SGPC did its job well... I will not seek extension as chief: Makkar
Before the November of 2005, Avtar Singh Makkar was only the management president of a mohalla gurdwara in his city of Ludhiana and a district-level office-bearer of the Shiromani Akali Dal.punjab Updated: Sep 28, 2016 19:07 IST
Before the November of 2005, Avtar Singh Makkar was only the management president of a mohalla gurdwara in his city of Ludhiana and a district-level office-bearer of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Now, he has been president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), considered to be the mini-parliament for Sikhs, for close to 11 years, which makes him the second-longest-serving president after the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
Seen as “pliable”, his critics say Makkar — once a clerk in the Life Insurance Corporation who resigned to join politics in 1986 — survived by making the SGPC “a subsidiary of the Shiromani Akali Dal” led by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The buzz is that, with the Supreme Court reinstating the 2011 SGPC House and thus mandating election of a new executive body, he will be replaced. But a surprise here will be no surprise, given Badal’s past moves, such as picking Makkar in 2005.
Makkar’s past year in office saw many controversies and the SGPC’s image touched a low after a series of incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, and a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ defying the SGPC by radicals who appointed their own jathedars (heads) for all five temporal seats or Takhts. HT talked to him about all this and more. Excerpts:
Q. How do you rate your 10 years and 11 months so far as the SGPC president?
Makkar: Very satisfying. I have opened schools, colleges, universities; gurdwaras’ management has been improved, dharam parchar (religious propagation) has been very effective; and we have successfully done amrit sanchar (baptisation) programmes all across the country, even abroad. Thousands of acres of agricultural land was retrieved from encroachers... There’s a lot to say that I can substantiate with figures. In 10 years, our annual budget went up to Rs 1,000 crore from Rs 250 crore.
But you are seen as a weak and pliable president.
My critics may say what they want, but I have managed to weed out corruption and dealt with erring staff with a stern hand. Management of gurdwaras before me was in a shambles.
Do you feel SGPC’s autonomy has suffered in your tenure? It is called ‘a subsidiary of Shiromani Akali Dal’.
I have been taking decisions independently. No doubt, SGPC and Akali Dal are closely related because most of its elected members belong to the SAD, but both function independently.
Do you think the SGPC ably handled the events of October-November last year after incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib?
Certain elements opposed to Sikhism want to disturb peace by indulging in sinful acts. The entire community is pained over the desecrations. Punjab police and CBI are investigating the cases and I am sure culprits will be caught very soon. The SGPC never failed in its duty.
Is it true that you have lost favour with CM Badal and his deputy, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal?
This is not the fact. They respect me and my decisions, and I am working in coordination with them. They still look up to me for important assignments. I am supervising the celebrations of 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh ji that began in Patna Sahib. I remained active during the difficult days last year, moved among the people and neutralised things to a large extent.
The Nanakshahi calendar was altered during your tenure that led to a row. Why?
Demands for certain changes in the calendar came from the Damdami Taksal, Sant Samaj and other groups. Sikhism is an evolving religion and we want to progress by building a consensus.
During your tenure, a memorial to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (militant leader) was built, despite opposition from non-Sikh communities. Your views.
I take pride saying that we built the memorial. Our highest temporal seat, the Akal Takht, was demolished in the army action (of Operation Bluestar in 1984, in which Bhindranwale was killed). We have every right to raise a memorial to those who challenged the oppression; I mean Sant Bhindranwale and the innocent people killed in the action. Communities survive when they remember their martyrs.
SGPC elections are expected next month, and it is being said that your party is looking for a new person as president. Are you in the fray again?
No, I am not. I am prepared to move on and not seeking an extension. I will accept whatever my party decides.