Amid the controversy over the creation of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) and the stand-off between Sikh leaders in Punjab and those in Haryana, the Jathedar (chief) of the Akal Takht, Gurbachan Singh, says that Sikhs should not take these matters to court. Instead, these should be "resolved within the religion".
"I appeal to all Sikhs across the world not to take the religious issues to any court of law. These should be resolved within the religion," Gurbachan Singh told IANS in an interview here.
Under fire from sections of Sikh and political leaders, who have accused him of being a puppet in the hands of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, the Akal Takht chief denied that he was taking decision under influence from anyone.
"The Akal Takht is an institution of the Sikhs. It is not linked to any particular party. It is completely independent and takes all decisions without any bias. In the past, there have been instances when pressure was mounted on the Akal Takht," he said.
"I don't agree that I am a puppet in anyone's hands. If this would have been the case, I would not have directed the Akali Dal to cancel its Sikh convention. If I had gone by them (Akali Dal), the conventions would have been held. If I had not taken that decision, it would have led to a lot of damage," Gurbachan Singh pointed out while defending his role in the controversy over the Haryana SGMC.
The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, July 16 excommunicated three senior Sikh leaders from Haryana from the Sikh community.
Those excommunicated "for anti-Sikh activities" were Haryana's finance minister Harmohinder Singh Chatha, and senior Sikh leaders Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Didar Singh Nalvi. Jhinda and Nalvi are now the president and senior vice president of the newly created ad hoc committee of the HSGMC.
The Akal Takht ordered that no Sikh should have any association with the excommunicated leaders. The excommunicated leaders were directed to appear before the Akal Takht and seek penance under religious conventions.
With the HSGMC controversy clearly dividing Sikhs in Punjab and Haryana and elsewhere too, Gurbachan Singh admitted this has affected the community.
"This is a very unfortunate situation. Sikhs, as it is, have a small population. There are many Sikh groups now but majority of the Sikhs are with the Shiromani Akal Dal (led by the Badals). Since the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) is dominated by the Akali Dal, the party represents most Sikhs," he said.
The Akal Takht chief, who recently ordered that status quo be maintained on the control of Haryana gurdwaras (Sikh shrines), said that the matter can only be resolved between the SGPC leadership and Haryana Sikh leaders. But he made it clear that no talks could be held with the Sikh leaders excommunicated from the community.
"The move (creation of HSGMC) is to weaken the SGPC and divide the Sikh community."
Jhinda and Nalvi were physically prevented from entering the Akal Takht inside the Golden Temple complex here Monday when they went to offer prayers.
Gurbachan Singh justified the action. "They were stopped as an excommunicated Sikh cannot enter the Takht..."
The Akali Dal and the SGPC are locked in a bitter controversy with Haryana's Bhupinder Singh Hooda government over the creation of the HSGPC. They have both strongly opposed the creation of the new HSGMC for Haryana Sikh shrines.
The Haryana assembly June 11 passed a bill to set up a state committee to manage gurdwaras (Sikh shrines) in Haryana. The Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill, 2014, got the assent of the state governor June 14.
The SGPC, the mini-parliament of Sikh religious affairs, which controls gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, will lose control over gurdwaras in Haryana with the new law.
The SGPC, which has a Rs.950-crore annual budget, controls majority of the gurdwaras in Punjab, including the holiest of all Sikh shrines 'Harmandar Sahib' (popularly known as Golden Temple) in Amritsar.