Sikh-Dera row: Deadline passes peacefully
CHANDIGARH: Punjab remained peaceful on Sunday even as the Akal Takht deadline to the Dera Sacha Sauda sect to vacate its campuses in the state came to an end with no untoward incident being reported till evening amid heavy security arrangements. Nearly 100,000 Punjab Police personnel and over 40 companies of paramilitary forces were in place in the state on Sunday - the deadline set by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism. The move was in protest against sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, whose actions they say have hurt the religious sentiments of Sikhs. The sect leader had earlier this month attired himself like 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh, offending many Sikhs and resulting in large-scale violence in Punjab. The sect headquarters at Sirsa town in Haryana, 300 km from here, was provided unprecedented security by Haryana police and central forces as thousands of Dera followers descended for their Sunday congregation. Though Punjab and parts of Haryana remained tense, there seemed to be no sign of the sect issuing a public apology for the allegedly blasphemous act, despite mounting pressure. There were no indications of the Dera vacating any of its campuses either. "We are ready for negotiations with anyone on this issue. There has been pressure on us to apologise on this issue. We want peace and will talk to anyone in this regard," a sect spokesman said in Sirsa. Efforts to work out a compromise between the sect and Sikhs by getting an apology from the sect chief failed to materialise even on Sunday. The Sikh clergy will meet again under the aegis of the Akal Takht May 31 to decide their future course of action.