Sikh religio-political leadership performs hat trick to divide Sikhs, this time on Langar
Chandigarh, June 17: The two earlier major issues relating to the Sikh religio-political domain that divided the Sikhs vertically were the decision to withdraw the original Nanakshahi calendar and then the exoneration of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim by Akal Takht Jathedar and his associates from the blasphemy charge followed by flip flop leading to withdrawal of this highly controversial move. The third similar issue is the so called financial assistance under Seva Bhoj scheme in lieu of GST paid on Langar items.
This Seva Bhoj scheme has been launched by union ministry of culture for two years to fund all charities serving free food. BJP president Amit Shah during interaction with the Akali Dal leadership recently wanted this scheme to be propagated as Seva Bhoj.
The SGPC yesterday came out with an ad in a Punjabi daily that has been repeated again today attacking all those who have interpreted this scheme as damage to the very institution of Langar terming them “enemies” of the Sikhs and “anti-Panth”.
There is no mention in the ad that the centre is to extend financial assistance (this is the term used in the notification) under Seva Bhoj scheme. The SGPC talks only of exemption to Langar items from GST in all the gurdwaras. There is no reference that this scheme is for all charitable institutions and not just the SGPC.
Here is the alert issued by the SGPC in the ad: “The Sikh community (nation in English or not?) should be cautious of the propaganda unleashed by the anti-Sikh classes and its enemies . The gurdwara Langar has never been dependent on government grant and it would never be. It is our right to get our own money back. The baseless propaganda against it is part of the conspiracy of any-Sikh people”. (Sikh Qaum di dushman jamaat ate is de verian wallon keete jaa rahe koorh parchar ton suchet hon di zaroorat hai. Gurugrah da langar naa kise grant te kade nirbhar hoiya hai ate naa kade hovega. Saadi aapni ditti rashee wapas laina haq hai ate is haq virudh koorh parchar panth virodhian dee sajish hai”).
This issue had been raised first in this column and was taken up simultaneously by former SGPC general secretary and member of its present general house Kiranjot Kaur, grand- daughter of Master Tara Singh, the Akali stalwart who was among the founders of this unique institution without any parallel in the world to deal with religio-political affairs of the community.
The present religio-political leadership of the Akali Dal and the SGPC has reduced Guru Ka Langar to free food. Guru Ka Langar is rooted in the Sikh doctrine of classless and casteless society and is not just free food. It is not run on government grant. Guru Amar Das did not accept grant from Emperor Akbar who was highly impressed by this unique system that had been introduced by Guru Nanak. The term used in the notification is financial assistance under Seva Bhoj.
The present controversy has to be viewed in the context of earlier blunders by the present leadership.
The Nanakshahi calendar was released by former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Baisakhi of 2004 at Talwandi Sabo when he was out of power. This calendar had been finalised after deliberations by the SGPC and Akal Takht at various levels over years. This calendar symbolised separate and exclusive identity of the Sikhs.
It was the same leadership that succumbed to the pressure of deras represented by the so called Sant Samaj and diluted it to the extent that it lost its character. In the process, the Sikhs at the global level got divided. SGPC could not send Sikh devotees to Pakistan this June to participate in the commemoration of martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev in Lahore due to this difference. The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee follows original Nanakshahi calendar according to which this anniversary falls on a different date. The American Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee too observes Sikh events as per the original Nanakshahi calendar.
Here is another issue.
The SGPC spent about Rs 90 lakh on ads in newspapers defending the decision of the Sikh clergy of exonerating Dera Sacha Sauda chief in 2015 facing blasphemy charge. That decision had to be ultimately reversed after a few weeks. It subsequently came out that the Sikh clergy had been pressurised in taking the decision by the Akali Dal leadership with an eye on the vote bank.
This was one of the reasons that reduced the Akali Dal tally in the Vidhan Sabha in 2017 election to 15 seats, now reduced to 14 after Shahkot byelection.
However, the leadership does not seem to have learnt any lesson.
The SGPC is again running ad campaign to defend ‘financial assistance’ from the government.
The basic issue is why should the SGPC seek exemption from taxes on Langar?
The money this body spends on the fleet of cars of its leaders and other expenses would almost equal the amount of GST. SGPC used to be Seva, not symbol of power.
Leaders like Master Tara Singh and Gurcharan Singh Tohra never availed of any SGPC facility, neither car and petrol nor telephone.
It was Tohra who ultimately was attacked by this very leadership as enemy of the Panth and a Congress agent. It is part of history.
History has repeated itself but it is the Panth that would pay the cost, one again.