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S.G.P.C.: An Insider's Viewpoint

Jagmohan Singh is the general secretary of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), a political party headed by Simranjit Singh Mann and committed to uphold the civil and political, social and economic rights of the people of Punjab. He is a political activist with a special interest in human rights, humanitarian law, media and communication. Jagmohan Singh was born in Ludhiana (Punjab, India) and educated in Mumbai (India). A postgraduate in commerce, he was a lecturer at University of Mumbai's Jai Hind College. He was also an active member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (P.U.C.L.) and the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Bombay.

Sikh Spectrum, Apr. 1, 2003

Every Sikh takes pride in saying that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee [S.G.P.C.] is the 'Sikh parliament.' The Akali leadership also says so, but the reality is that the S.G.P.C. general house assembles only twice a year: once to elect its president and once to pass its annual budget. No meeting of the general house is longer than 5-6 hours and amidst chants of bole so nihal, sat sri akal resolutions are passed after monologues by carefully chosen speakers. There is no debate, discussion, questions or answers.

Every executive meeting of the S.G.P.C. sees well prepared premeditated resolutions read and passed. Every decision – big or small, social, cultural, administrative, financial, religious or political - whatever its ramifications, is made by the president and the executive of the S.G.P.C. in conformity with their political leaning. The Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1920, gives few financial powers to the president of the S.G.P.C., but the executive committee passes resolutions vesting wide powers to its president. It is distressing and outrageous that this has been going on for the last 78 years and the Sikh nation has been a mute spectator to this charade year after year.

Ten years ago when I started taking meaningful interest in the affairs of the S.G.P.C., I started with reading the provisions of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1920, and five other legislations governing gurdwaras across India. In all these years, I have found no more than five people all over the world who are well-versed with the history of the Acts, their provisions, and the lacunae in these legislations. There is no official translation of the Acts in the Punjabi language, either for the members or for the general public. Some honorable exceptions apart, most of the commentaries in the media on intended amendments to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1920, or the proposed All India Sikh Gurdwaras Act have been half-baked and irresponsible. We have still to identify the roots of the malaise that affects our religious institutions. [In this context,] it is not wrong to say, 'We get what we deserve.'

The present house of the S.G.P.C. has no mandate. It is a lame-duck house. Elections are overdue. Under one pretext or the other, the S.G.P.C. leadership, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), the Congress-I government of Punjab and the right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party-led alliance government in Delhi are responsible for delaying the elections for more than two years. They do not want to upset the applecart. Status quo ante suits them.

The S.G.P.C. bureaucracy has learnt all the wrong lessons from the Indian bureaucracy. The behaviour of the staff at Darbar Sahib and at various other gurdwaras and institutions is disgusting. In the 78 years of its history, the people at the helm have not made any attempts to change the bureaucracy. They have failed to inculcate a Sikh religious ethos, good mannerisms, and professional management techniques.

The Sikh Students Federation (Mehta-Chawla), whose leadership does not have a single student, is guilty of disorder, rowdy conduct, and creating mayhem. They have been doing this at the behest of their political masters. For the last many years, this group of a few individuals has been instrumental in belittling Sikh tradition by virtually poking fun about Sikh sentiments.

Despite all its misgivings and weaknesses, the S.G.P.C. as the only organised legal body of the Sikhs, needs to be strengthened. All well-meaning Sikhs need to pool their wit and wisdom to make it an effective, truly Panthic organization and democratically replace the modern-day mahants overseeing the working of this organization.

One of the immediate tasks that need to be undertaken is to impress upon Sikh leaders of all hues and shades to make the S.G.P.C. an effective deliberating body. A parliament for the Sikhs should be built, with modern facilities and equipment, in Amritsar. And the S.G.P.C. house should meet at least once every quarter and discuss important Panthic issues and issues confronting members of the S.G.P.C. from their respective constituencies.

The Sikh diaspora should also be given an opportunity to express their views. Representatives from all over the globe can be chosen on the basis of the Sikh population in respective countries or regions. Such a parliament can be the forerunner of a modern-day representative assembly of the Sikh nation. I believe that this one step will help us to a large extent in restoring the honor and standing of our takhts [centers of authority] and their jathedars [head priests]. It will also restrain us from rushing to the Akal Takht for petty issues and concerns. Those issues, which the august S.G.P.C. house or the representative assembly fails to resolve should be passed on to the Dharam Parchar Committee [D.P.C.]. Further, if necessary, to a sub-committee of experts to be especially constituted for this purpose, under the aegis of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and finally to the jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and his companion jathedars for remedy and relief.

Let us not kill the organization. Let us strengthen it. Our forefathers have made supreme sacrifices for the formation and glory of the S.G.P.C. Let us democratically work to bring about radical changes in its working and let us bring forward men and women of character who will stand upright and face the challenges that the polity confronts us. Proper procedure and mechanism should be evolved for petitioning the Sri Akal Takht Sahib. The S.G.P.C. control of the authority of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and other takhts should be debunked. Religious and political thinkers and leaders should design a system of checks and balances for the respect and sovereignty of the jathedars and the august office they hold. The modalities for issuance of hukamnamas [edicts] should be evolved.

Qualifications and disqualifications, if any, for the highest pedestal of the Sikh nation should be defined. Rules and procedures for the selection of the jathedars and their impeachment, if necessary, should be framed. There should be no interference of the S.G.P.C. in the working of the jathedars. The relationship, between the jathedars, the S.G.P.C., and the Sikh masses globally should be codified. This is not the initiation of a new administrative iron curtain between the jathedar and the masses, nor the start of a new theocratic set-up. I am only suggesting the setting up of simple systems to streamline the functioning of our temporal authority in consonance with the requirement of our times. I would rather be an advocate of liberal Sikh theology than a theocratic diehard.