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Here’re some challenges before the new SGPC chief Gobind Singh Longowal

Once recognised for its supremacy in Sikh religio-politics, the SGPC has come be known as subservient handmaiden of the Shiromani Akali Dal, or actually the Badal family.

punjab Updated: Nov 30, 2017 17:30 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Amritsar
SGPC,Longowal,Akal Takht jathedar
Newly elected SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal at Teja Singh Samundri Hall in Amritsar.(Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Former Akali MLA cwas elected as the 42nd chief of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the apex religious body of the Sikhs, amid drama during its annual general house meeting in Amritsar on Wednesday. Here are the challenges before the SGPC chief:

Credibility: Restoring the credibility of Sikh institutions, particularly that of the Akal Takht jathedar, is the foremost challenge for Gobind Singh Longowal as the new SGPC chief.

“The credibility has diminished in the recent past,” said Tarlochan Singh, a Sikh scholar and former Rajya Sabha member, adding, “Gobind remained with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, and is very well aware of the functioning of Sikh institutions. I hope he will work out a strategy.”

Once recognised for its supremacy in Sikh religio-politics, the SGPC too has come be known as subservient handmaiden of the Shiromani Akali Dal, or actually the Badal family. At present it faces a major challenge from the parallel jathedar “appointed” by a Sarbat Khalsa congregation held in 2015 by some radical bodies. These parallel jathedars take up issues that the SGPC hesitates to take up. Also, the SGPC has been accused of being arbitrary in removing jathedars. .

Money matter: Transparency has repeatedly been sought in the cash-rich SGPC administration, but the ruling Akali have been skirting that. For the past few years, the SGPC is seen as an offshoot of the SAD, which allegedly uses its funds for political purposes. “There is no proper transparency in usage of funds. In this regard, some devotees have raised questions on social media too,” said Tarlochan Singh.

Sangh influence: After defeat of the SAD-BJP coalition in state elections, the SAD influence in the NDA regime at the Centre is at a low ebb. The BJP has not yielded to requests or pressure of the SAD and SGPC for waiver of GST on langar. Similarly, BJP’s parent RSS is propping up its Sikh wing. As the SAD direly needs the BJP to gain politically, Gobind Longowal has a tightrope walk on Panthic issues versus rising influence of the RSS, which allegedly wants to subsume Sikhism into the Hindu fold. “Except Gurcharan Singh Tohra, everyone over the years in this chair has followed the dictates of the Badals. Gobind is fully dependent on the Badals, so we can’t expect much from him. He will do whatever the Badals find politically suitable,” said former SGPC secretary general Manjit Singh Calcutta.

Sect and sacrilege: Even though Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh is in jail, the controversial pardon and later revocation by the SGPC and Akal Takht has eroded faith of Sikhs in the mini-parliament of Sikhs. Gobind was himself give religious punishment by the Takht as he had gone to seek support of the dera before the assembly polls this year. The incidents of sacrilege also hit the image of the SGPC. “Deras are more powerful than the SGPC. The SGPC must not forget that its prime duty is dharam parchar (religious propagation). Every religion is doing it, but somehow the SGPC lacks in this movement,” said Tarlochan Singh. However, Manjit Calcutta said, “Don’t expect anything from him as Gobind Longowal himself visits deras to get votes.”

Foreign factor: Due to the dera controversy and sacrilege incidents, and tight control of the Badals, the SGPC is fast losing popularity among Sikh diaspora. SGPC members face protest during foreign visits. “Longowal doesn’t have the stature to become SGPC president, who has to represent Sikhs of the entire world,” said Manjit Calcutta, former Minister and SGPC general Secretary.

Haryana and others: With Sikhs of neighbouring states, such as Haryana, demanding their own control on Sikh shrines in their respective areas, the SGPC is facing a tough challenge to keep the flock intact. In fact, the Haryana SGPC members have floated the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, while former DSGMC president Harvinder Singh Sarna is fighting legal battle for control of the Takht Hazur Sahib committee in Maharashtra.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 12:11 IST