Chandigarh, April 26: The amendment to the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 to debar Sehajdharis from voting rights has removed the distortion that was introduced in in 1959 in this unique in the world gurdwara management system. The Sehajdharis, which means non-Sikhs claiming to profess faith in Sikh values, were given the voting right with amendment to the legislation in the Punjab Assembly in 1959. The original legislation is an Act of the Punjab Assembly and it went under the jurisdiction of the Parliament when the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee constituted under this Act turned inter-state body corporate with the re-organisation of Punjab in 1966.
Akali Dal is the only recognized political party that has been contesting elections to the general house of this body. It may be mentioned that the other region where the gurdwaras are under management of a statutory body is Delhi. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee was constituted under Delhi Gurdwara Act, 1971. This act did not provide voting rights to Sehajdharis.
The Communists contested its elections at one time but not as a political party. The Congress tried several times to meddle in gurdwara affairs by creating some front organisation. This party has never contested SGPC elections directly. Over the years, the SGPC has been the monopoly of the Akali Dal. It is said that whichever Akali faction controls the SGPC is the real Akali Dal. Gurdwara management is one part of this body. It runs several engineering, medical and other colleges, a university, schools and hospitals. Its last year’s budget was of about Rs 1000 crore.
Such was the unique spirit of service that its president would not use the official car. This continued till Gurcharan Singh Tohra who presided over this body for more than quarter of a century. He did not draw even petrol from the accounts of SGPC, what to talk of use of official car. Now the devotees’ money is used to maintain a fleet of high end cars and this body has a highly paid corporate style chief secretary too. Despite such ruthless use of golak money, the management has been going down. SGPC has turned into overstaffed super structure that is also highly inefficient and corrupt.
The basic issue is the strident opposition by non-Akali political parties in whose perception this amendment is divisive. But then it is the right of the Sikhs to manage their shrines the way they like within the framework of the Sikh Gurdwara Act. Moreover, every political party is free to contest its elections. However, the candidates have to be Amritdharis and the voters have to be Sikhs. There is nothing wrong with that. The opposition to the amendment should not be just for the sake of opposing it. This amendment has removed the clause under which non-Sikhs could vote under the clause of Sehajdharis. It is pertinent to mention that a patit Sikh is not a Sehajdhari Sikh and this confusion is being created deliberately and mischievously.
Ironically, even the Sikhs at large are little interested in its election going by the number of voters in 2011 election. The number was 52, 68, 664 in Punjab, 3,37, 681 in Haryana, 23011 in Himachal Pradesh and just 11,932 in Chandigarh. There are thousands of Sikhs in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi who have never enrolled themselves as voters in gurdwara elections.
Participatory democracy is the best form of governance in the world and this applies to SGPC and DSGMC also which are unique institutions without any parallel in the world. The Sikhs should be proud of the fact that the Sikh Gurdwara act, 1925 was the first step towards women’s empowerment by way of providing voting rights to them. Even most of the advanced parliamentary democracies in the West had not given this right to women at that time.
The SGPC might have become corrupt but so are the elected governments. Those who oppose debarring Sehajdhjaris from voting must know that their number was microscopic and no section of the Sikhs as defined under the Sikh Gurdwara Act has been denied the right to enrol as voters.
The newly elected general house of this body has been non-functional in view of the stay by the Supreme Court. It may be mentioned that it was the procedure to debar Sehajdharis from voting that had been challenged. This was done through executive order by the Union Home ministry while it should have been amendment to the Act as has been done now.
Even reservation of 30 seats for women had been done through executive order in 1996 nut it was not opposed as it was a progressive step.