NEW DELHI, JUNE 3, REUTER — Opposition parties have accused the Indian Government of making a secret deal to gain support from the Sikh head priests dismissed by Temple officials in Punjab where militants are fighting for a separate homeland.

Head priest Jasbir Singh Rode, once a firebrand militant, and four other senior priests of the faith were sacked on Monday by the Sikh Temples management committee but officials in Punjab stepped into the row saying they had not been dismissed.

Lal Kishan Advani, president of the HinduRevivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said in a statement the government’s defense of the sacked priests “strengthened the widespread suspicion” that a secret deal had been struck.

Rode, 34, was installed as the head priest of Akal Takht or The Eternal Throne of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the faith, in March shortly after he was freed from detention.

Rode, who as head priest exercised spiritual and temporal authority over all Sikhs, was taken into police custody when he attempted to march to the Temple during the 10day siege.

Analysts believe the committee’s decision to appoint new priests might have clashed with the government’s pacification plan in Punjab where most Sikh leaders are in jail.

They believe the government wanted to negotiate a settlement with Rode after he had established his credibility with various groups in the state, including the militants.

The Hindustan Times said it appeared the government had promised Rode he would be given enough time to establish himself as the foremost religious leader of Sikhs.

The newspaper said in an editorial: “The Administration’s denial of the dismissal of the Head Priest by (the committee) is intriguing.

“Why has the State Administration gone out of its way to establish that Jasbir Singh Rode and company are still in jail? Maybe the calculations of the government seem to have gone wrong.”

Piara Singh Dobai, a communist leader of Punjab, said: “The position of the government has exposed the secret deal with Rode.” “The opportunist deal with a section of the freedom fighters in the power game gives precedence to party interest over National interest! He added.

Hari Singh Arrewala, a member of the committee executive, in Amritsar said the result of government manipulations was that both the committee and the Sikh United Akali Dal (UAD) party appeared to have become irrelevant.

Most senior leaders of UAD as well as Akali Dal party of former Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala are in jail and there are no indications the government wants to open a dialogue with them to sort out the political tangle in Punjab.

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India (PTI) said in a dispatch from Chandigarh that former Punjab Chief Minister Sujit Singh Barnala and about 245 others were released from detention on Monday.

Barnala was among several hundred activists from various factions of the Akali Dal, the main Sikh political party, taken into custody last month during marches in protest against the siege of The Golden Temple.

Barnala’s moderate government was sacked by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi more than a year ago when New Delhi took over direct administration of the North Indian State.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 10, 1988