Chandigarh, November 5: The name of Kirpal Singh Badungar, an Akali from the traditional mould with grip on Sikh history and theology, emerged on Thursdayevening after day long consultations at the residence of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who was the last to join the confabulations. The process of consultations had been initiated by Shiromani Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal involving the entire senior party leadership about a month back. Badungar is a religio-political ideologue, a scholar of Sikh religion and history and an articulate interpreter of Sikh religion.
Sukhbir finally seems to have grasped the real importance of this mini-Parliament in the religio-political dynamics of the Sikhs after his experiment at corporatisation of the body did not go too well. The SGPC is not just a body to manage listed historical Sikh shrines but has a much wider role to play in Sikh affairs. It may be mentioned that the SGPC has the unique distinction in the country of being the first body to oppose the demand for Pakistan at its general house meeting in 1940. This is the first body in the country that took steps towards women empowerment by giving them the voting right under the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 when women even in US and European countries did not have this privilege. And when India has so far failed in taking a decision about quota for women in legislatures, 30 seats were reserved for women in the SGPC general house in 1996 through a system of double voting in those seats that are rotated.
The timing is crucial as Punjab is heading towards Assembly elections in February 2017. It may be mentioned that till Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra lorded over this body, the SGPC chief used to play very active role in electoral dynamics and was a parallel centre of power, the centre that used to have the capacity to destabilise the Akali Dal chief minister. None knows it better than Parkash Singh Badal.
Significantly, this time, he left it to Sukhbir to work out the arrangement who started consulting all the senior Akalis first individually and then collectively. The two names under focus during those talks were that of Balbir Singh Ghunas and Sewa Singh Sekhwan. Sekhwan was considered controversial due to certain allegations when he was the minister. Badungar’s name was not under consideration at that stage as it was felt that he was facing health problems.
His name surfaced at the final stage and what dictated the choice was his experience as the SGPC chief and his grip over Sikh doctrine. The SGPC presidency did not corrupt him. According to sources, even at the final stage, Sukhbir left it to the senior leaders present like party secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa to make the final choice. It may be mentioned that it is the party decides even the name of the prime minister. That is part of the democratic process.
This was the first time since he took over as the party chief that Sukhbir shouldered this big responsibility of the SGPC. He successfully spearheaded Badungar’s elevation to the top post in the democratic religious hierarchy of the Sikhs. It was during an unprecedented Panthic tumult that Badungar had first moved into this crucial post in an election which many still consider
a watershed event in Sikh politics. Badungar’s first election had come after the era of more than a quarter of a century associated with Tohra, one of the tallest leaders in Sikh politics. That was the time when Parkash Singh Badal and the Akali Dal were braving onslaught from Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
His second tenure is expected to deliver answers to challenges of a different nature . His second term is going to be equally significant due to the challenges in Sikh religio-political matrix. These issues need cool handling. Sukhbir is associated with aggressive and brash style. However, in this case, he moved very cautiously to evolve consensus and he succeeded in this task considered far more difficult, strenuous and sensitive than winning legislative election. The post of the SGPC president has been considered one of the two key posts in the religio-political arena of the Sikhs and its choice has often reflected the quality of leadership in the other important post, the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a party that articulates political aspirations and ambitions of the Sikhs. The correlative significance of the two posts in the Sikh cosmos – the president of the SAD and of the SGPC – was best symbolized by the emergence of two Akali stalwarts, Sant Fateh Singh and Master Tara Singh in the fifties and sixties and later by what many scholars consider the most powerful and significant duo of Sikh politics, Parkash Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
In today’s election, the decision to change Avtar Singh Makkar was by itself a difficult one due to various reasons although it was a necessity as had virtually failed to rise to the high office. By deciding to bring about a change at the top of the religious body at a time when he knew that the
decision would be seen as a test of his leadership, Sukhbir has shown that not only his political instincts are running in the right direction but that his finger is also where it ought to be.
Many among Sukhbir’s critics have been accusing him of not being in synch with the ethos of traditional Akali politics. His critics have been accusing him not being sensitive enough towards Taksali Akalis. His choice of Badungar may go a long way in blunting that image. The past year and half has seen him coming into his own on Sikh affairs. The Mukh Mantri Tirath Yatra scheme was his brain-child.
However, it is in the elevation of Badungar that Sukhbir has truly come of religio-political age by ensuring a completely smooth transition with every shade of Akali opinion being satisfied with the ultimate outcome. For Badungar, this is the second time that he is being called upon by his party to address all religious concerns of a difficult-to-please community.