Breaking Badal hold over SGPC the aim, Mann stays on the offensive

Punjab CM launches latest salvo at Sukhbir Singh Badal for publicizing SGPC bank account details during flood relief.

In his latest attack on the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann earlier this week hit out at the Opposition party’s chief, Sukhbir Singh Badal, for making public the bank account details of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to seek donations for flood relief work underway in the state.

The Badal family and the SGPC — it is the highest body of Sikhs and manages gurdwaras — are closely intertwined, with the family over the decades said to have possessed a great degree of control over the organization and its top posts.

On Monday, Mann told reporters, “In which capacity is Badal issuing the number and seeking help from people? What can be more unfortunate than this? The organization that had taken birth after countless sacrifices is today a puppet in the hands of these leaders. These leaders always misused the SGPC for their own vested political interests.”

Other AAP leaders followed. Khanna MLA Tarunpreet Singh Sondh also alleged that SAD leaders had tried to stop district administration officials from distributing langar brought by SGPC for flood victims in the Khanna town of Ludhiana district.

These statements come days after Mann did not invite the SGPC to a discussion on a proposed amendment to the Anand Marriage Act, which deals with the registration of Sikh marriages. AAP Rajya Sabha MP Balbir Singh Seechewal, Sikh preacher Baljit Singh Daduwal, and Nihang body Budha Dal’s head Balbir Singh were, however, invited. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday but was postponed.

The main point of contention between the SGPC and Mann is the amendment in June of the Gurudwara Amendment Act that has made the live telecast of the holy Gurbani from Sri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar free-to-air. The SGPC opposed it, saying any amendment to the Act was possible only after its recommendations.

Referring to a pact between senior Akali leader Tara Singh and former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959 and Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said that before making any amendment in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, the approval of two-thirds of the members of SGPC’s General House must be sought.

“However, the Punjab government is making this interference with the aim of implementing the anti-Sikh ideology of his Delhi-based boss and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and to usurp SGPC,” Dhami alleged, adding that the anti-Sikh intention of the state government would not be “allowed to succeed at any cost and a struggle will be fought against it”.

In January, Mann sparked controversy with his statement that if folks (donation boxes) were removed from gurdwaras, SGPC members would have no interest to serve the body. The SGPC then demanded a public apology from Mann. Mann’s latest remarks indicate that the AAP government is pressing on with its strategy of taking on the Akalis in an attempt to potentially wean away the panic body from the Badal family and the SAD.

The relationship between the SAD and the SGPC goes back to each other’s inception. The SAD was formed as a volunteer group on December 14, 1920, to free gurdwaras from the control of mahants (priests) appointed by the British government. The SGPC had come into existence a month earlier on November 15.

The Badal faction of the party is now recognized as the SAD and backs a majority in the SGPC’s elected house. The party’s rivals and detractors allege that it derives its sustenance and relevance from the SGPC. At a time when the SAD has just three seats in the Assembly, its lowest tally ever, the SGPC is an asset.

Former Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh was known for taking on the AAP government on various issues and providing a more neutral defense of the SGPC over the last year. But, the newly appointed Akal Takht Jathedar, Giani Raghubir Singh, has remained passive so far.

This is not the first attempt by a party in power to end Badal’s control of the SGPC. In 2002, the SAD lost the 2002 Assembly polls but won the SGPC election. Captain Amarinder Singh who was then in the Congress is alleged to have made attempts to engineer defections in the SGPC to weaken the Badals. In response, the SAD shifted its SGPC members to Haryana and overcame the challenge.

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