HT: You have been the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president for the past six years. What changes you have introduced in the SGPC's working?
Makkar: I have successfully taken preaching of Sikhism to the grassroots level. The number of Patit Sikhs has come down. Work has begun on a memorial to Sikh martyrs in the Harmandar Sahib complex. Since the start of my tenure, the number of gurdwaras managed by the SGPC has increased from 64 to 86. The management of gurdwaras has also improved.
You have admitted that there was a time when the SGPC was unable to work as per its mandate, leading to flourishing of deras in Punjab and neighbouring states.
We are trying to rectify the system by hiring qualified post-graduate preachers, hymn singers and granthis who would be given proper training and good salaries.
Why is the Operation Bluestar memorial being built 28 years after the incident? Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a controversial personality. There is an impression among other communities that the SGPC is doing it under pressure from hardliners.
I can't explain the delay as I took over as president only six years ago. There was no pressure from any side and those who had been demanding the memorial were very few. I have never succumbed to pressure from Sikh hardliners. I'm not afraid of anyone. During my US visit recently, I told Khalistan supporters that there was just a handful of them and they should come to Punjab for a reality check. Operation Bluestar was a Holocaust and I think the almighty has given me a chance to build a memorial. As the Akal Takht has already declared Bhindranwale a martyr, building a memorial is no issue.
Aren't you legitimising violence by building the memorial?
I don't think so. It's a misconception that the memorial would embolden radical forces. Also, it has no connection with those supporting Khalistan.
There is an impression that Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh Dhumma, who helped Shiromani Akali Dal win last year's SGPC polls, had also been demanding a Bluestar memorial. Was it a give-and-take arrangement?
Not exactly. The demand for the memorial had been raised from time to time. This is not an attempt to placate radicals. We are maintaining a moderate outlook and would not go against national interests.
When work began on the memorial, none from the SAD attended the function. Does the monument have the SAD's support?
Nobody from any political party came for the event. It was an SGPC function attended by representatives of Panthic bodies. The SGPC is governed by the SAD. I'm representing the SAD and this memorial can't be seen in isolation.
Has Prime Minister Manmohan Singh been able to take up Sikh issues?
There are many Sikh issues which need to be resolved. Manmohan Singh could have played a role in their resolution. The turban ban in France and the Kartarpur corridor are issues that can be settled without much effort. The PM can put pressure on France by imposing sanctions. But I don't know why he is feeling helpless despite being a Sikh himself. I think he should not be afraid of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
You referred to Bhindranwale as a Sikh martyr who died fighting the army. Now, Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is on death row for the assassination of former chief minister Beant Singh (also a Sikh), has been given the title of a living martyr. How do you justify this?
It's the Akal Takht which gave Rajoana the title. The Takht is the supreme spiritual body and everybody has to accept its decisions.
But what is your view about the Rajoana issue? A Sikh chief minister was killed and the (standby) Sikh assassin gets the title of a living martyr.
When hundreds of youth are killed in fake encounters, it is bound to provoke someone to act emotionally.
There was an appeal from NRI Sikhs to make Rajoana Akal Takht Jathedar. You refused, and later received death threats.
I refused by saying that we can't use the Akal Takht as an institution to save him from capital punishment. I assured them that some other step would be taken to save Rajoana from the gallows. But they (some NRIs) threatened to kill me and my family. And I told them that I'm not afraid of anyone. I have not even asked for increasing my security.
What would have been the stance of the SGPC and the Akal Takht had a non-Sikh done what Rajoana did?
Two Sikhs killed Indira Gandhi and the whole community was branded a traitor. This happens only with minorities. When Rajiv Gandhi was killed, the issue of which community was behind his killing never came up.
You talked about the Akal Takht's supremacy. But the Takht Jathedar is appointed by the SGPC. How much independence does he enjoy?
The SGPC is the appointing authority, but once appointed, the Takht Jathedar is independent. Even I can't look him in the eye... I stand before him with folded hands and head bowed… The Jathedar is independent and autonomous.
Why is there a hitch in acknowledging the Haryana Sikhs' demand for a separate gurdwara committee, when Delhi has its own?
No Sikh in Haryana wants a separate gurdwara committee. It's a politically motivated move of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government. There are about eight gurdwaras in Haryana with a budget of nearly Rs 15 crore. All are happy with our functioning.
Would the SGPC/SAD have a president from a Scheduled Caste one day?
(Evades direct reply) Rajinder Singh Dhaliwal (1984) and Ujagar Singh Rangreta (1988) have served as acting SGPC presidents.
Should the SGPC be under the RTI Act?
No. Our is a religious institution. It is being run with people's donations.
Why is there no transparency in the SGPC accounts?
We have a judicial commission which keep a watch on SGPC affairs. We publish a monthly gazette which mentions our expenditure and income. Our budget for the current financial year has witnessed an increase of Rs 100 crore.
With woman being given equal status in the Sikh religion, when would we see female hymn singers perform at Harmandar Sahib?
Changing an age-old tradition (parampara) is not easy… The SGPC follows maryada, and it's the Akal Takht that can make changes. A matter pertaining to allowing female ragis is pending with the Akal Takht.
Why is the SGPC against Sikh women wearing helmets when it's done in other countries?
It is again the Takht's call.