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Why dispute over gurdwara management in Haryana has pitted Sikh leaders against Khattar govt

With elections to Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee pending, amendment allows govt to appoint new-ad hoc committee for another 18 months if polls aren't held in 18 months.

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Chandigarh: Prominent Sikh leaders from Haryana, associated with the decades-long movement for a separate Sikh body to manage the affairs of gurdwaras in the state, are baulking at the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) government has dealt with the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) so far.

Further amending the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act, 2014, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government passed the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Amendment Bill, 2022, in the winter session of the state assembly which concluded on 23 December. While opposing the amendment, the Congress accused the BJP-JJP government of trying to keep its own people in the committee without holding elections to it.

With this amendment, if elections for a new committee are not held within 18 months, the government will nominate a new ad-hoc committee for a period of another 18 months or until elections are held, whichever is earlier.

Currently, with elections to the HSGMC pending, the executive committee is run by an ad-hoc committee of 41 members nominated by the government. The nominated members have the authority to elect their president, senior vice president, junior vice president, general secretary, joint secretary, and six members from among themselves. These office-holders will together make up the committee’s executive board.

When elections to the executive committee are eventually held, the ad-hoc committee and executive board will cease to exist and the newly elected body will take charge.

Before the HSGMC, the management of Gurdwaras in Haryana was overseen by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) headquartered at Teja Singh Samundri Hall in the Harmandir Sahib Complex in Amritsar. Haryana has 52 gurdwaras that contribute nearly Rs 150 crore to the SGPC’s annual budget.

The Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government in the state had passed the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act, 2014, ahead of assembly polls that year. Hearing a challenge to the legislation filed by the SGPC, the Supreme Court on 20 September 2022 upheld the constitutional validity of the act, paving the way for the formation of the HSGMC.

Also Read: Why SGPC is objecting to Modi govt’s ‘Veer Bal Diwas’ tribute to Guru Gobind Singh’s sons

‘Govt can hold elections in 6 months, if it has the will’

Before the amendment, the Haryana government on 2 December set up a 38-member ad hoc panel to manage gurdwaras in the state. The panel comprised prominent Sikh leaders, including sitting HSGMC president Baljit Singh Daduwal, his predecessor Jagdish Singh Jhinda and the committee’s former senior vice president, Didar Singh Nalvi.

Ahead of the election for the new president and other office bearers, Jhinda resigned from the ad-hoc committee, while accusing the government of political interference in the affairs of the Sikh community.

Members of the ad-hoc committee then elected Baba Karamjit Singh, head of the Sewa Panthi sect and of the Dera Sant Nischal Singh Ji Gurdwara in Yamunanagar, as its president on 21 December. He was among the prominent Sikh leaders hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in February 2022.

While outgoing HSGMC president Daduwal boycotted it, Nalvi staged a walkout from the ad-hoc committee’s election meeting.

On Sunday, Jhinda met Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh to discuss the developments. The Akal Takht is the highest temporal seat of Sikhism and its head is called the jathedar of the Akal Takht.

Speaking to ThePrint over the phone after the meeting, Jhinda said he sought the jathedar’s intervention and submitted to him a letter listing how the Haryana government was interfering in the religious affairs of Sikhs.

“I, accompanied by Sikh leaders from all districts of Haryana, handed over a list of 41 members for a new ad-hoc committee prepared by us, and have requested him to accord his approval to it. The jathedar assured us that he will take a decision on this after consulting the jathedars of other Takhts,” said Jhinda.

Questioning the intention behind the amendment to the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act, Jhinda alleged that its objective was to hand over the management of gurdwaras in the state to those nominated by the government without holding elections to the HSGMC.

“The government can complete delimitation of constituencies and publication of electoral rolls in the next four months and hold elections within six months from now if it has the will,” said Jhinda, adding that it would ensure gurdwaras are managed per the wishes of the Sangat (Sikh masses).

On 27 December, the governor of Haryana appointed Justice H.S. Bhalla (retd) as poll commissioner to oversee elections to the HSGMC.

‘Post of patron should be abolished’

Maintaining that he was not against the Khattar-led government, outgoing HSGMC president Daduwal said he is opposed to the election of Baba Karamjit Singh as his successor. He also said that elections should be held as soon as possible to allow the Sangat to elect their own representatives.

“The Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act gives powers to the state government to nominate members of the ad-hoc committee till elections are held. I don’t contest the government’s powers. I just have two objections — one, the post of patron should be abolished, since it is against Sikh Maryada (code and conventions of Sikhism) and two, a person who has never fought for a separate gurdwara management committee for the state has been appointed president of the body,” Daduwal told ThePrint Sunday.

According to the Sikh Maryada, only the Guru Granth Sahib — the central holy religious scripture of Sikhism, regarded by Sikhs as the final, sovereign, and eternal guru following the lineage of the ten gurus — and no individual can be a patron in the affairs of gurdwaras, Daduwal asserted.

He added that the government had offered him the post of patron, which he “politely refused because it would have amounted to disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib”.

“No gurdwara committee across the globe, whether an elected body or appointed, has an individual as patron,” he said.

The government, he said, should take immediate steps for the delimitation of constituencies instead of waiting 18 months to hold elections.

“The present constituencies are too large. Now, districts with a concentration of Sikh population can have more constituencies,” said Daduwal, adding that Haryana had 11 constituencies for the SGPC elections, but with a separate HSGMC for the state, this number should climb to 40.

Brushing aside criticism over his election as president of the ad-hoc committee, Baba Karamjit Singh said the Haryana government had constituted the body to manage the affairs of gurdwaras in the state till elections to HSGMC are held, in line with directions of the Supreme Court. “I believe in taking everyone along,” he told ThePrint.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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