Millennium Post

In the name of wahe guru

This could not have been taken lying down by the Badals in Punjab, who are smarting with humiliation after poor show in the just concluded Lok Sabha polls. Badals lead the Shiromani Akali Dal, which has its roots in the politics of gurdwaras.

Thus the two political stalwarts – Hooda and Badal, have decided to lock horns. The latter’s rivals claim that the Badals are locking horns because they can’t let the control of gurdwara golak (offering box) go away. Hooda on the other hand is eyeing six per cent of Sikh votes in the state ahead of elections. Whatever may be their interests, one thing is certain, it’s high time for Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to get its act together and analyse what has made Sikhs of Haryana stand up against their own organisation.

Gurdwara politics
Several huge advertisements have been published in the newspapers in the past one week by the SGPC. The temporal head of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht Jathedar has made an appeal to Sikhs to oppose the Haryana government’s move of constituting their own SGPC. The Jathedar drew flak from many Sikh quarters for meddling in what appears to be a political issue. ‘Sometimes it gets tough for the Sikhs in the state to differentiate between a SGPC Hukumnama and a SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) diktat. Both are so intermixed that SGPC’s decisions come to be completely influenced by the ruling party in the state.

Ideally, SGPC ought to monitor SAD’s politics. But reality is the other way round as the ruling SAD government is influencing the top Sikh organisation. As evident from the Lok Sabha poll results, SAD’s popularity is on the wane, so is that of the SGPC which has preferred to play as the extended arm of the political party.

‘With their popularity and credibility at ebb, voices of dissent are on the rise,’ said professor Manjit Singh, a renowned sociologist in Chandigarh and himself a Sikh.  Badal family’s intervention in SGPC’s decisions also leads many to believe that it’s the family’s vested interest to polarise the Sikh community. ‘The SAD came to power in Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee after 13 years. Badals poured several crores of rupees to accomplish the task. Now, one can imagine why a political party takes such interest in managing gurdwaras.

The ever-increasing political interference in the SGPC has led the Haryana Sikhs to ask for a separate SGPC and Hooda is only addressing this valid demand,’ said former Delhi Congress MLA Jaspal Singh, who represented Tilak Nagar, the hub of Sikh politics in the national capital.

High stake
At stake are 72 gurdwaras in Haryana, including eight historic ones, which are currently managed by the SGPC. While the SGPC is claiming that the total revenue from the Haryana gurdwaras is only Rs 30 crore annually, the Haryana Sikh leaders claim that the figure is much higher. The Haryana government passed the Bill for a separate Sikh Gurdwara Committee in the state at an especially convened session on 11 July. While the Hooda government is asserting that the Bill had got the mandatory assent of the governor in order to become a law, the SAD and the SGPC are insisting that it would require presidential assent.

Besides the money, the issue is clearly one of political dominance. In fact, the two are interlinked for it is often said that whoever controls the gurdwara golak (offering box), dominates Sikh politics. Although Sikhs account for only about 6 per cent of Haryana’s population, they have sizeable votes in the districts of Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala. There is no denying the fact that had the SGPC taken the Haryana Sikh leaders along in the control and management of the Sikh shrines, the present situation would not have reached such an impasse. It was only when the breakaway was inevitable that the SGPC announced the formation of a sub-committee to manage Sikh gurdwaras in Haryana. ‘It is too little too late,’ is how one of the Haryana Sikhs reacted to the SGPC offer.

Advantage Hooda
There is no denying the fact that Harayan Sikhs have no qualms in accepting the fact that Hooda has shown the courage to take up cudgels on their behalf. Getting the Bill passed ahead of the assembly polls should help him reap Sikh votes in the state, especially when the main rival BJP is seen taking sides with the Akalis. ‘Hooda is faced with the uphill task of retaining power for the third term. So he is eyeing 6 per cent of Sikh votes. He has made the right moves both politically and legally,’ said a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.

Endorsing Hooda’s campaign, Paramjeet Singh Sarna, former president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee said, ‘Hooda had taken the issue to Dr Manmohan Singh when UPA was in power. Then prime minister had chosen to reject his party chief minister’s plea of constituting a separate SGPC for Haryana. Singh’s line was that it would unnecessarily create segregation within the Singh community. On 12 June, we met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and urged her to let Hooda initiate the Act. The Haryana government has taken a legal route and a judgement of Punjab and Haryana High Court has already validated the state government’s move to form a new SGPC. Punjab is welcome to move the Supreme Court against Haryana government.’

Questions are also being raised about the role newly appointed governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, who is a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) man, would play. ‘It may be the first time ever in history of Indian Constitution that a governor is raising questions over the Act cleared by the outgoing governor. As he is a BJP man, he will clearly be more inclined towards Akalis,’ added Sarna.

Time for change
Many believe that the current standoff could have been averted had the Sikh leaders moved towards the avowed goal of having an All India Sikh Gurdwaras Act and under it an overarching All India Board to manage the historic gurdwaras in the country. Although the timing of the move on the eve of Vidhan Sabha polls is questionable, Hooda asserts that he is fulfilling the longstanding demand of the Sikhs in Haryana. He claims that Haryana’s Sikhs feel ignored by the SGPC, which has its headquarters at Amritsar in Punjab.

‘It looks certain that if SGPC further splits, the objective of providing help to the Sikh community will get a blow. The organisation runs several education and welfare institutes and it requires money for maintenance. Due to proximity with the political class, SGPC is slowly losing credibility among Sikhs. A strong Sikh body is very important for the survival of the minority community. It’s an alarming trend that the Sikhs are standing against the Sikh body,’ said professor Manjit Singh.

In 1966, when Punjab was reorganised on linguistic basis, the Gurdwara Act 1925 continued to be applicable to historic gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. The SGPC in its present form is in actual effect only a half-way house to what was initially intended. Today, not only are the gurdwaras in Pakistan outside its purview, even the historic gurdwaras in other parts of India, including Patna Sahib in Bihar and Hazur Sahib at Nanded in Maharashtra, have their own managements, which are independent of the SGPC. In 1971, Parliament passed the Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Management Act under which the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee was formed to manage the historic shrines in Delhi.
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