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Sikh historian Patwant Singh
"This is going to be resented by the Sikh public"
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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Sikh head priest sacked
Bibi Kaur
Bibi Jagir Kaur: Heads the powerful committee in charge of shrines
By Asit Jolly in Chandigarh

In the north Indian state Punjab, the confrontation between rival Sikh factions has taken a dramatic turn.

Bibi Jagir Kaur - who heads a powerful committee controlling all historic Sikh shrines and institutions in north India (the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee or SGPC) - has announced the dismissal of the head priest or jathedar Giani Puran Singh at the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar.

The action against the head priest followed his own move earlier on Tuesday to excommunicate as many as five SGPC executive committee members who joined Bibi Jagir Kaur in participating in a budget meeting.

The Akal Takht: Sikhism's highest religious seat
Bibi Jagir Kaur was excommunicated from the Sikh faith for defying the head priest's directions last January - following which he also barred her from functioning as the SGPC president and punished many of those who did not adhere to his edicts.

Bibi Jagir Kaur retaliated on Tuesday by replacing Giani Puran Singh as jathedar of the Akal Takht.

Another cleric, Joginder Singh Vedhyanti, was named as the new acting jathedar.

The unceremonious sacking of the jathedar, which is reminiscent of his predecessor Bhai Ranjit Singh's similar removal last year, is believed to have the backing of the Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal.

Political overtones

Mr Badal is also president of Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal party, which is in a majority in the SGPC.

Analysts believe that Bibi Jagir Kaur, who is widely seen as a loyal member of ruling party, could not have acted without Mr Badal's consent.

The removal of the jathedar, meanwhile threatens to sharpen the prevailing divide within both the Sikh religion and politics.

Commentators say that Mr Badal's political rivals and dissidents within the Shiromani Akali Dal party are certain to point to the latest move as further proof of what they n describe as the chief minister's meddling in religion.

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