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OpinionsHow elections to religious bodies weaken Sikhs, negate their core doctrine

How elections to religious bodies weaken Sikhs, negate their core doctrine


How elections to religious bodies weaken Sikhs, negate their core doctrine

Voting for Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee is scheduled for February 26.


Harmeet Shah Singh

Every few hours, Sikh leaders can be seen streaming live on Facebook these days as they saunter through the streets of Delhi.

They are campaigning to wrest or retain religious power in the nation's capital. In accordance with a 1971 law, the community in Delhi is set to elect top administrators of its historical gurdwaras, educational establishments, hospitals and various other institutions.

Voting for the 46-seat Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) is scheduled for Sunday.

No major religion other than Sikhism allows its followers to elect their faith leaders.

But traces of spirituality are hard to spot in what various stakeholders, state and non-state, have promoted as a unique democratic exercise in religion.

All of the 10 Sikh Gurus advocated “Sangat”, meaning cohesion or commonwealth, in both mundane and spiritual matters.

And that served as the spirit behind the community's evolution.

Persecuted heavily by the Mughals and other invaders later, Sikhs organised themselves into a dozen distinct misls, or confederacies, in the 18th century.

Those small sovereign estates in the region, described by Swiss military engineer Antoine Polier as “aristocratic republic”, stayed united against external aggression despite mutual conflicts.

By 1801, Ranjit Singh of the Sukerchakia misl consolidated confederacies and became the Maharaja of Punjab.

Five years later, the Maharaja and the East Company signed a treaty that his Sikh forces would attempt no expansion south of the Sutlej river and that the British would not cross into Sarkar-e-Khalsa, his vast kingdom.

Built on the foundations of the doctrine of Sangat, Sarkar-e-Khalsa rose as an empire that covered the Khyber Pass in the west, western Tibet in the east to in the north.

The British annexed Punjab in 1849, barely 10 years after the Maharaja's death.

Fast forward to 1925, the then governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey, helped formulate the Sikh Gurdwara Act for the community to set up a popularly-elected central board for management of its religious shrines.

On the face of it, the law was advertised as a huge victory for the Sikhs in British India.

But an analytical scrutiny reveals the measure sowed the seeds of a perpetual division, negating the very tenet of Sangat.

The community fell into the trap, never to get out of it again. Sikh leaders adopted the state-authored election system for their spiritual management and carried the colonial baggage into independent India.

Elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Amritsar-headquartered highest Sikh religious administration, are fought bitterly every five years on party lines.

Voting, which split the Sikhs in the religious domain, hasn't remained immune to corruption, muscle and money power that are part and parcel of secular elections.

Sikhs sank deeper into the British-designed morass, when a new Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act came into being in 1971.

This new piece of legislation segregated them in the  capital after the gurdwara law had ruptured them in Punjab 46 years before.

From campaign to spending to dirty tricks to pull rivals down, elections to Sikh religious bodies both in Delhi and Punjab bear all the hallmarks of voting for municipalities, assemblies and national parliament.

No wonder then that spirituality remains too microscopic to become visible to the unaided eye.

But what becomes most pronounced is a powerful philosophy of cohesion — of Sangat — lying crisscrossed.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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