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Why gurdwaras in Canada and US banned the entry of Indian officials

Is it a growing distance between Indian diplomatic missions and Sikh shrines?

 |  6-minute read |   12-01-2018
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With the advent of the new year, a group of office-bearers believed to be representing more than a dozen gurdwaras in the Canadian province of Ontario, have jointly decided to ban officials representing India, its diplomats and others from entering the premises of the Sikh temples.

The decision was taken at Gurdwara Jot Parkash Sahib in Brampton on December 30.

Significantly, the pro forma statement mentioned “pursuant to the trespass to the Property Act (1990), the management of the Gurdwara Sahib reserves the right to ban entry to officials of the Indian government including but not limited to Indian elected officials , Indian consular officials and members of organisations who seek to undermine the Sikh nation and Sikh institution (sic)".

The statement further stated: “Keeping in mind the interference of Indian consular and Indian government officials in the lives of Canadian Sikhs, gurdwara management committees have jointly taken the decision to bar the entry of these officials and members from gurdwaras across Canada.

sikh-body_011218052421.jpgImage: Reuters photo

The presence of these officials makes members of the Sikh community uncomfortable due to their agenda of undermining the autonomy of Sikh institutions and organisations. It is our obligation to ensure the safety of the 'Sangat'."

However, the statement clarified that the ban will be only on those visiting gurdwaras in their official capacity, not if they come in personal capacity. Meanwhile, pro-separatist activists, including Sukhminder Singh Hansra, have welcomed the decision alleging that officials were directly infiltrating into the Sikh affairs in Canada.

This development is very unsettling and, unless remedial measures are not taken without further delay, may give boost to the Khalistani movement, already brewing in the West. Examining the statements issued by the Sikh entities, it's difficult to miss the disturbing trend. When they say that the presence of Indian government officials tend to undermine the autonomy of the Sikhs and make them uncomfortable, it’s difficult to assess as to which factors are responsible to make the Indian officials’ presence uncomfortable.

This appears to give a clear signal to the government to keep off the Sikh affairs which are interpreted to be the exclusive privilege of the Sikh clerical organisations.

Gurdwaras have been rendering great service not only to the Sikhs, but to the world at large and the Indian community in particular in foreign countries. So what went wrong?

Is it a growing distance between Indian diplomatic missions and Sikh shrines? This gap must be bridged sooner than later.

It’s possible that a certain segment of the alienated Sikhs are discontented as their names continue to figure in the "blacklist" of the consular wing for their alleged acts in Punjab thought to be anti-national. If such suspicions are true, it’s time to revisit the names afresh.

In today’s world of global uncertainties, no group can be insulated from the national mainstream. A healing touch is perhaps called for. Any tough measure is likely to be met with equally tough reaction which may be counterproductive.

Coincidentally, barely 14 days after the Canadian notifications, the Sikh Coordination Committee East Coast (SCCEC) and America Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (APGC) stated that 96 gurdwaras have decided to ban entry of Indian officials. The ban would also hold good to Nagar Kirtans or religious processions. American Sikh entities following suit to the Canadian decisions, make the situation a little more complex. And if such bans catch on to other parts of the world, then a major fire fighting exercise seems called for before it gets out of hand.

This also calls for caution as the SCCEC and the AGPC combine is the largest umbrella organisation of the Sikhs in the US. It is further known that the decision has been reached with the support of US-based Sikh group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). In order to enforce their diktat, the Sikh bodies have also threatened to initiate legal proceedings against those Indian diplomats trying to breach the ban.

On its part, any state, or in this case the government of India, cannot remain oblivious to the designs of the separatists to go on a propaganda offensive espousing their so-called cause. It has to come down heavily on the elements, now on a collision course, supporting the Khalistan movement. Having said this, it’s equally important to assuage the genuine grievances, if any, of those Sikhs who are provoked to resort to such a drastic course of action.

It seems all Sikhs in Canada and in the US do not support the latest move to ban the entry of the Indian officials. If not for the active cooperation from the gurdwaras, it wouldn’t have been possible for the government of India to contain the Khalistani movement, at its peak in the 1990s. Both the gurdwaras and the high commissions/embassies had excellent relationships, churning out best possible results for the Sikhs and the Indian government representatives.

The late Naresh Chandra, former US ambassador, appropriated best of collaboration with the gurdwara forces bringing in much-needed peace. There are multiple names in this regard who accomplished the task with dexterity and patience.

Both the Canadian and US statements have a thrust in banning the consular officers. Probably that’s where it hurts most because it extends services to passport and visa services. If they are attended to on a case-to-case and genuine basis, more than half the problem is solved. Consular staff, therefore, perhaps needs to be more caring, sensitive and patient to assuage the disgruntlement.

Presently, the Indian ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna, is a Sikh and a seasoned diplomat. His officers manning the different consulates also carry huge experience and acumen. Similarly, India's high commissioner to Canada, Vikas Swarup, is most articulate and experienced in public and media dealings. They can walk the extra mile to prevail upon the Sikh bodies to rescind their orders in the larger interest of the country’s peace and sovereignty.

Equally important is to pre-empt any probable evil design by the Pakistani forces, especially the ISI, unleashed to encourage the Khalistani forces. Frustrated by its self-aborted designs of Khalistani propaganda for the last so many years, Pakistani agencies may be attempting to stir yet another move to pinprick our security interests. Such a move must be averted for good, as time is running out.

Also read: What is the truth behind alleged Sikh radicalisation?


Shantanu Mukharji Shantanu Mukharji @shantanu2818

The author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.

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