by Verpal Singh
[Paper presented at Institute of Sikh Studies’ Annual Seminar in 1998.]
This paper deals with the way Khalsa should go about its job rather than what it should achieve in the 21st century. There are some immediate reasons for trying to mark the way and some reasons are embedded in our history. Both factors, historical as well as contemporary, point towards the tenuous position of the Jathedar of Akal Takht. Is he (Jathedar) a dictator? Is the hukamnama issued from the Akal Takht, issued in the name of ‘Jathedar Akal Takht’ or in the name of ‘Panj Pyare’? If it is the latter case then is the Jathedar of Akal Takht head of the Panj Pyare or first among equals? Also, when Gurbani teaches us about equality of all the human beings, then how do we explain the higher status accorded to the Takht Jathedars? These are some of the gray areas which need to be tackled in the light of some recent verdicts of the Akal Takht which have created controversy in the Panth.
Before tackling the question of the position of the Jathedar of Akal Takht, I would like to propose, in the light of the recent happenings, that it be made a rule that when a person is summoned before the Akal Takht they must appear as ordinary Sikhs so that when they are judged, they are judged like any one else and thus no impression may go out that a person has been dealt with leniently or harshly because of the position they might hold. In case they are exonerated (without leaving any doubt in anyone’s mind) they should be free to assume their position of leadership again. But if the person is convicted then they must be barred for a period (length of the period depending upon the gravity of the transgression) from holding any position of leadership. This system is needed because if a leader is good they will have nothing to fear in resigning their post as they can confidently retain it once they are exonerated. And if he/she is a dyed-in-the-wool type of a leader and is exonerated but finds it difficult to resume his/her previous position then too it will benefit the Panth. But if the leader is convicted then he/she must be barred for a period because once they have committed a mistake, they have shown a weakness of judgment which, if allowed to remain, can end up harming the Panth. They would be expected to work on their weakness during the period of disbarment, so that the same mistake does not happen again.
However for the whole Panth to honour the verdict of the Akal Takht, it becomes necessary that every verdict be debated threadbare so that when the verdict is pronounced it leaves not even an iota of doubt in the mind of any Sikh anywhere in the world; and the whole community, like a single entity, ensures the implementation of the decision taken. But this threadbare debate is not possible in the present setup, where the Takht Jathedars are employees of SGPC and can be removed by it. SGPC as we know is an elected body for which only a section of Sikhs votes. Thus, in a way, the Jathedars of the Takhts in Punjab represent only the people of this region (while the Jathedars of Takht Sri Patna Sahib and Takht Sri Hazoor Sahib, represent their respective regions). Thus we heard after the hukamnama on langar, Canadian Sikhs saying that they ‘would not be dictated to by outsiders’, meaning people of Punjab. This sort of division must be removed before it reaches unmanageable proportions.
To overcome this problem, I propose that there be a resolution by the SGPC, making the election of the Jathedar a direct affair in which every Sikh, whichever part of the world they might be living in, may participate. And this should be independent of the government of India, or any other government.
How we can make it possible for every Sikh in the world to directly participate in the decision making process I shall make clear presently.
Sikhism being a universal doctrine, we have got Sikhs of different nationalities, belonging to different races and different cultures. If the Jathedar who judges their actions, is an employee of the SGPC, an organisation which depends for its existence on the Indian government calling elections to it, then there is bound to be resentment amongst the non-Punjabis and for valid reasons too. Sikhism, must not become Punjab-centric.
To prevent this what can be done is to mark out the constituencies of the five Takhts in India with Jathedars being elected to the four Takhts and a Deputy Jathedar being elected to the Akal Takht (Deputy Jathedar in case of the Akal Takht, so as to maintain the supremacy of the Jathedar’s post intact. But there shall be no person appointed as Jathedar of Akal Takht). Then, in the same way constituencies can be marked for election of Jathedars from countries other than India. Minimum and maximum number of Sikhs required to form a constituency can be determined. And when the Jathedars of all the Takhts meet, their collective presence should be considered equal to that of the Jathedar of Akal Takht. And also when all the Jathedars meet representing all the Sikhs of the world, it will be another form of Sarbat Khalsa with the unanimous decisions taken being given the status of Gurmatta. This mode of taking decisions will also help mobilise the community as a whole. It will no longer keep the Jathedar of Akal Takht under some organisation and will prevent the decisions of the Takht dependent upon the person occupying it instead of on the Gurbani principles, as should be the case. It will prevent Sikhism becoming Punjab-centric, or racial or vested interests’ controlled. The question of ‘outsiders’ will also be solved.
Two problems need to be resolved. One, which method of election should be adopted to elect the Jathedars ? I think it should be by open ballot because secret ballot seems to indicate an element of fear in the mind of the voter which stops them from publicly proclaiming their choice. After the first ballot their should be a second ballot in which the elected candidate should be given a second vote with everyone citing their reason for supporting or opposing them. And it is only after the candidate has answered the objections raised against them that they can be finally placed as Jathedar. This seems necessary in order to bring unanimity in the election of the Jathedar, as they are expected to represent all the Sikhs in their constituency and not only those who have voted for them in the first ballot.
The second problem seems to be the venue where the Jathedars should meet. Without question the best venue is the Akal Takht. But it is also true that the government of India might prevent such meeting using the denial of visa route, or laws like Section 144 of IPC, etc. To overcome this problem, it would be ideal if Vatican-type status can be achieved for Amritsar Sahib. Till this is done, the Sarbat Khalsa in its new form can meet at an alternative venue anywhere in the world where such obstacles are not present.
With such a global system I do not think there is anything the Khalsa can not achieve in the 21st century.