Jammu, June 7: Thirty-one years after he was killed in 'Operation Blue Star' in Amritsar, Punjab, separatist militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is still regarded as a martyr and 'sant' by Sikhs living in Jammu.
Sant Tejwant Singh, the chief Sikh priest at Dana Singh Gurdwara Sahib in the Sikh-dominated Nanak Nagar area of Jammu city, strongly believes Bhindranwale was a sant (saint) and martyr of the Khalsa Pant.
"He sacrificed his life for the Sikh Pant. He was a sant who deserves all respect and honour from the Sikh community," Sant Tejwant Singh told IANS. Around 300,000 Sikhs live in the Jammu region.
Asked why did the militant Sikh leader gather arms inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar, he said: "It was the government that allowed free passage of arms into the Golden Temple."
Hundreds of Sikhs earlier this week protested over the removal of posters of Bhindranwale in Jammu. Life began limping back to normalcy on Saturday as the authorities withdrew the army from areas that saw street protests.
Sant Tejwant Singh said Bhindranwale lives in the hearts and minds of the community, and blamed the state administration for inciting trouble by removing his posters.
"Was there any order not to display these posters? Posters of Sant Bhindranwale are displayed on vehicles and shirts in Punjab and elsewhere. Nobody objects to these outside Jammu and Kashmir. Why did police remove his posters in Jammu?" he asked.
Advocate Surinder Singh, member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and former president of the Jammu Bar Association, said: "The way he (Bhindranwale) was killed, Sikhs believe he is a martyr and sant."
"The Sikh Panth will always salute him for laying down his life to protect the sanctity of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple)."
Virenderjeet Singh, president of the National Sikh Front, also believes Bhindranwale was a sant.
"Bhindranwale will always be regarded as a sant because the Akal Takht decreed that he was martyred for the Guru's cause," he said.
However, what was intriguing during the three-day protests in Jammu city was not that angry Sikhs raised pro-Khalistan slogans, but pro-Pakistan slogans at some places.
Senior journalist Harbans Nagokay said it was "mere anger that prompted some Sikh youths to raise pro-Pakistan slogans".
"Nobody should try to read too much into this. Sikhs have always been in the forefront of protecting India's honour in wars against Pakistan," he said.
Hindus in Jammu city, however, do not want to get into any controversy discussing the sainthood of the militant Sikh leader.
"We want to live peacefully with Sikhs and other communities in Jammu. How they deal with or discuss their saints and leaders is not our problem," said Sansar Chand, a 45-year-old resident.