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When the swayamsevaks came marching in
Posted by Balvinder Singh S Bal Send Email to Author on Tuesday, 12/26/2000 6:41 PM MST
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When the swayamsevaks came marching in

The Indian Express
December 21, 2000

EXPRESS FOCUS: SOCIETY
Apart from the Muslim and Christian communites, the RSS has
managed to cast its long shadow over the Sikh clergy in Punjab. S.P. SINGH
reports
They've always had an uneasy relationship, but now, their
animosity is out in the open, fangs and all. The loudest buzz in the Sikh clergy
and community is around the recent campaigning by the RSS in Punjab,
and attempts by the RSS to rewrite Sikh history and ethos.

The head of the Shiromani Gurudwarak Prabhandak Committee, R.S.
Talwandi, even sounded his "last warning" recently. "The swayamsevaks
are coming" seems to be the cry across Punjab's countryside. But how
serious are claims that the RSS is making inroads in Punjab?
The answer lies in the RSS' aggressive posturing over the recent
past. Even as the Sikh community was celebrating the tercentenary of
the Khalsa, the RSS was setting up yet another forum, the ?Rashtriya Sikh
Sangat', with the same acronym as its parent body. It was claimed that
the Sangat was in fact a decade-old body, but few seemed to have heard
of it before.
Then, as part of its recent Rashtra Jagran Abhiyan, the RSS began
swamping Punjab's countryside with literature and personal visits. Sikh
scholars were quick to zero in on what they considered attempts to
fudge
facts and distort history. And, in the process, confuse the peasant,
for
whom anyone who talked of Guru Nanak and reeled out Gurbani was worthy
of respect.
In fact, prior to the Sangat's rural tourney, a former BJP MP B.L.
Sharma Prem underwent baptisation with much fanfare and became a Sikh.
Soon enough, Prem was being spotted in villages, moving from door to
door, a bunch of pamphlets in hand.
The problem area is the claim propounded in RSS literature that the
Khalsa, as created by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh, is nothing but a
Hindu sect. Sangat ideologues declare that Sikh Gurus were Suryavanshis
and were descendants of Luv and Kush, sons of Ram.
"The RSS also wants to develop ties with premier Sikh institutions
to subvert Sikh culture and identity. In a subtle way, it is helping
the
BJP shape the country's politics by discouraging communities from
focusing on identity," says Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, president of
Institute of Sikh Studies, a leading thinktank.
Complaints piled up at the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat
of
the community, forcing the clergy to act. On May 14 this year, the
clergy finally issued an ambiguous warning to forces that were out to
misinterpret Sikh ethos.
Meanwhile, the swayamsevaks continued to spread out. Nearly 50,000
students across Punjab's schools even took a "general knowledge test",
based on a booklet which glorified the RSS' role in struggles in the
country.
Another contentious RSS document was a pamphlet titled ?Sada Virsa
Sada Gaurav', the same title of a monthly periodical of Guru Gobind
Singh Study Circle, a Sikh missionary group.
In fact, many of the pamphlets issued during the Abhiyan have used
hymns from Gurbani. A booklet titled ?Hindutav ate Pariyavaran' has a
picture of a cow and calf on the title page superscribed ?Poota Mata Ki
Asees' (a phrase from Gurbani), to which many Sikh clerics have
objected.
Similarly, Guru Gobind Singh has been projected as a ?Gau
Rakhiyak'. Shivaji's guru, Samrath Ramdas, has been called Samrath Guru
Ram Das ji, thus confusing him with the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das. One
pamphlet carries a poem ostensibly taken from ?Chandi Di War, Dasam
Granth'. However, the verses appear nowhere in Chandi Di War, nor
anywhere else in the Dasam Granth, says renowned Sikh scholar Dr Jodh
Singh.
As protests mounted, the Sikh clergy too went on the offensive:
they directly named the RSS for being responsible for ?polluting the
Sikh ethos'. But with the ruling Akali Dal running a government in
alliance with the BJP, chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal lost no time
in berating those who were "raising the RSS bogey".


"What is this but political hypocrisy? The entire community is
agitated, the clergy has taken exception, but Badal still sees no harm
in the RSS' activities in Punjab. He should realise that at stake is
the very issue of Sikh identity, an identity that the Akali Dal is bound to
protect, given its historical legacy," remarks Prof Jagmohan Singh,
general secretary of Akali Dal (Amritsar).
"Sikh leaders must realise that their religion and identity are
under attack from people who have resources, means, strategy and
political clout on their side. One would have expected a more
reasonable approach from Badal and his government but they have failed the
community at this crucial juncture," said Saran Singh, former Bihar
chief secretary and editor of The Sikh Review.
Insiders in the RSS say the Sangat has managed to achieve some
degree of success in the villages, where it had failed for decades to
find a foothold. And the organisation has more up its sleeve.
"This time, we will be more aggressive. For too long now, Akalis
have reaped benefits by harping on Sikh identity. Now, we will tell
villagers that the true identity lies in the mainstream, where Sikhs
are
part of a larger Hindu society," says a senior RSS ideologue.
The national president of the Sangat was more blunt. "Before the
British and during the Mughal rule, all Hindus considered themselves as
Sikhs and Sikhs considered themselves as Hindus...This Hindu-Sikh
problem is the result of British diplomacy and mischief," he said in
his
presidential address before the sixth national convention of the
body."It is precisely such a theory which spells danger for Sikh
identity," says Harbhajan Singh, principal of the Sikh Missionary
College. "Badal is silent because he wants to save his gaddi, while the
president of BJP's Punjab unit continues to harp on his pet theme of
installing a BJP chief minister in the state," he points out.
Even those who earlier felt that saffron forces would never be
able to establish themselves in any significant way in Punjab given the
reality of its villages, concede that the RSS has made some inroads.
A senior functionary of the RSS' Punjab unit, Sudarshan Chowhan,
has fired his latest salvo: he says gurudwaras and temple management
committees should not be the sole preserve of one community. "When the
Gurus are common, Gurbani is common, Gurpurabs are common to both
Hindus and Sikhs, why shouldn't the managements of gurudwaras and temples?" he
says. The war of words and ideas rages on.


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