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This is a question that may be exercising many Sikhs as an apex court’s oral order seems to favor Akali Dals who want to debar Sehajdharis or un-baptized Sikhs from voting in the SGPC polls

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had been fighting to ensure the hold of Amritdhari or baptized Sikhs over the mini parliament of Sikhs, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). While it has been trying to maintain its hegemony over the organization, the Supreme Court too has put its stamp of approval following an amendment in the law.

In 2003, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had struck down a government notification which had barred Sehajdharis from voting in the SGPC elections. But the SAD was able to get an amendment done to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, with the help of its coalition partner, the BJP, so that only Amritdhari Sikhs were eligible for voting in the SGPC elections. The SAD wants to be seen as a party following the true tenets of Sikhism and the Amritdhari Sikhs form the core of its supporters.

Sikhs recite Guru Granth Sahib on Guru Nanak Jayanti in Jaipur. Many Sehajdhari Sikhs, while not abiding by the five “K”s of the faith, also follow Guru Nanak’s teachings and follow their holy book. Photo: UNI
Sikhs recite Guru Granth Sahib on Guru Nanak Jayanti in Jaipur. Many Sehajdhari Sikhs, while not abiding by the five “K”s of the faith, also follow Guru Nanak’s teachings and follow their holy book. Photo: UNI

The Supreme Court disposing of the petition against the High Court judgment through a verbal order on September 14 was a natural corollary to the amendment to the Act but as it has given liberty to the parties concerned to challenge the amendment the issue is likely to come up for another judicial review. The president of the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation (SSF), Dr Paramjeet Singh Ranu, has said that the organization would move the appropriate court after studying the detailed judgment of the apex court.

PANTHIC VOTE

The SAD is touting the amendment as well as the Supreme Court verdict as a victory for the Sikh Panth and is eying the unstinted support of the Panthic vote. The party also enjoys a majority in the SGPC but there are indications that the Panthic vote is moving away from it in recent months. Firstly, it had faced strong reaction after the Sikh clergy, under the control of the SGPC, last year announced a controversial pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for his alleged act of blasphemy. The action had led to statewide protests. Subsequently, a series of incidents of sacrilege were reported from across the state and two protesters were killed in police firing.

The Amritdhari Sikhs are supposed to follow rigid norms after being administered Amrit (holy water) and baptized by Panj Pyaras. They are not allowed to shave their hair and have to follow the five “K” rules of kesh (unshorn hair), kara (bracelet), kangha (comb), katchcha (short length white undergarment) and kirpan (ceremonial dagger).

The SAD hopes to strengthen its position among the devout who advocate that Sikhs voting for SGPC must adhere to all the strict tenets of Sikhism. The Amritdhari Sikhs are supposed to follow rigid norms after being administered Amrit (holy water) and baptized by Panj Pyaras. They are not allowed to shave their hair and have to follow the five “K” rules of kesh (unshorn hair), kara (bracelet), kangha (comb), katchcha (short length white undergarment) and kirpan (ceremonial dagger). 

Deputy CM of Punjab Sukhvinder Singh Badal with party colleagues. The SAD has succeeded in amending the Gurdwaras Act with the BJP’s help. Photo: UNI
Deputy CM of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal with party colleagues. The SAD has succeeded in amending the Gurdwaras Act with the BJP’s help. Photo: UNI

On the other hand, the Sehajdhari Sikhs abide by the Sikh faith but are not baptized. They may or may not be born in Sikh families but are followers of Guru Granth Sahib and may not keep the five “K”s. There are also other sub-groups like Keshadhari which are akin to Amritdhari and Patit who have opted for baptism after violating its rules.

EXCLUDED SIKHS

As per Dr Ranu, the 2011 Census had recorded a population of 1.75 crore Sikhs. After subtracting those who were below the age of voting, some 70 lakh Sikhs have become ineligible after the amendment to the Act, he said. This would mean, he said, that the SGPC would not remain a representative body of Sikhs.

The Sehajdhari Sikhs abide by the Sikh faith but are not baptized. They may or may not be born in Sikh families but are followers of Guru Granth Sahib and may not keep the five “K”s. There are also other sub-groups like Keshadhari which are akin to Amritdhari and Patit who have opted for baptism after violating its rules.

The Punjab unit of the Congress is also opposed to the debarring of non-Amritdhari Sikhs. Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Capt Amarinder Singh has said that the move would only divide the community. Calling it “the most regressive and retrograde move by the government of India at the behest of the Akalis just to retain their hold on the SGPC”, Capt Amarinder said in a statement that every Sikh who believes in the tenets of Sikhism must have the right to vote in the SGPC elections.

SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar with granthis at the Akal Takht. Photo: UNI
SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar with granthis at the Akal Takht. Photo: UNI

Besides giving it a major say in Panthic affairs, another big attraction for a hold over the SGPC is the fact that it is a cash cow. It has an annual budget of Rs 1,064 crore and the collection from Golak (offering by devotees in gurdwaras) runs into crores. Besides managing gurdwaras, the SGPC runs several welfare and educational institutions including medical colleges.

TERM OF OFFICE

The apex court has reserved the detailed judgment and there is still no clarity on a vital issue pertaining to the status of the SGPC general body. It had simply disposed off the SGPC petition in the light of the Sikh Gurdwara (Amendment) Act, 2016.

The SGPC believes that the Court has re-instated the SGPC general body which was elected in 2011. The High Court had nullified the 2011 elections. Now the bone of contention is whether the general body elected in 2003 has been resurrected and its five-year term counted or whether it has already run out its tenure.

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The apex court has reserved the detailed judgment and there is still no clarity on a vital issue pertaining to the status of the SGPC general body. It had simply disposed off the SGPC petition in the light of the Sikh Gurdwara (Amendment) Act, 2016.

SGPC authorities say that the High Court order had nullified the election before the first meeting of the new House could be convened. This technically means the House had not come into existence and its term would start only when it holds its first meeting after the Supreme Court clearance. The SSF, on the other hand, claims that the House stood constituted once the notification was issued by the center. This dispute, together with the fact that the next elections to the SGPC are also linked to a petition pending in the High Court pertaining to the formation of the Haryana SGPC, is likely to delay elections to this organization. It, in any case, suits the SAD.

Given the anti-incumbency sentiments against the SAD, which will be completing 10 years in office in February, the party would not like to go in for fresh elections to the SGPC before the assembly elections. Any setback in the SGPC elections is bound to have an adverse impact on its prospects in the assembly elections.

Lead picture: Supreme Court (Photo: Anil Shakya); An Amritdhari Sikh (Photo: Kh Manglembi Devi)

 

 

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