Opposition mounts to Amitabh's plea on anti-Sikh riots

By Hindustan Times

A move by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan to get a clean chit from the Sikh clergy after his name was dragged into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is facing opposition from sections of the community. Bachchan's plea to the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh
religion, Gurbachan Singh, through a letter dated Nov 28, in which he pleaded his innocence in the anti-Sikh riots, is likely to be considered for discussion by the five Sikh high priests at a meeting here Dec 22.

The letter was delivered to the Akal Takht head by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) member from Mumbai, Gurinder Singh Bawa. The letter from the actor came after he was invited by the Punjab government for the inauguration of the Khalsa Heritage Complex's Virasat-e-Khalsa monument at Anandpur Sahib last month but he did not come after sections of the Sikh community objected.

In his letter, Bachchan wrote: "I am addressing this letter to you with a most pained heart. Wild, irresponsible and most unfounded allegations, by certain sections of the Sikh community, about my involvement in the inciting of violence against them during the most unfortunate Sikh riots of 1984, soon after the death of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India, has caused me acute agony.

"These vicious allegations have caused me deep hurt, particularly when they were levelled at a time when I had accepted the invitation from the Punjab government to attend the inaugural ceremony of the historical Khalsa Heritage Complex at Sri Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa Panth. I was indeed looking forward to attending this sacred ceremony and sharing the immense pleasure and divine bliss with the Sikh Sangat, but declined because I did not want to be the cause for any embarrassment at this historical function.

"Now that the ceremony is over, I wish to take this opportunity to vehemently and categorically deny these allegations against me which are completely baseless, false and untrue. The Nehru-Gandhi family and our family have old ties from our city of origin, Allahabad. We have been together in each other's hour of grief and joy, but to allege that I was a part of the crowd that incited them to raise anti-Sikh slogans is a preposterous and blatant lie. Quite contrarily, I have always propagated the soothing of injured feelings and the maintenance of serenity. The unfortunate incidents of the riots of 1984 against the Sikhs shall always remain a blot and a dark phase in the history of our country, a country that prides itself in its secular credentials."

Bachchan even attached a copy of a photograph of his maternal grandparents, who were from a Sikh family. He pointed out that his maternal grandfather, Khazan Singh Suri, was a bar-at-law from England and that his mother, Teji Bachchan, came from a Sikh family.

Akal Takht head Gurbachan Singh, while acknowledging that he had got the letter, said: "The matter is linked to Sikh sentiments. The five Singh Sahibaan (Sikh high priests) will consider his letter and discuss the matter at their meeting. Whatever they decide, the next action will be taken accordingly."

Bachchan pointed out that he had come to the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandar Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple), here in December 2007 for prayers after the passing away of his mother.

However, Sikh organisations and independent witnesses have now come forward claiming that Bachchan, then close to the Gandhi family, had come out of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi Oct 31, 1984, and instigated crowds. A California-based Sikh, Manjit Singh, who lived in the Kalu Sarai area of Delhi then, said in an affidavit to Akal Takht that he himself saw Bachchan instigating people. Bachchan later became an MP for three years representing the Congress party.

The All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), in a statement, alleged that Bachchan's slogans were broadcast in 1984 by the state-owned Doordarshan Television and All India Radio (AIR). The AISSF said independent witnesses like Jagdish Kaur, Babu Singh Dukhiya and others who watched the relay on Doordarshan and saw Bachchan inciting violence are ready to testify in this matter before the Akal Takht.

AISSF said the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which controlled the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), was trying to give a clean chit to Bachchan.

Nearly 7,000 Sikhs were killed in the November 1984 anti-Sikh riots in various parts of the country following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards in New Delhi Oct 31, 1984.

Over 3,000 were killed in Delhi alone.

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