Chandigarh, October 26: A section of the Sikh organisations initiated the exercise of framing rules and procedures for the appointment and functioning of the Akal Takht jathedar a few days back. If nothing else, these fringe organisations are keeping alive the issue of denigration of supreme Sikh institutions over the years. Akal Takht symbolises trans-border sovereignty of the Sikh doctrine. However, the heads of this supreme religio-political seat of the Sikhs have invariably failed to rise to the high stature of the office they hold. Its present occupant Giani Gurbachan Singh has taken it to another low. Here is a Jathedar who just can’t move around freely among the Sikhs, not even at Akal Takht.
Giani Gurbachan Singh yesterday appealed to the Sikhs to give another five year term, third in succession, to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The occasion was the inauguration of the new look 800-metre stretch of the road from Town Hall to the Golden Temple plaza that has been given the name of Heritage Street. Sukhbir promised to renovate the entire walled city of Amritsar in phases beginning with the lanes around this most important shrine of the Sikhs. This task can be completed only during the next term.
The legitimacy of the Akal Takht jathedar had come under question during flip-flop on the exoneration of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh. The heads of the three takhts in Punjab now can’t move around freely. They are under heavy police protection. They can’t address people from any gurdwara platform, such is the hostility.
His latest action is highly questionable not only from the aspect of the functioning of the Jathedar but also the legal framework. His appeal to the Sikhs to vote Badals-not the Akali Dal- to power again reinforces the perception among the Sikhs of his being a rubber stamp of the ruling First Family. This amounts to denigration of the office of the Jathedar. However, this is the office that already stands denigrated, including that of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president. Badal had understood from his experience that subjugation of these two institutions was a must for his unfettered functioning. These two offices have the power to destabilise an Akali government. There is nothing wrong with Badal on this score. It is the person holding this office who is to be blamed for subjugating himself to the political authority, in this case the Badals.
As per the People’s Representation Act, appealing for votes in the name of religion amounts to corrupt practice. The Akal Takht jathedar just can’t appeal to the Sikhs to vote for Badals.
Yet another person whose role has come under focus in the context of yesterday’s function is Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh Dhumma. This institution once headed by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale has turned pro-Badal under Dhumma. Of course, he succeeded in influencing Badal on the issue of raising the memorial dedicated to Sant Bhindranwale and other martyrs of Operation Bluestar in the Golden Temple complex.
Several of the persons involved with the exercise of redefining the role of the Jathedar were conscious of the futility of it as this sensitive issue continue to surface in the Sikh religio-political matrix but these fringe organisations can’t play any effective role. The appointing authority of the Takht Jathedars is the SGPC. These organisations would have to first take control of the SGPC that is a statutory body under the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925. It is the Akali Dal chief who decides as to who is to take over as the SGPC chief. It is the Akali Dal that has been dominating what is known as the mini-Parliament of the Sikhs for decades. In the Congress, it is the Congress chief who decides about the Prime Minister when the party comes into power. It is the Sangh Parivar that finalised the name of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. There is nothing wrong in Badal exercise his choice in case of SGPC chief. That has become the norm under the Indian Parliamentary system. However, it is the person holding the office who has to maintain the dignity of that office.
The President of India is a very relevant example. It is the ruling party that gets its nominee elected to the highest office of the Indian State. However, once elected, the role of the President is well defined. The role of the Jathedars must be redefined.
However, the first step is to clarify that these Takhts are not just gurdwara but the seats of religio-temporal power. It is the system that has to function.