The past week-and-a-half has created a significant storm within the Panthic samaj of the Sikhs.
From standing with extreme radical action to questioning no less than the Akal Takht Jathedar on a technicality that virtually opened a can of worms, things don't seem right for the Parbandhak establishment right now.
It all started with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) presidential electoral outcome.
Apart from the new president Harjinder Singh Dhami winning with a significant margin, what really caught everyone's attention was Bibi Jagir Kaur, a former President, ditching all shades of the Akali camp and joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This set tongues wagging, because she had secured 40 votes in the Committee election. Did that mean that those 40 votes stood as representatives of the BJP in Panthic affairs now?
It is no surprise that the varying shades of the Akalis have been involved with both religious and political affairs of the Panth. However, it was after a long time that one saw even a hint of another political party being seen as a player.
With no love lost between the Akalis and BJP-RSS ecosystem despite years of an alliance, there is much waiting to play out.
As it stands, the SGPC has been under relentless attack from within and outside.
After the current Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh and the president of SGPC Harjinder Singh Dhami attended the high-profile engagement ceremony of Raghav Chadha and Parineeti Chopra in Kapurthala House in Delhi, the duo have been at the receiving end from Panthic extremists.
This was for alleged violation of a rule that any Jathedar would not be present at a venue unless there was a Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji in the form of a Bir present at that place. Whether that was the case or not—silence on this issue has led to serious questions of impropriety being levelled at them.
What made matters worse was the gifting of a siropa to the couple. This caused the Panthics to ask about the significant contribution of the duo to Sikh community. Coincidentally, the SGPC itself had decreed that it would not grant siropas arbitrarily; but on this occasion it was found in a trap of its own making.
An interim meeting now being called by the Committee is under the cloud, with the status of Giani Harpreet Singh as the Jathedar itself reportedly under jeopardy. Although, the man leading the charge, Virsa Singh Valtoha, seems to have forgotten a small detail perhaps - Joginder Singh Vedanti, a former Jathedar who proved to be a rather controversial occupant of the post, had made a big issue of siropas being presented to Kashmir Singh and Ujjal Dosanjh in 2001.
With Akali Dal (Badal) at its weakest and fast losing Panthic support, the SGPC and its members are indeed mindful of their own legitimacy as well.
Distancing themselves from the ‘mothership’ and parlaying with the party in power in Punjab would not be entirely unexpected in such a case.
Even in the past, the SGPC showed signs of distancing itself from the SAD (Badal) by opting for a channel of its own and criticising Badal-owned PTC for indecency. With the Akal Takht Jathedar and SGPC president turning up at Raghav Chadha's engagement despite having repeated public standoffs with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, one cannot help but wonder if something is going on behind the curtains.
These mixed signals also seem to have been sensed by other SGPC factions, which led to the doubling down on the incidents of ‘be-adbi’.
In one case, a man who was recorded bashing a granthi, died in a hospital. Incidentally, a lawyer had tried to shoot him dead when he was presented in court a few days earlier.
In another incident of a gutka-sahib being disfigured, observers saw the SGPC asking for a stringent law similar to the 295(A) that Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government had tried to usher in.
As if on cue, a woman was also shot dead in Gurdwara Dukhnivaran Sahib on the grounds of desecrating the sarovar in an inebriated state.
The killer's family was honoured by SGPC in usual fashion, even as the Panth stood divided on the need to kill someone. For an organisation that still hasn't condemned the terrorists holed up during Operation Black Thunder for desecrating Darbar Sahib repeatedly or for insulting SGPC President Gurcharan Singh Tohra during that time, it doesn't come as a surprise.
However, with a backlash now being observed against the SGPC on its inability to prevent repeated incidents of ‘be-adbi’, the response of various factions seems to be this—play up the incidents and double down to rally the Panth with extremist action.
What's becoming increasingly evident though, as stated earlier, is that the SGPC is turning into a rudderless ship.
Fault lines within the Panth have started to emerge in the absence of legitimacy of leadership of Sukhbir Singh Badal and his family. Disinterest in addressing the increasing desertions as a strategy has led to severe criticism from within.
In addition, there were also murmurs that the party tried to push the BJP towards an alliance, claiming it was the last wish of the senior Badal.
While the BJP categorically rejected the idea more than once, the Akali Dal (Badal) seems unable to find any other way to retain political relevance.
This was seen in the Jalandhar bypoll as well, where the Akali-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance managed only a fraction of votes more than the BJP; further proof of the Panth seemingly deserting the party.
In such a scenario, it would not be surprising to see the various factions seeking greener pastures. Does that translate into the SGPC becoming a political battleground that is multi-party? Wait, watch.
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