Why Amendment In The Hazur Sahib Board Act Agitate Sikh Sangat?
India is a secular state and secular values are enshrined in its constitution. It is assumed that no government will interfere in the religious affairs of the citizens. But the governments generally mould the religious acts as per their suitability and this irritates the aggrieved followers of the affected religion. A recent example is the Maharashtra government’s interference in the highly emotive religious affairs of the Sikhs, which is resulting in a mass level of resentment in Sikh Sangat.
To show their anger, thousands of followers of the Sikh Sangat held a massive march, on February 9, at Nanded to protest against the Maharashtra government’s decision to reconstitute the Gurdwara management board. Sikhs from the neighbouring areas as well as from various parts of Maharashtra congregated here to protest against the move and demanded to restore the old Act in which due representation was given to the SGPC, Sachkhand Hazur Khalsa Diwan, Chief Khalsa Diwan and Sikh MPs.
What is the issue?
Maharashtra govt recently has made some basic changes through an amendment to the Nanded Sikh Gurdwara Sachkhand Huzoor Abchal Nagar Sahib Act 1956. As per the new Amendment (2024) to the Act, the number of Government nominees has been increased from seven (7) to 12 (twelve). The strength of the SGPC nominated members has been reduced by 50 % - that is, from the present four (4) to just two (2). Similarly, the number of representatives of the Chief Khalsa Diwan and the Huzoori Khalsa Diwan have been removed from the Board.
What do Punjab Political Leaders say?
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal alleged that Delhi-run parties were not only interfering in the religious affairs of the Sikh community but were also taking over Sikh religious shrines which the Qaum would never tolerate.
“We have earlier witnessed how the Shiromani Committee was broken to create a separate gurdwara committee for Haryana. The Delhi Gurdwara committee, which comprises the majority of members of the SAD, has also been taken over by vested interests to the detriment of the community. Now in another blow to the community the Maharashtra government has taken over control of the Sri Hazur Sahib Management board by increasing the strength of the nominated members from two to twelve”.
“I appeal to the Sikh quom to unite as one against anti-panthic forces who are trying to weaken us by taking over management of our religious shrines. The manner in which the Maharashtra government has reconstituted the Sri Hazur Sahib Board to bring the shrine under its control is condemnable. I want to make it clear that the Sikh community will never tolerate such acts and will do its utmost to free the shrine from government control”, Badal warns in a tweet.
No political party, other than SAD, is reacting over the issue and they are keeping mum due to the reasons best known to them. Generally, it is believed that the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress are working on the principle of neutrality - ‘Na kahu se dosti , Na kahu se bair’. They consider SGPC to be an Akali Dal supporter, perhaps that is why they are not coming forward in its support.
But why are BJP leaders of the state keeping their mouths sealed over the issue?
A Chandigarh-based senior journalist, Jai Singh Chhibber says, “All Sikh organizations including the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee are opposing this decision of the Maharashtra government. As far as the silence of the Punjab BJP leadership is concerned, there are two main reasons for it. One is that the command of the Punjab BJP is in the hands of people who have already come from other parties, especially the Congress, and the other is that the national leadership of the BJP is not ready to make decisions and it does not trust the leadership at the state or provincial level. Even regarding the three agricultural laws, the BJP high command did not listen to the local leaders, finally, there was a big movement and the three agricultural laws had to be withdrawn. Even now the provincial leadership is admitting that the national leadership did not listen to them. The BJP leadership is also accepting that there may be an alliance between the Akali Dal and the BJP again in Punjab in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, which is why the BJP leadership is silent while the Akali leaders are raising their voices on this issue.”
What do Sikhs want?
On February 9, a massive protest was launched by the Sikh Sangat to force the Maharashtra government to withdraw its decision to reconstitute the gurdwara management board to take over control of the holy shrine.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sardar Sukhbir Singh Badal, on February 9, also dispatched a communication to Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting the provocative and brazen interference by the Maharashtra govt and sought the PM’s ‘urgent and immediate personal intervention’ to stop the Maharashtra govt from interfering in the highly emotive religious affairs of the Sikhs.
Mr Badal said that this has caused avoidable pain and alienation among the devout and patriotic Sikh masses who have always been at the forefront of securing and defending the independence as well as the unity and the integrity of the country.
The SAD chief pointed out that one of the key commitments of the Govt of India to the Sikhs after independence was that nothing would be done about the management of Sikh shrines or other religious affairs of the Sikhs without the prior approval of the two-thirds majority of the general House of the SGPC.
Asking the people whether the Maharashtra government would tell the Sikh community how to run their gurdwaras, Mr Sukhbir Badal said, “The decision to reconstitute the Sri Hazur Sahib management board by amending the Management Board Act of 1956 is condemnable and will never be accepted by the Sikh community”.
Senior journalist, Jai Singh Chhibber says, “Religion is an individual's matter. The Indian Constitution also gives freedom to a person to practice any religion. I believe that no government or political party should interfere in the matter of religion because governments cannot maintain the same decency and religious behaviour as a person following a religion can. The ethics of Sikhism is completely different from other religions. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee is known as the mini parliament of the Sikhs. If only religious institutions like Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and Chief Khalsa Diwan are neglected, then it is natural that controversy will arise as the Maharashtra government has done by amending the act.”
Even knowing that the Lok Sabha general elections are hovering over and in Maharashtra, a coalition government with BJP has taken such a stringent step; whether it is a duly thought decision or just a skin test to know the allergy level of the Sikh community? Here arise some questions. Will PM Modi interfere in the matter, as demanded by the SAD chief through his communication to the PM or just ignore it? Will it affect the political ground of the BJP in Punjab? Why are the Punjab Political Sikh leaders, except Sukhbir Singh Badal keeping mum over the issue?