Centre abreast about Haryana`s move on separate SGPC, which would be "disastrous" if separate body is formed by the state.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also President of the Shiromani Akali Dal, alleged that Congress had always tried to "divide and weaken the Sikhs".
Speaking to reporters at Kalanwali in Sirsa, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda today said that he is visiting Kaithal tomorrow to take part in a function organised by the State`s Sikh leaders where he would take decision on the issue.
"This (the decision) would be as per the aspirations of the Sikhs in Haryana," he said.
With Haryana assembly to meet for the monsoon session from Friday next, Hooda further said, "If needed, the issue (of separate SGPC) would be taken up in the coming session of State Assembly."
Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh has issued an appeal to the Haryana Sikhs, urging them not to become partners in the feud to create a wedge in the community.
"I have already appealed to the Sikhs in Haryana. The move is a conspiracy to weaken the Sikhs. The Sikhs should understand this and oppose any such move tooth and nail and not fall into this trap," Giani Gurbachan Singh, head of supreme temporal seat of the Sikhs, said commenting on the move to form separate SGPC.
Asked about the claims of ruling Congress in Haryana that over a couple of lakh of affidavits have been received from the Sikhs of the state, favouring forming of a separate SGPC, the SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar said, "It is not a demand of the Sikh masses in Haryana, but of a handful of people in the state with a political motive."
"I challenge the claims that over 2.5 lakh affidavits have been received from the Sikhs of Haryana favouring a separate SGPC," Makkar said.
He said if the Sikhs of Haryana were genuinely backing the demand, "then why leaders who are at the forefront of this campaign for separate panel lost the SGPC elections in 2011, even forfeiting their security deposits."
Hooda is to attend a Sikh conference being organised in Kaithal tomorrow by the State`s Sikh leaders including Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Didar Singh Nalwi who are demanding a separate panel for their gurdwaras.
Makkar also refuted the charges made by some Haryana Sikh leaders spearheading the campaign for separate panel that SGPC was not spending enough money on the upkeep of the gurdwaras in the state.
He said that the SGPC spends far in excess of the money which the gurdwaras of Haryana generate.
Slamming the Hooda government, Makkar said, "the issue of a separate Sikh body in the state has suddenly become important for them when elections in that state are drawing close.
"The Congress party is only now eyeing the Sikh voters, but the voters are wise enough and wont fall into the trap laid by the party which has always tried to divide the community for narrow political gains."
"The Congress government in Haryana is directly interfering into our religious affairs," Makkar alleged.
Chief Minister Badal also slammed Punjab Congress Chief Partap Singh Bajwa for supporting Haryana Government`s move over the separate SGPC, saying that "they are not aware about the history of supreme sacrifices made by countless Sikhs for formation of (Amritsar-based) SGPC."
Meanwhile, Congress` Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha Amarinder Singh today cautioned Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh against being "misled" by Badal and his Deputy Chief Minister son Sukhbir Badal on the issue.
"It would be better if the government of India keeps off the matter," Amarinder said in a statement.
Referring to the reports that both the Badals had requested the Union Home Minister to not allow Haryana set up a separate SGPC for the Sikhs living there, Amarinder said, "this will not only amount to interfering into the constitutional and legislative right of the state but also ignoring and overlooking the sentiments of an overwhelming majority of lakhs of Sikhs living there."
The issue of carving out separate SGPC was a poll promise made by the Congress in 2005, but not settled in the first term of the Hooda government. The issue remained alive in Hooda`s second term from 2009 and is now again at the forefront when Haryana goes to polls in October this year.
The committee, headed by Haryana Finance Minister Harmohinder Singh Chatha, himself a Sikh from the State, had in its report submitted to the state government, recommended the setting up of a separate body to manage the gurdwaras in Haryana, which are at present under the control of the Amritsar-based SGPC.