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Congress, Akalis, Sikh religious body can’t come together even in the name of Guru Nanak

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Congress government in the state, the SGPC and Centre to all hold separate events to begin year-long tribute celebrations.

Chandigarh: A significant event in the Sikh calendar has brought to the fore the differences between the Sikh clergy, backed by the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress-run government in Punjab.

Year-long celebrations are set to be launched Friday to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, which falls on 23 November 2019.

The hitch: the Punjab government and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the apex Sikh religious body, and even the Modi government at the Centre are set to hold separate events.

The celebrations have become politically significant in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Punjab where a barely veiled war for credit is all set to dominate the opening day of the celebrations Friday.

The inauguration of both festivities is at Sultanpur Lodhi, the town near Kapurthala where Guru Nanak spent a large part of his life.

The SGPC event will be held at the historic Ber Sahib Gurdwara at Sultanpur Lodhi while the government is organising a public gathering at the Dana Mandi.

Torn between the SGPC and Punjab government is the Modi government, of which the SAD is an ally. While the state government has approached the Centre for financial aid, the Centre, which is also launching its own celebrations from New Delhi, has chosen the SGPC as its ‘knowledge partner’ to execute the educational and religious events it has planned for the year.

In a bid to bring the festivities under one umbrella, the Congress government in the state had reached out to the opposition SAD as well as the SGPC members but none of its efforts seem to have worked.

On Monday, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal met Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and invited him to join the SGPC celebrations. The chief minister pointed out that the SGPC should, in fact, be a part of the “mega celebrations” being planned by the government.  The meeting ended with an exchange of invitation cards.

Also read: Rivalry between Sikhs & Nirankaris is almost a century old

SGPC, SAD ignore repeated government offers

The Amarinder Singh government had invited opposition party leaders and the SGPC president to the first meeting of its organising committee held in February. But none of them turned up.

The CM then asked culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to connect with opposition leaders, with Sidhu promising that he would personally approach all opposition leaders and SGPC to persuade them to participate in this occasion collectively.

That hasn’t materialised either.

On 26 October when the chief minister constituted a 36-member state-level committee to prepare for the celebrations, he made the presidents of the state units of all the major political parties (Congress, SAD, BJP and AAP) as also the SGPC president as members of the committee.

A smaller executive committee of the state-level panel met Monday, where the chief minister once again appealed to all political parties, religious and social organisations to “set aside petty considerations” to celebrate the year.

That too was ignored. Instead, on 11 November, the SAD’s core committee created a nine-member sub-committee to assist SGPC in preparing for the celebrations.

State government seeks over Rs 2,000 crore from Centre

The Congress government, in June this year, sought financial assistance of Rs 2,145 crore from the Centre for infrastructure projects and special programmes that it wants to launch as a tribute to Guru Nanak.

These include Rs 875 crore for the upgrade of infrastructure of four historic towns; Rs 350 crore for setting up the Sri Guru Nanak Dev National Institute of Inter-Faith Studies at Amritsar; Rs 500 crore for setting up of a 500-bed Sri Guru Nanak Dev Medical College and Super-Specialty Hospital in Gurdaspur; Rs 200 crore for setting up a Heritage Village — Pind Babe Nanak Da, which will depict the life and times of the Guru.

The Prime Minister has constituted a National Implementation Committee (NIC) under the chairmanship of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to plan its own set of celebrations as also coordinate between central ministries and the state governments. Punjab chief minister, SGPC president and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal are its members. Three meetings of the committee have been held.

After one of the NIC meetings, held on 30 July, Sidhu alleged that the Modi government had offered the state just Rs 35 crore as against the demand of over Rs 2,100 crore. The NDA with SAD as its political ally is seen to be against the state government and is hence uncooperative, alleged the minister.

Also read: Pak army chief offers Guru Nanak peace corridor to Sidhu, BJP up in arms

Centre defines roles, leans towards SGPC

The Modi government has also sought to break the deadlock by defining roles for the SGPC and the state government, which initially appeared to have sidelined the Congress government.

In the NIC’s last meeting on 8 November, the union home minister is said to have made it clear that the SGPC will be the main coordinating authority for the celebrations.

Sidhu, who attended the meeting in the absence of the chief minister, was reportedly told that the state should submit its proposals to the central government through the SGPC.

In a press statement issued Monday, however, the Modi government clearly defined the roles of the SGPC and the Punjab government.

The Centre has agreed to develop Sultanpur Lodhi as a heritage city in collaboration with Punjab government. The National Institute of Inter-Faith Studies will be set up by the ministry of human resource development for which the state government will have to provide land. The ministry of Electronics and IT will install a high-powered telescope in India for the devotees to view Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan and the Sultanpur Lodhi railway station will be refurbished by the ministry of railways.

For religious activities such as kirtankatha, prabhat, pheri and langar, the Centre has stated that they will be held throughout the year, both at the national and international level, and SGPC will draw a calendar of activities and execute it. Educational activities such as seminars, workshops, lectures will be organised throughout the country by the ministry of human resource development in association with SGPC.

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