Punjab CM Mann’s ‘free Gurbani’ move puts Akali politics to the test

Both the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the body responsible for managing gurdwaras, and the century-old Shiromani Akali Dal party have reacted sharply to the passage of the Bill

Updated - September 26, 2023 05:19 pm IST

Published - June 22, 2023 02:50 am IST - CHANDIGARH

Representational image of the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara in Punjab

Representational image of the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara in Punjab | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

With the passage on Tuesday of the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann says will free the undue control of a “particular family” over the rights to telecast the sacred Gurbani, the politics of Sikh (‘panthic’) issues have returned to centerstage in Punjab.

Gurbani broadcast rights are granted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body responsible for the management of gurdwaras in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. The rights are currently with G-Next Media (PTC Channel), owned by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal. Opposition parties allege the SAD has destroyed the autonomy of the SGPC and the Akal Takht, the highest Sikh temporal seat.

SAD, a century old party that claims to be the sole representative of the Sikh (‘panthic’) community, suffered a drubbing in the last two Assembly elections, indicating the ‘panthic’ support base of the party has eroded substantially. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) move could test the SAD at at time when the party and its leadership have hit a rough patch.

“...It was a paradoxical situation that the SGPC, under the influence of a ‘family’ that controls its affairs, had given intellectual property rights of telecasting the sacred Gurbani to a channel owned by them,” Mr. Mann said as the Bill was passed in the Punjab Assembly.

Sharp reactions

Both the SGPC and the SAD reacted sharply. Even the Akal Takht suggested the State government should not “interfere” in the affairs of the Sikh organisation and find a solution through dialogue with the SGPC.

“This day will be remembered in black letters in the 103-year-long history of the SGPC when the Aam Aadmi Party Government of Punjab passed an unconstitutional Bill by directly interfering in gurdwara management,” SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said while rejecting the Bill.

“This will not be allowed to be implemented at any cost. The Sikh community will never forget this attack on the Sikh organisation by the Punjab Government in Independent India,” he added.

Mr. Dhami said a “special general session” of the SGPC had been called on June 26 for deliberations on the issue. “...if the Mann government tries to implement this black law, then the Sikh community knows how to deal with it,” he warned.

Terming the Bill “a provocative and brazen interference in the religious affairs of the Khalsa Panth and an assault on Sikh religious institutions”, senior Akali Dal leader Daljeet Singh Cheema said the SAD had cautioned the Chief Minister against what he termed “pushing an already anarchy-stricken Punjab State into the flames of communal fire”.

The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has also criticised the AAP on the issue and its party leaders have advised the government to not interfere in matters of religion or sects. The Chief Minister, however, has been maintaining that the Bill in no way interferes with religious affairs but is rather a simple step to ensure the Gurbani reaches every household.

With the AAP’s decision creating ripples in a section of society across the State, the political temperature is set to rise in the coming days, even as parties prepare themselves for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.  

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