Chandigarh, September 16: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Avtar Singh Makkar enters the danger zone with the revival of its general house by the Supreme Court yesterday.
Ever since the last general house election in 2011, the newly constituted body had been under suspended animation following stay on its functioning by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of withdrawal of voting right to sehajdhari Sikhs through a Union Home Ministry notification. The roadblock was cleared with the Parliament adopting the amendment to the Sikh Gurdwara Act , 1925 route that is the proper procedure. It is on the basis of the amendment that the Supreme Court has reinstated the 2011 general house. The Act went under the jurisdiction of the Parliament under Punjab Re-organisation Act, 1966 as the SGPC became inter-state body corporate.
It may be mentioned that the executive from the previous house had been allowed to handle day to day affairs of the SGPC by the apex court that provided the much needed security cover to Makkar. He has not been on the best of relations with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his Deputy Chief Minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal for some time. They happen to be the de facto bosses of the Sikh religio-political bodies associated with the SGPC as it is the Akali Dal that is in majority.
Badal was the worst hit when the Fakhr-e-Qaum Panth Rattan was denied the siropa by the Golden Temple priest a few months back as a mark of protest against continuing incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in the state beginning with Bargari. At one stage, Makkar had annoyed Sukhbir too when he removed the private auditor but had to withdraw the decision taken at the executive committee meeting within hours. He had been cautioned by one of the office bearers in the meeting that the said person was confidante of Sukhbir.
The high court had stayed the functioning of the general house after notification constituting it had been issued about under the Sikh Gurdwara Act by the Union Home ministry on December 17, 2011 subject to the decision on the issue of voting right to sehajdharis. It may be mentioned that this clause had been added in 1959. The Sikhs are themselves to blame for this situation. The basic issue is that one is either a Sikh or not a Sikh.
Ironically, Sikhs by and large have never been interested in becoming voters for the election of the SGPC general house. This is the case with Delhi too. Those who have been debating the issue of voting right to sehajdharis or the Akali Dal dividing the Sikhs on this issue may have never voted in the SGPC election. This body is unique in several respects as this is the only statutory body managing the shrines of a community through adult suffrage. Sikh women got the voting right under the Sikh Gurdwara Act when their counterparts even in European countries did not have it. The Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 was the first step towards women empowerment in India.
With the revival of the general house, now meeting would have to be convened under Section 54 that states, “ The first general meeting of the Board shall be held at a time not later than one month after the 7[Central] Government has notified that it has been constituted, and notice thereof shall be given by notification by the 1[Central] government.”
The general house would elect the executive committee. The president can be from amongst the co-opted members. The first step after the new house has been notified is the co-option of members.
At the political level, the Akali Dal would face February 2017 Assembly election without a major advantage since 1997. The SGPC general house election provides the major advantage to the Akali Dal of mobilising its Sikh support base.
After the 1979 general house election, the next election was held in 1996. Of course, the Akali Dal lost in 1980 Assembly election. The tenure of the general house is for five years but it continues to function till the next election as per the Act. The 1996 SGPC election was followed by the Assembly election in February 1997. The Akali Dal swept the 1997 Assembly elections. The 2007 Assembly election was again preceded by 2006 SGPC election. The Akali Dal formed the government in 2007 defeating the Congress. The last election was held in 2011 followed by Assembly election in 2012. However, now the 2011 house is to continue.
The SGPC may have been corrupted at every level including the institutions that are under its control but there is no alternative to statutory elections as elected democracy is presently the best system of governance. It is the Akali Dal that has been dominating this body even before Badals.