The Akal Takht stands as a living monument of the spiritual yearnings and the socio-political objectives that have shaped the dynamic Sikh community.
All Sikh movements, whether religious or political, which have attained any substantial measure of success, have been planned, launched and spear-headed from here. It has been the nerve centre of Sikh politics. Forces emanating from here have caused not just ripples but great tides in the political ocean of this region. It reminds them of their great heritage, eventful history and tradition. In fact, it mirrors the entire panorama of Sikh history. It was from the Akal Takht that Sikh gurus had raised the banner of religious and political freedom and denounced the state’s oppression.
Takht symbolises dauntless spirit of Sikhs
The Akal Takht is a symbol of the dauntless spirit of the Sikhs and their unyielding determination to survive against all odds. No persecution could ever extinguish the light that was lit by the gurus in their hearts. The motivation of Sikh gurus in the fight against the Mughals is a true example of preservation of justice and righteousness. Their message was one of universal benevolence and love for all. It was at the Akal Takht that the weak and meek, the needy and the oppressed came from far and near to seek help against tyranny and oppression.
Deep anguish over pardon to Sirsa dera head
Recently the Akal Takht has been in the spotlight in the wake of the controversial move to pardon Sirsa dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case. The unsavoury row led to feelings of deep anguish in the Sikh community. The dera chief was ex-communicated in 2007, through a ‘hukamnama’ (edict) issued by the Akal Takht for wearing attire which made him resemble the tenth Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh. However, in a sudden dramatic turn, the Akal Takht jathedar decided to withdraw the ‘hukamnama’ by pardoning the dera
chief, much to the chagrin of the Sikh community.
‘Hukamnama’ has to be in accordance with people’s will
Most Sikhs dubbed the move as politically motivated. To be meaningful, a ‘hukamnama’ has to be in accordance with the will of the community and not subservient to the will of people in power. The foremost duty of the jathedar is to be an executioner of the people’s will in the true sense. A decision which leads to acrimonious debates and clashes in the community undermines the prestige of the August institution. The Akal Takht, with its glorious heritage of service and sacrifice for justice and righteousness, has left an indelible imprint on the history of this region. This glorious heritage has to be preserved. In 1984, the central government mounted an armed attack on the Akal Takht as it failed to gauge how this “horrendous act” would leave a deep impact on the Sikh psyche.
Jathedars must rise to the occasion
The current jathedars have not been able to rise to the occasion and give clear direction to the Sikh community on vital issues. The Sikh affairs seem to be in complete disarray. Whether it is the calendar row or Dera Wadbhag Singh issue, the community has been left rudderless. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who has been exercising firm hegemony, not only over the Akali Dal but also over other centres of power – the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Akal Takht, has been completely backing the BJP, which has its own religio-political agenda for Punjab.
Restore true character of Akal Takht
It is pertinent to mention that factors and forces that control the Sikh affairs do not represent the Sikh community, which is at the crossroads. Under public pressure, the Akal Takht has now made a U-turn and withdrawn the pardon granted to the Sirsa dera head.
The need of the hour is to take appropriate measures to restore the representative character of the Akal Takht and the SGPC. The centralisation of power in the hands of one individual is neither good for the Akali Dal nor for the ‘Panth’.
(The writer, formerly professor of history at Panjab University, is a scholar on Sikh affairs. The views expressed are personal)