Samundari Hall to Sukhvillas journey represents degeneration of Akali Dal
Chandigarh, November 25: From Teja Singh Samindari Hall in the Golden Temple complex to Sukhvillas luxury resort is the journey travelled by the once Sikh party Shiromani Akali Dal over these 97 years, a journey that is the story of the changing character of this party with history of glorious struggles to being the pocket borough of a single family having been reduced to 15 seats in the Punjab Assembly losing the position of even being the main opposition.
This party was set up on December 14, 1920 at Akal Takht by the newly created Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to struggle for the Sikh religio-political concerns. The politics of this party leadership has now rather divided the Sikhs, especially during the last about 10 years after it shifted from Amritsar to its what used to be claimed its 5-star office in Chandigarh. Even this sprawling office now stands deserted with as the centre of activity has shifted to Sukhvillas.
Sukhvillas is the super luxury resort on the outskirts of Chandigarh owned by Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal who presided over the meeting of party’s core committee here last evening to finalise strategy for 3-day session of the Punjab Assembly.
The meetings of the Akali Dal used to be held at Akal Takht during initial years and subsequently in Teja Singh Samundri Hall when it was completed in 1930s to house the office of the SGPC. The Akali Dal office shifted to a separate building that was demolished subsequently. The general body meeting of the party to elect its president is still held in this hall.
This shift over 97 years is not just physical but represents changing character and content of the party to the extent that Akali Dal lacks a towering Panthic leader to head the SGPC, the statutory and elected by of the Sikhs that has played a vital role in the Sikh religio-political dynamics ever since it gave a call for the boycott of Prince of Wales in visiting India in December 1921. The annual election of the SGPC executive is slated for November 29.
The last towering Panthic leader was Gurcharan Singh Tohra who dictated the Sikh religio-political discourse at times, the leader who was synonymous with honesty. One might differ with his politics but not his personal life.
The Akali Dal at one time was the voice of the global Sikhs and had delegates even from Singapore, UK and other countries. The party has shrunk to Punjab. The Sikhs now don’t look to the Akali Dal to take up their problems.
The Sikhs are rather now getting divided on issues that are rooted in the politics of Parkash Singh Badal and his family. One of the issues that have vertically divided the Sikh community was the Nanakshahi calendar introduced in 2003 and released by Badal himself. This calendar hammered exclusive and distinct identity of the Sikhs at one level. It is too well known a fact that it was under pressure from the House of Badals that the calendar was later totally diluted.
The latest dispute is over celebrating Guru Gobind Singh Parkash Purab the date for which had been fixed at January 5 but the system was reverted once the calendar was diluted. This year the date has been fixed by Sikh clergy as December 25 when two youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh were bricked alive. This has been rejected by many of the Sikh organisations.
The Sikh religious leaders too are in two camps opposing each other. Rather than voicing collective issues, the Sikhs are fighting among each other many of which were resolved years ago.
The status of the Akali Takht chief has witnessed a steep downfall, the symbol of degeneration of Sikh institutions and offices. This was bound to happen when these people holding high offices get their dictates from political leadership and cater to that particular politics rather than protecting interests of the community.
The party meetings have been reduced to rituals over this period. One may recall that the issues would be discussed threadbare at party working committee meetings that would last several days in which almost every member would express his or her views. Not any more as the members of the core committee now look towards the Badals most of the time to get signal.
It is this degeneration that is one of the reasons for humiliating defeat in the last Assembly election that reduced the Akali Dal to 15 seats, not even the main opposition party.
It is time for the leadership, in this case the Badals, to introspect.
The party would have to opt for judicious mix of issues and concerns-Panthic and general, to rebound to the centre stage.
The situation calls for total overhaul of leadership of the Sikh religio-political Sikh institutions.
The more important issue is the unity of the Sikhs and restoration of autonomous functioning of the Sikh institutions.