The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. The way they have been issuing statements on the India-Canada face-off raises more questions than answers.
Simultaneously, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Badal (SAD-B) has been attempting to present a humanitarian angle to the whole issue, but this hasn't been well-received by many.
Amidst this discussion, there is talk of the Government of India reviving a no-travel list, once again thrusting many individuals into the spotlight. The coordinated action by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize properties of individuals like Gurpatwant Singh Pannu also reflects the government's mood of having had enough with the separatist elements.
None of these actions occur in isolation. The continued wavering by Harjinder Singh Dhami on the subject is reflective of the mindset of the SGPC president. Referring to Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar as an activist is proof enough of how the key elements controlling SGPC regard many of these terrorists.
Portraying individuals guilty of committing heinous crimes as "qaum de shaheed" and placing their photos with reverence in gurdwaras managed by them is the norm. However, this is hardly surprising if you understand the way the SGPC and SAD-B function.
The SGPC itself is reluctant to pursue closure for Sikhs on many subjects, especially Operation Blue Star.
During the Vajpayee government, there was an opportunity at closure, but the SGPC and SAD-B rescinded at the last moment. The same folks then didn't attempt closure when the Narendra Modi government went out of its way to address many Sikh concerns. This included whittling down the blacklist, allowing many former terrorists to travel back to India after spending decades abroad.
This was not the only occasion; be it accommodating SGPC's demands for FCRA clearance or debarring Sahajdhari Sikhs from voting in SGPC elections, the level of accommodation has no precedent. However, instead of resolving issues, the SGPC has been repeatedly seeking to reopen the contentious ones.
The release of Bandi Singhs, a euphemism for many convicted terrorists, has been repeatedly brought up. Similarly, calling the Supreme Court's decision upholding the validity of the Haryana State Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC) an assault on Sikh faith was intentional, especially since it is a BJP-led coalition running the government in Haryana.
Of course, this is not surprising. The SGPC's habit of attempting brinkmanship is an old one.
One classic case of this was during the peak of the terrorist phase in Punjab, during Operation Black Thunder. As KPS Gill recalled in his memoir, Punjab: Knights of Falsehood:
"The Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, Sarabjeet Singh, and I felt that worship within the Temple should be resumed at the earliest... For the SGPC, however, this was just another opportunity to extract political concessions."
The Deputy Commissioner met Bhan Singh and Rangreta on the 20th itself at Bhan Singh’s residence, and they initially agreed that the authorized priests would be brought together and that Maryada could be restored. Bhan Singh, however, told that only Bhai Mohan Singh could, according to tradition, officiate over the ceremonies. Necessary arrangements were immediately made to secure the release of Bhai Mohan Singh, and he was brought to Amritsar at 10:30 the same evening. On his arrival at the circuit house, he said he would do nothing until he had spoken to Bhan Singh.
What followed thereafter was nothing short of dark humor:
"The DC failed to contact the latter over the phone... It was 11:00 p.m. when they arrived, and Bhan Singh’s residence was in darkness... On entering the house, the DC noticed that Bhan Singh had deliberately removed his phone from the hook. What followed was a complete volte face. The SGPC Secretary became stubbornly evasive and eventually insisted that Tohra be released on the grounds that he alone could authorize restoration of the Maryada."
What followed was heated parleys, with the riot act being read to these negotiators. KPS Gill stepped in and asked them to explain to the media why they would not undertake the exercise, forcing them to flip again and agree to normalizing the situation by resuming the rituals.
Of course, this is also reflective of another important factor - he who controls the Akali Dal controls the SGPC.
With the SAD-B's electoral decline in recent times, the attempts at raising "Panthic issues" have resurfaced with a vengeance. This included the Bandi Singhs issue or the fracas over the broadcasting rights for Darbar Sahib's Gurbani kirtan.
Even Simranjit Singh Mann has attempted to take control of the leadership in this struggle by calling the Indian state a terrorist state for assassinating "activists" on "foreign soil". The reason why all of them, however, continue to flounder thus has much to do with the "sangat" money that flows in from abroad, especially countries where the Sikh numbers are significant. It's an attempt to seize back that base, a chunk of which migrated towards the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in recent times. This has to be recovered at any cost.
So don't be surprised if tomorrow we see more gaffes and howlers coming in droves. The game of political relevance and retaining control of the institution can only result in one outcome. And that outcome isn't one that helps peace prevail.
Rohit Pathania works in the space of renewable energy and environment. Other interests include politics and the economy.
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