In a departure from previous occasions, the top leadership of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the ruling Akali Dal, stayed away from a function within the Golden Temple complex, where the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Gurbachan Singh honoured on Sunday the assassins of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

At a function organised to mark the 24th anniversary of their hanging, the Jathedar of the apex religio-temporal seat of the Sikh community bestowed siropa (robes of religious honour) on the relatives of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, who were convicted in the Indira Gandhi assassination case.

After the customary ardas (prayer) that marked the completion of the akhand path (uninterrupted recitation) of the scriptures at Gurdwara Jhanda Bunga close to the Akal Takht, the Jathedar honoured Satwant Singh's father Tirlok Singh. Relatives of Kehar Singh did not turn up.

Apparently stung by the criticism on the issue of construction of the memorial for those who died defending the shrine in "Operation Blue Star" as well as the recent function to honour the assassins of former Army chief, Gen A.S. Vaidya, the SGPC president, A.S. Makkar as well as top leadership of the ruling Akali Dal stayed away from the function, where despite a considerable audience, no speeches were allowed.

While the SGPC was represented by a low profile manager, H.S. Malhi, pro-hardline leader Simranjit Singh Mann who heads the Akali Dal (Amritsar) and radical outfit Dal Khalsa’s spokesman Kanwarpal Singh attended the ceremony. Unlike the previous occasions, the SGPC did not publicise the event either.

Posted in her inner security ring, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, had shot Indira Gandhi from close range on October 31, 1984. While Beant Singh was killed on the spot by security personnel, Satwant Singh survived grievous injuries. After the trial that followed, Satwant Singh was convicted for assassinating her, while Kehar Singh was found guilty for conspiracy. Both were hanged in Delhi on January 6, 1989.

Subsequently, the Akal Takht and the SGPC, granted Beant Singh, Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, the status of "quami shaheed" (martyrs of the community). Their portraits have also been displayed at the Sikh Museum inside the Golden Temple complex. Their relatives have been honoured at Akal Takht at every anniversary of their execution, for the last 24 years.

Another function was held at Agwan village, in Gurdaspur district, the native place of Satwant Singh where a Gurdwara has been constructed in his memory. One of his nephews is the sarpanch of the village. Giani Gurbachan Singh, former Jathedar Jasbir Singh Rode and Baba Harnam Singh Dhuma who heads the controversial religious seminary, Damdami Taksal participated in the prayer service there.