Amritsar: SAD-led Punjab government was on its toes as members of various Sikh organisations, including that of hardline groups, gathered on the outskirts of Amritsar Tuesday to take part in what they called 'Sarbat Khalsa', seeking to free Sikh institutions from political influence.
The last 'Sarbat Khalsa', a large congregation of Sikhs, was held in 1986.
However, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and Akal Takht, Sikhism's highest religious seat, have refused to term it as 'Sarbat Khalsa', which is being held at Chabba village about 10 kms from the holy city.
The congregation is being held near 'samadh' (memorial) of Bhai Naudh Singh on the Amritsar-Tarn Taran Road under overcast conditions.
The state government, which has faced back-to-back protests over loss of crops by farmers; and by locals over alleged desecration incidents of Guru Granth Sahib, has turned the holy city into a fortress with heavy security arrangements.
"Para Military Forces, police personnel and Rapid Action Force (RAF) are keeping a tight vigil at all important places," Police Commissioner J S Aulakh said.
The 'Panj Pyaras' (five Sikh preachers) have backed the gathering of the Sikhs. The five Sikh preachers had courted controversy last month by summoning Sikh clerics before the Akal Takht for pardoning Sirsa dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
The gathering will discuss the ouster of Akal Takht head Gurbachan Singh and other Sikh priests involved in pardoning of Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for his alleged blasphemy in 2007, which triggered violence in Punjab and Harana.
"Large numbers of Sikhs, including from abroad have reached," SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann said at the day-long event.
Mann said that names of new jathedars are likely to be proposed which included jailed leader Jagtar Singh Hawara, Devinderpal Singh Bhullar and Avtar Singh Bheora.
Hawara is a Babbar Khalsa militant. He was the mastermind in the killing of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995 and is serving sentence.
Bhullar is 1993 Delhi bomb blast case convict.
"Besides framework for appointing jathedars, their role and authority and bringing transparency in their functioning is expected to be brought up before the community," Mann said.
The 'Sarbat Khalsa' is mired in controversy over its name, place and host. The last 'Sarbat Khalsa' was held in 1986 and called for an independent 'Khalistan' (separate Sikh homeland).
The Sikh clerics led by Akal Takht head Gurbachan Sngh have been in the eye of storm after their pardon to the Dera head.
Among the forefront who are organisisng the event are United Akali Dal led by Mokham Singh and SAD(A) head Mann.
Many outfits including Sant Samaj, Dal Khalsa, Akhand Kirtni Jatha, Akali Dal Panch Pardani and some Sikh preachers are participating in it.