Patiala, May 8 - The 13th chief of the Shiromani Panth Akali Budha Dal (Panjwan Takhat) and 90- year- old legendary Nihang leader Baba Santa Singh died at Rajindra Hospital here around 4 pm after prolonged illness.
Baba Santa Singh had hogged limelight when he had agreed to undertake "kar sewa" of Akal Takht building in Amritsar after 'Operation Bluestar' in 1984 and subsequently, had drawn wrath of several Sikh organisations for his act.
As an outcome of his step which, annoyed a cross section of Sikhs and an array of Sikh leaders, the Baba was 'excommunicated' from the Sikh Panth particularly, for doing the "kar sewa" of Akal Takht. He was however, taken back in the Sikh fold in 2001 by five Sikh priests-Prof Manjit Singh, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, Giani Gurbachan Singh, Giani Bhagwan Singh and Giani Singh-after 17 years. The Baba's 'excommunication' was revoked by the clergy only after the Baba accepted the "Tankhah" (punishment for not adhering to religious guidelines and norms) for violating the "Sikh Maryada".
Baba Santa Singh was suffering from diabetes and related complications. He was got admitted to the ICU of the Rajindra Hospital on January 15 by deputy Commissioner D.S. Grewal on the directions of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Baba Santa Singh had been invalid for more than one and half years even as, he had reportedly slipped into coma about three months back. As Baba Santa Singh's "Sucessor" and 14th Jathedar of the ," Shiromani Panth Akali Panjwan Takht Chalda Vaheer Chakravarti 96 Crori," Baba Balbir Singh had urged Badal to get the veteran Nihang leader treated, the Chief Minister had directed the administration for setting-up a five-member board of medical experts to look after Baba Santa Singh whose, health continued to deteriorate despite extensive medical care given to him.
As the news of death of Baba Santa Singh spread his followers started thronging the hospital and the headquarters of Budha Dal at local "Bagichi Baba Bamba Singh" for latest situation and the crisis arising out of death of their leader.
Hundreds of Nihangs descended on the hospital premises forcing the administration and the police authorities to deploy groups of police officials at the hospital as well as at the "Bagichi" as a precautionary measure.
Born in Quila Miyan Singh village near Gujjranwala, now in Pakistan, Baba Santa Singh joined the Budha Dal at the age of 10 under the baton of Baba Chet Singh. After becoming the Jathedar of the Budha Dal in 1968, Baba Santa Singh expanded the base of the 'Nihang community' by getting land for Nihang Sikhs at a number of places, and he also established a printing press at Anandpur Sahib to propagate the message of the Sikh Gurus through a monthly magazine, " Nihang Singh Sandesh".
Baba Santa Singh, it was learnt, was also instrumental in setting up of an arms factory at Patiala where traditional arms like swords were being made exclusively for the Nihang Sikhs.
Though, Baba Santa Singh formally declared his former aide Baba Balbir Singh as his successor in April last year despite a round of differences with Balbir but, the internal feud for the top Budha Dal slot was still brewing. Baba Balbir Singh's rival group, said to be led by Baba Surjit Singh, was also vying for getting hold of the powerful organisation of the Budha Dal.
The ongoing war for supremacy between the two groups had erupted in shape of a clash at the 'Bagichi' on September 21 when four 'Nihang Sikhs', including, Baba Balbir Singh's father, two brothers had been killed and one Darshan Singh was injured in the shoot-out. Balbir Singh had attributed the attack to Baba Uday Singh and Baba Surjit Singh. A total of 32 persons were booked in the clash. As many as 18 of the accused were arrested for shootout while 14 were declared proclaimed offenders.
Talking to The Tribune on phone, Baba Surinder Singh, who, claimed to be the nephew of the Baba, alleged he was not being handed over the body of the Baba Santa Singh. "We apprehend that the other group might take advantage of the situation. I have already sent telegrams to the deputy commissioner, the SSP and other senior officers," said Singh.
The Baba's body was scheduled to be cremated at the "Bagichi Agamgarh" behind the Budha Dal Sports Complex on the Sular Road on Friday morning. The body of the Baba, it was learnt, was sent to the mortuary of the hospital and would be taken by the Baba's followers on Friday morning.
Punjab cooperation minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh, SAD general secretary Prem Singh Chandumajra, SAD's NRI wing chairman Surjit Singh Rakhra, former minister Harmel Singh Tohra, former minister Surjit Singh Kohli and Patiala mayor Ajit Pal Singh Kohli have expressed shock over the death.
-By Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service