For long locked in intractable legal disputes over sharing of river waters and territorial claims, Punjab and Haryana are now sparring on politico-religious turf. And, the slugfest is only getting vicious and complicated by the day, raising the fears of religious frenzy that consumed Punjab in the dark 1980s. Vehemently opposed to Haryana’s move to set up a separate gurdwara panel, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal believes that the Amritsar-based SGPC’s supremacy must be maintained at all costs. He is even ready to step down as CM, if required, to scuttle the Congress’ ‘poll-oriented’ step. On the other hand, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda vociferously defends the passing of a law by the state assembly to form a separate gurdwara management committee. He sees no impropriety at all.
Senior Resident Editor Ramesh Vinayak interviewed Badal and Hooda separately on Wednesday to figure out their stands and to assess what lies ahead. Excerpts from his interview with Hooda:
The formation of a separate gurdwara panel has snowballed into a big controversy.
What is the urgency for bringing in this law? The Haryana governor was pressured to give assent. I fail to understand why they were in such a tearing hurry… you see, in the 2011 SGPC elections, we (Shiromani Akali Dal-Badal) won all 11 seats in Haryana, primarily over the issue of a separate gurdwara body in that state. Didar Singh Nalwi and Jagdish Singh Jhinda, who are in the forefront of this Haryana law, had lost their security deposits in the 2011 SGPC polls. So, there was no public support for splitting the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for Haryana gurdwaras.
Why are you opposing Haryana setting up a gurdwara panel while Delhi, Patna Sahib and Nanded Sahib have their own committees? Akalis never stood against them.
The SGPC is for all India. Its members are elected. There are 16 nominated members from other states. Five Sikh priests are also its non-voting members. The SGPC came into being after a lot of sacrifices. Even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had courted arrest for the Sikh body and termed the Jaitu Morcha in the 1920s as the first victory in the war for Independence. The SGPC is seen as a parliament of the Sikhs in the entire world. Now, they want to weaken it. If Hooda is allowed to split the SGPC, then tomorrow the Congress can do a similar thing in Punjab... The SGPC must remain one.
Hooda’s argument is that Haryana’s Sikhs want it.
Has any agitation taken place for the formation of a separate gurdwara committee in Haryana? No one has raised his voice. Those handful of people demanding it are actually Hooda’s pawns. I know Haryana as much as I do Punjab.
They say that of the 11 SGPC members of Haryana seven are in favour of separate SGPC.
No, no, that’s a lie. Only one SGPC member has been won over by Hooda.
Do you think the situation would have reached this point if the NDA government had intervened well in time?
It never occurred to us that Haryana will make it a Money Bill and get the assent of the governor by pressurising him. Even the Centre was unaware. Hooda tried to split the SGPC during UPA rule. When I met then PM Manmohan Singh, he didn’t let this happen and said his father had taken part in the struggle for formation of SGPC.
Why is Hooda doing this?
He wants to capture Sikh votes. Doobte ko tinke ka sahara (he is clutching at straws). The move has been engineered by the Congress with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi. Nothing comes of such things. It harms the nation.
What do you expect the Centre to do?
I apprised them that injustice has been done with us. PM Narendra Modi is with us on this.
What are the options before the Centre?
I can’t say. Nor is this my job. We have told them, find out some way, our demand is one and that is the SGPC must remain one. Bas Shiromani committee nahin tutni chaheedi. The sanctity of Sikh institutions must be upheld. Can they be allowed to set up a parallel Akal Takht in Kurukshetra? This is not possible.
Hooda says why is the SGPC is not approaching the court if Haryana’s action is illegal?
First, the government of India should look into it. On religious matters, Akal Takht is our supreme court. The Haryana Sikh leaders disobeyed the Takht… all this on Hooda’s directions. They are hell-bent on destroying the institution. We are still asking them that elected Haryana SGPC members can have their own sub-committee under the SGPC. We do not differentiate between Sikhs of Haryana or UP.
There is a feeling that Haryana Sikhs were ignored by the SGPC.
I don’t want to get into small things. My duty is to ensure the SGPC is not divided and it must remain intact.
It appears you are bracing yourself for morcha politics again?
We don’t want to resort to a morcha. If the matter is resolved, we don’t want to go to jail and waste the energy of the masses. But how can the Akali Dal sit silent? Tomorrow, there will be demands for separate committees for Doaba, Majha and Malwa. The present generation is not aware about the sanctity and sacrifices for this committee. They think it’s a municipal committee! But, an agitation can arouse religious passions and complicate the matter. Should we shut our mouth then?
And you are ready to lead the morcha?
Yes ( laughs)
For that you will have to resign.
Chalo dekhange ji ( laughs). Eh kehda chief ministry apne ghar di hai ji. The decision will be taken at Amritsar on July 27... The morcha will renew the licence of the Akalis.
Haryana says SAD and SGPC are creating a law and order problem by deploying volunteers in its gurdwaras.
No. I appeal that no one with weapons enters the gurdwaras in Haryana. Peace must be maintained. Our battle is against the Congress, which has been damaging Sikh institutions.
Are you open to a dialogue with Haryana Sikh leaders?
We are ready for exploring any possibility on the condition that the SGPC’s supremacy remains intact. Those who lost deposits in the SGPC elections are spearheading this antiSikh move.
Isn’t it time for a relook at the demand for the All India Gurdwara Act?
I can’t say if this Act is a solution. Right now, our one-point agenda is to keep the SGPC united.
The Congress say Badal is using religious institutions for political gains.
That’s their old propaganda with no basis whatsoever. I only go to Harmandar Sahib to pay obeisance.
Right now, even the Centre seems to be caught in a bind.
The Centre is convinced that Haryana has done wrong. And we cannot afford to remain a silent spectator.
Won’t morcha politics hurt Punjab?
Dekho ji kam taan chalde hi rehnde hai duniya de (affairs of the world go on)… But the nation should think about it. This is a delicate phase. In politics, minor mistakes lead to major catastrophes.