Crisis within Panth won’t end by appointing new Jathedar’s unilaterally.

Punjab Update Bureau - 21 August, 2017

File Photo- Sikh scholars and thinkers participating in a deliberations on the blueprint of Jathedar’s appointment, removal at a seminar in Amritsar in March 2008.

Instead of rushing to appoint new Jathedar’s arbitrary, the SGPC must build consensus, show transparency and evolve code of conduct to select a person for top temporal post writes Kanwar Pal Singh, Spokesperson of the Dal Khalsa

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has appointed Gaini Raghbir Singh as his successor following  the demise of Gaini Mal Singh, the Jathedar of Takht Kesgarh Sahib. Gaini Mal Singh was one of the three Takht Jathedar’s who were ‘discredited’ for pardoning Sirsa dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a sacrilege case in September 2015. Among the three, Akal Takht jathedar Gaini Gurbachan Singh is the only one left who is still in office. Ironically, demand to replace him has fallen into the deaf ears of his appointing authority. 

The SGPC has once again taken the decision to appoint Gaini Raghbir Singh on its own without bothering to consult the rest of the Panth. The SGPC did not consider it necessary to take any Panthic organization and institution into confidence before naming the Jathedar. Earlier also, the SGPC took unilaterally decision to replace Gaini Gurmukh Singh with Gaini Harpreet Singh as jathedar of Takhat Damdama Sahib after the former started speaking against  Badals.

The three jathedar’s were facing flak from Panthic quarters for issuing politically motivated edict favouring the head of the heretical cult. The SGPC, on other hand, has missed the opportunity to “win over” the dissenting voices by building consensus within Panth on the names of both the Jathedars. In the absence of consensus, transparency and code of conduct to appoint the Jathedar’s, these appointments would further widen the gap between Badal faction and rest of the Panth.  

Here nobody is questioning the wisdom and credibility of both the newly-elected Jathedar’s but the arbitrary decisions of the SGPC.   

The Sikh Diaspora refuses to buy the SGPC argument that the body is sole representative of the entire Panth. Sikhs are of the view that SGPC represents voters of Punjab, Haryana, H&P and Chandigarh and that too a small percentage of Sikhs enrolled themselves as voters. Sikhs living across the world want their say in the appointment of jathedar of Akal Takht. SGPC has so far failed to evolve any mechanism to build consensus before appointing the Takht jathedar’s. The idea behind the setting up of the SGPC-not the one under the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925- was to have a representative body of the Sikhs.

The SAD controlled SGPC is least concerned in codifying the post of the Takht Jathedars as this would end monopoly control. Who-so-ever is at the helm of SAD affairs, handpicks a person for the august seat who could do his biddings. Criteria have always been loyalty towards party leader and not the Panth. In the process, unfit persons reach the top temporal post.

Devoid of ideology and being too egoistical person, the president of Shiromani Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal refuses to listen to the voices of reason. He wants his ‘yes man” on the post. On the other hand, SGPC president Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar is too soft and humble to push for independent decisions. Even his predecessor Avtar Singh Makkar was neither serious nor sincere to settle the vexed issue.

Now with the appointments of two new Jathedars- both from Granthi class, there’s need to challenge the unchallenged.  

The issue dates back to March 29, 2000, when Gaini Joginder Singh Vedanti was appointed the Jathedar of the Akal Takht after the SGPC sacked Gaini Puran Singh unceremoniously. At the time of his appointment, he instructed the SGPC to lay down the procedures for the appointment, removal and working spheres of Takht Jathedars. 

The SGPC cold-shouldered his call but the Panthic groups seized the opportunity. Dal Khalsa provided the platform to scholars, intellectuals and historians to discuss the issue threadbare. The fundamental objective was to correct the fault line and make the post of Jathedar independent of all political and administrative constraints. 

At a first seminar held on October 23, 2003 at Amritsar, the scholars opined that it should not be the sole discretion of the SGPC to appoint or remove the Jathedars at will though it may play the role of a coordinator among the various Sikh organizations for the selection of a person for the post. Among those who participated in the debate were Dr Pritpal Singh Kapur, Bhag Singh Ankhi, Prof Bikram Singh, Dr Sohan Singh, Sukhdev Singh Bhaur, Jaspal Singh Dhillon, Tarsem Singh Delhi and Principal Harsimran Singh. 

They mooted a collegiate pattern for the appointment of the Takht Jathedars. Called the Khalsa Darbar by the proposers, they suggested that a collegiate of 100 individuals and institutions be constituted, representing the different shades of the Panth. After the seminar, a blueprint was prepared to be circulated among Sikh institutions for further discussion. The draft suggested that a Khalsa Darbar of 100 individuals shall be constituted. This would select an 11 member selection committee from among its own members. This committee shall then choose a panel for the post of the Jathedar, which shall be forwarded to the Darbar once again.  The Khalsa Darbar shall choose one person from the panel and the SGPC shall be asked to appoint that person. To ensure that there is no divergence, the onus for the summoning the Darbar shall lie with the SGPC. 

The draft suggested that the jathedar should be independent of all kinds of political and administrative pressures and manipulations and answerable to the Panth only. It suggested that the jathedar should be independent of any pecuniary authority. “The Panth should create a financial corpus for his honourable sustenance and running the affairs of the Akal Takht secretariat”.

Among the organizations, parties, institutions that would constitute the Darbar include SGPC, DSGMC, Takht Sri Patna Sahib board, Takht Hazur Sahib board, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Damdami Taksal, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Sant Samaj, Sikh educational Institutions, Kendri Singh Sabha, Sikh political parties and groups within India and abroad.

Similarly, the rules and procedures for removal, defining powers and working sphere and criteria and qualities to select a person for the top post was also laid down in the draft.

The proposed draft was circulated among a select groups and individuals for further debate, suggestions and ratification. A series of meetings, discussions, workshops were arranged to get the feedback.  

In March 2008, another seminar in the series was organized by the Dal Khalsa at auditorium in a school run by Chief Khalsa Deevan at Amritsar. Almost all those who matter in the religio-political sphere were present. Supreme Court lawyer HS Phoolka, Wing Commander (Retd) RS Chhatwal, Damdami Taksal head Baba Harnam Singh Khalsa, Akand Kirtani jatha head Baldev Singh, Chief Khalsa Diwan secretary Bhag Singh Ankhi, Director Jagdish Singh, former SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta, Narain Singh, Dr Gurcharanjit Singh from GNDU, KAC convenor Mohkam Singh, Daljit Singh, chairman of Dharam Parchar Committee of the DSGMC, former jathedar Kewal Singh and Jagtar Singh Jachak, Khalsa Panchayat chairman Rajinder Singh and Principal Harsimran Singh took part in the deliberations. 

Significantly, during the entire process Jathedar Vedanti’s call to codify the post remained the guiding force. The organizers and the scholars made it crystal clear that the blueprint will be handed over to the SGPC for broader consensus and implementation.

However, the move could not see the light of the day as Jathedar Vedanti was removed unceremoniously in August 2008. Unfortunately, his successor Gaini Gurbachan Singh was disinterested in taking the issue to its logical conclusion. 

Since then, the issue of codifying the post is hanging in air. The dilly-dallying approach of the SGPC and sheer arrogance of Sukhbir has taken the toll of the institution. A sizeable section of the Panth refuses to recognize Gaini Gurbachan Singh as the Jathedar of Akal Takht. 

The Akal Takht is supreme and its supremacy and sovereignty cannot be challenged and questioned. However, the concept of Sandesh, Gurmata and Hukamnama have become hazed over the years because of the manner in which edicts have been handed over in recent times -from the blatant interventionist to the utterly ridiculous and the politically motivated.

It is fact that without evolving and implementing specific rules and guidelines regarding the appointment, removal and working sphere of the Jathedar of the Akal Takht and other Takhts, the aura, supremacy and dignity of the institution won’t be restored and upheld.

 File Photo- Sikh scholars and thinkers participating in a deliberations on the blueprint of Jathedar’s appointment, removal at a seminar in Amritsar in March 2008. 

Read more