On Friday, members of Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) began a “Khalistan Murdabad march” in Patiala while Sikh activists including Nihangs staged another march to oppose the event. The two groups came face to face outside the Kali Mata temple and threw rocks at each other. The police had to shoot in the air to disperse the crowd.
Although it is not yet clear who led the group that reached the spot outside the temple where the clash took place, a Sena leader had claimed that they had planned the march to counter the alleged announcement by the illegal foreign group ‘Sikhs for Justice’ to mark ‘Khalistan Foundation Day’ on April 29.
The SFJ announcement had indeed pitted several Sikh organizations and social media influencers against each other.
A group of Sikh activists, who were present near Temple when the clash took place, accused Baljinder Singh Parwana, a social media influencer, of calling the protest against the Sena event. but for not showing up after the clash broke out. They said that while Parwana stayed at the gurdwara, others marched towards members of the Shiv Sena faction who were present at the Kali Mata temple.
Punjab has recently seen an increase in the number of Sikh bodies, activists and social media influencers coming together despite the lack of a common ideology. Experts attribute this phenomenon to the weakening of major Sikh parties such as the Shiromani Akali Dal and its rival groups such as SAD (Amritsar), Dal Khalsa and others.
SAD (Amritsar), the only political organization in Punjab still contesting the elections over the Khalistan issue, claimed it was not involved in the clash. “We were demonstrating peacefully in front of the mini secretariat. We were not involved in the clash,” said the chairman of the party’s Patiala unit, Harbhajan Singh Kashmiri.
The group protesting Sena’s march had no clear leader or established face. The first wave of such unorganized, undressed Sikh youths was seen on June 6, 2014, at an event marking the 30th anniversary of Operation Blue Star. Unknown young Sikhs then clashed with officials and staff of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) inside the premises of the Golden Temple. Some of the youths arrested were not affiliated with any political group.
A year later, Punjab witnessed a complete shutdown for more than seven days following the deaths of two young Sikhs in police gunfire on Kotakpura during a protest over alleged incidents of sacrilege. Although there was no call for the closure by the established parties, it was spontaneously applied by the young people.
In 2016, several Sikh outfits gathered on a bridge over the Beas River in the town of Beas to protest a call by a faction of the Shiv Sena to hold a “Lalkar rally” in Amritsar. Sikh outfits had gathered following calls made on social media.
In Patiala’s case, Parwana was the first to take to Facebook to oppose Shiv Sena leader Harish Singla’s appeal. He also met with police officials demanding a ban on the march planned by the Sena. Parwana, who was also linked to the lynching of an unidentified person following allegations of sacrilege in a gurdwara in Kapurthala, also uploaded several videos and called on the community to be ready by April 29 in case the police do not fail to prevent the Sena group from carrying its march.
Besides Parwana, other fringe organizations also responded to Sena’s call and decided to oppose their march. As there was no clear leader, opponents of Sena’s march gathered in at least three places in Patiala. As police managed a group of protesters in Fountain Chowk, another group approached the Kali Mata Temple where they clashed with Sena members.
A common thread running through these disparate Sikh outfits is the idea of ”Khalistan”, with most of them supporting or favoring the idea.
Mahant Ravi Kant, chairman of the Hindu Welfare Board, said: “Some people demand Khalistan, some people demand Hindu Rashtra. Making these requests peacefully is their constitutional right. But no one should be allowed to disturb the peace of the state”.