Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh has a lot on his plate. He is not only dealing with the Nanakshahi calendar row but also with issues related to the release of Sikh detainees and amendment to Article 25(b) of the Constitution.
While the Nanakshahi issue falls in his domain, the other two concern the state and central governments. But the leaders of the Panth, whether political or religious, radical or moderate, are all breathing down the jathedar’s neck, asking him to get Sikh detainees released and press the Centre to amend Article 25(b) so as to give Sikhs a separate identity.
Badals take back seat
Rather than Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal taking up the two issues (other than Nanakshahi) with the BJP-led NDA government, it’s the jathedar who is in the thick of things. This became evident on December 30 when he sought a meeting with Union home minister Rajnath Singh. On behalf of the jathedar, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president Manjit Singh GK and secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa established contact with the home ministry for the meeting.
Though the jathedar did not accompany the delegation, he had briefed its members on the issues to take up with the home minister. The delegation included Sirsa; Sant Samaj leaders, including its chairman, Harnam Singh Dhuma (Damdami Taksal); Takht Keshgarh Sahib jathedar Giani Mal Singh; and the head granthi of Harmandar Sahib, Giani Jagtar Singh.
Several senior officials of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and members of certain radical Sikh outfits, including the Dal Khalsa, have taken offence to Giani Mal Singh and Giani Jagtar Singh being part of the delegation. They expressed shock when the next day, they saw photographs in some newspapers of the two ‘Singh Sahibs’ (head priests) standing with folded hands before Rajnath Singh.
“This amounts to lowering the prestige of the Sikh head priests. They are not supposed to go for such meetings with political leaders. For us Sikhs, they have a place of honour,” said Dal Khalsa leader Kanwar Pal Singh.
Four senior SGPC officials lodged a protest with Giani Gurbachan Singh on Thursday. However, Manjit Singh GK, when contacted by HT, said, “Giani Mal Singh and Giani Jagtar Singh only greeted the home minister with folded hands. There is nothing wrong in such greetings.”
According to the DSGMC chief, the issues discussed with Rajnath were related to the release of Sikhs who have been under detention for long, amendment to Article 25(b), and review of the NRI ‘black list’ of Punjabis which prohibits those on the list from visiting their home state, Punjab.
“On all the three points, the home minister gave a positive response but cited some procedures which have to be followed,” said GK.
DSGMC steals march over SGPC
The DSGMC stole a march over the SGPC by arranging the meeting with the Home minister. SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar had sought time from Rajnath last week to discuss these issues.
The DSGMC could not have acted without the green signal coming from the Badals.
As Dhuma and the Sant Samaj, a conglomerate of Sikh religious groups, are close to the Badals, its members were chosen for the meeting with Rajnath.
Another reason for Giani Gurbachan Singh taking up the detainees’ issue is Gurbaksh Singh, the former militant who has been on a fast-unto-death since last month at a gurdwara near Ambala (Haryana). His condition is gradually deteriorating.
In December 2013, Gurbaksh had ended his fast after the jathedar assured him that he would work for the release of Sikh detainees who have completed their jail terms or have been in jail for a long time, pending their trial. As the jathedar failed to keep his commitment, the ex-militant again went on a fast-unto-death.
A worried jathedar has already issued directions to all Sikh organisations, political as well as religious, to concentrate on the detainees’ issue and stop approaching the Akal Takht for discussing the calendar row.