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The land that is now called Haryana has been famous for epic battles like the Mahabharat and the three historic battles of Panipat. Now a leading Sikh body is fighting a politico-religious battle in the state to retain control over its gurdwaras.
The Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), known as the mini-parliament of the Sikh religion, is at odds with the Congress-led government in Haryana after Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda announced that a separate committee will be set up in Haryana to control gurdwaras in the state.
The move by the Hooda government, which proposes to bring legislation for a separate committee to manage gurdwaras in Haryana, will take out of the SGPC's hands the control of 72 gurdwaras.
The SGPC, which has an annual budget of Rs 950 crore ($159 million) and controls Sikh shrines across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, surely does not want to lose control over the Haryana shrines. If the Hooda government succeeds in showing the door to the SGPC, its bosses are worried that this could have a ripple effect in other states where the SGPC controls Sikh shrines.
The gurdwaras in Delhi and in Pakistan (Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and in Lahore) are controlled by independent Sikh bodies. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (DSGPC) is now dominated by Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.
Sikh leaders in Haryana allege that the SGPC used to pocket nearly Rs 30 crore annually from the Haryana gurdwaras but never did enough for these shrines or for Sikhs in the state. They even allege that the management and jobs in these shrines were given to people from Punjab.
The SGPC and the Shiromani Akali dal are doing everything possible to prevent the Hooda government from going ahead with the move.
They have sought the centre's intervention, saying that the Hooda government's move is "unconstitutional" and "illegal" since the SGPC controls Sikh shrines under an act of parliament. They have pointed out that a state cannot legislate on matters concerning parliament. The SGPC and Akali Dal leaders are trying to woo Sikhs in Haryana to oppose the move for a separate committee.
The Hooda government however claims that it is doing this following demand of Haryana Sikhs for a separate body. Hooda set up a committee in 2005 under Harmohinder Singh Chatha, Haryana's finance minister and himself a Sikh. The committee received affidavits from nearly 300,000 Sikhs for a separate body. The total Sikh population in Haryana is over 1.5 million (six percent of the state's total of nearly 25 million).
However, Hooda is being accused of initiating the move for a separate Sikh body just before Haryana's assembly polls to be held in October. The Chatha committee had submitted its report nearly seven years ago but the Hooda government never took action on it. One reason for that could be the reluctance of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also a Sikh, to support the move.
The Congress has always had a love-hate relationship with the Sikh leaders and the community.
The scars of the 1984 Operation Bluestar, the Indian Army's operation in the Golden Temple complex to flush out terrorists, the killing of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in which Congress leaders and activists are the main accused and which left hundreds of Sikhs killed and displaced, have never let both sides bridge the gap. The move on control of Haryana's shrines will only add to that.