1. The sudden decision of the Sikh clergy to grant pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on September 24 was the tipping point for the current agitation in Punjab. The Dera head was accused of blasphemy by imitating Guru Gobind Singh, a sore point for the Sikhs, and the rather hush hush manner in which the pardon added to the resentment brewing against the state government.
2. The move was seen as an attempt by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to mend fences with the influential Dera on the run up to the Assembly elections due in a little over a year. The pardon was granted by the Sikh clergy appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) which is dominated by the members of the ruling SAD.
3. A spate of incidents of sacrilege were reported shortly after the grant of pardon with attempts to point an accusing finger at the Dera followers. The incidents of desecration over a period of a week were stark reminder of similar attempts in the initial stages of militancy when attempts to stoke communal passions in the state. The arrest of 8 persons for the acts of desecration, not related to the Dera, has not cooled down passions and that must worry the government.
4. The protests over the grant of pardon and acts of sacrilege, partly fuelled by radicals and diaspora, spread after police firing killed two and injured several others near Kotkapura on October 14. The protesters were joined by even moderates as well as other agitating sections like farmers, teachers and employees who had been protesting against the state government.
5. Faced by intense criticism from Sikhs and finding the situation going out of control, the Sikh clergy in an unprecedented step annulled its earlier decision on grant of pardon on October 16 but enough damage had been done by then. A section of the community demanded removal of the five Takht jathedars who constitute the clergy.
6. The crisis reached a new high when Panj Pyaras, the five beloved ones of the Guru, summoned the Sikh clergy for an explanation in an unprecedented step. They claimed that they are mandated by the Sikh tradition to come to the aid of religion of it was in danger. The SGPC, the appointing authority for the jathedars as well as the Panj Pyaras, promptly suspended the Panj Pyaras and transferred them to Gurdwaras outside the state.
7. Their suspension has led to a new and impassioned debate among the community with opinion divided over whether they can summon the Sikh clergy. Those who support the Panj Pyaras say even Guru Gobind Singh, who started the tradition, had bowed before the Panj Pyaras while those opposed to it say they are far too junior to summon the jathedars.
8. The debate has the unfortunate potential to divide the community but there is no doubt that there is huge resentment over the manner the jathedars had acted. This may spark passions and those keen on fomenting trouble in the state will find another opportunity to fish in troubled waters. The memories of the days of militancy have still not faded and people remember how one unfortunate incident led to another.
9. A section of Sikh diaspora, which sought refuge abroad in the wake of militancy, is still not reconciled by the failure of the Khalistan movement. It has also sought to inject its resentments and beliefs in a section of the younger generation born and brought up abroad. They are capable of fuelling unrest in Punjab and have been on the lookout for a suitable opportunity.
10. The increasing grip of the Badal family over the political as well as religious affairs of the Sikhs appears to be proving counter productive. While father and son are CM and deputy CM, the latter is also to president of SAD and Home Minister. As chief of SAD he has SGPC under his control which appoints the Sikh clergy.
Besides his wife, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, at least four members of the family are in the state cabinet. Growing resentment against the family can, therefore, spark major trouble in Punjab, which gets on the edge whenever Sikh religious issues are involved.