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July 6, 1999
Tohra in Vancouver Upsets Moderates And Ultra Hardliners
Arthur J Pais
The moderate Sikhs were not the only ones who were upset with the presence of Gurcharan Singh Tohra, former president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, at the parallel Miri Piri parade taken out by the Khalsa School fundamentalists on July 4 in Surrey, on the outskirts of Vancouver.
The International Sikh Youth Federation refused to share the same platform with Tohra, characterizing him as "part of the Akali Dal that is willing to compromise with New Delhi."
Tohra's recent rebellion against the Akali Dal faction led by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was not good enough for ISYF leaders.
The ISYF, however had a float in the parade organized by the Khalsa School, which displayed photographs of 100 Sikh "martyrs" including Talwinder Singh Parmar, a key suspect in the 1985 Air India-mid-sky explosion, who died in India in 1992.
The fundamentalist parade ended at the Dasmesh Darbar Temple where many fundamentalist Sikh leaders reiterated their demand for Khalistan.
On the other hand, the moderate Sikh parade, which moved in the opposite direction of the Khalsa School parade ended at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple. According to the police, who posted 110 officers to monitor the two parades, each parade was attended 20,000 Sikhs and both went on peacefully. Each parade covered a distance of six km.
But the day after the parades, moderates and fundamentalists were trying to show that their own parade had attracted more people. Each group claimed there were about 30,000 participants in their parade. And a moderate leader, apparently upset that thousands had taken part in the Khalsa School parade organized by its president Ripudaman Singh Malik, blamed city officials for creating new bitterness in the Sikh community.
However, the moderates could boast of getting Health Minister Penny Priddy to address their gathering. Even then, Priddy, who is from the Surrey election district, made sure that his speech contained not a slightest controversial word. Paying a tribute to the second and third generation Sikh youth, he said, "The real strength of Sikhism is the young people who are here today."
He also said the parade had to be cherished by all people in Vancouver and across Canada. "You don't have to be a Sikh to celebrate the part of Sikhism we are here to celebrate," he asserted.
The police officials said they were more than pleased with the "decorum, friendliness and goodwill" of the participants, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable Janice Armstrong.
But Doug McCallum, the mayor of Surrey, was obviously upset on July 5 as he came in for pointed criticism from the moderates.
"We had asked permission for one parade more than three months ago," said Balwant Singh Gill, president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple. "And suddenly a few weeks ago we hear that a second parade had been approved." Singh and Malik are bitter ideological foes.
"I could not control my anger," he said. "I was afraid something bad would happen. There are idiots in all communities who can create trouble."
McCallum rejected the criticism, nad asserted that he was not interested in dividing the community and suggested that it was left to the Sikh community to be one.
Malik told the press that having two parades was in the best interests of the two groups. He blamed the moderates for creating the division in the community by, among other things, using tables and chairs in the dining halls attached to the gurdwaras. Given the situation, he said, letting the two groups march in the same parade was asking for too much of tension and anxiety.
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