The fast track of controversies in Sikh politics is providing a lot of ammunition to warring factions to slit each other’s throats. It appears as if the leadership has lost its center and everything is getting out of control. The amazing thing is that they are full of passionate energy to strike a fatal blow to their own existence. They are least concerned for the audience that expects something soothing and mellifluous from their harp. The most quoted poet W.B. Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming” woefully announces the trail of bloodshed in the atmosphere of conflict and clash.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimm'd tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Enemies from the outside relish the explosive state of affairs as it projects Sikhs in contradiction with their own religion and politics. Claims of gender equality, casteless society, and dignified life for themselves and others sound hollow when Sikh leaders exhibit a hysterical, brutal and intolerant mindset. The consequent loss cannot be measured in easy terms.
Remembering Ajmer Singh Malhi, a math teacher in Oakland, his friend Bob Swanson wrote: "On January 23, 2000 Ajmer died a Martyr's Death in the service of God and Guru. He was gunned down in the El Sobrante Gurdwara where he served devotedly as Secretary. His blood was spilled at the feet of the Guru Granth Sahib. He has now merged with the lord who he served so well. God Bless you and thank you. Please remember me to the Guru. Ajmer, I will miss you. Your Friend Bob Swanson"
Joga Singh Sandher approached Ajmer Singh Malhi to give him time for addressing the congregation. Malhi denied him an opportunity as earlier on being granted permission to speak; he could not sound coherent in his speech. Sandher shot Malhi dead not caring for 300 members of the congregation and the presence of Guru Granth Sahib in the sanctum sanctorum. An angry Sikh had killed another one in a similar fashion in a Florida Gurdwara a year earlier. The clashes have often taken place in the historical Gurdwara at Stockton in California. British Columbia in Canada is well known for strongholds of hardliners and moderates. Ugly scenes are not only common, but have become a necessary part of Sikh politics there. In Fremont, California, the management of Gurdwara split apart sooner than later announcing the beginning of litigious politics sliding into the same pit that it had reacted against in a struggle to win the election..
Moderates and hardliners are often at loggerheads in management of Sikh Gurdwaras, societies, organization and events; the sharp divide between the two goes beyond tolerance. The worst part is that there is no third party that has the capacity and clout to bring them on the negotiation table for a conflict reduction, mediation and resolution. In fact the possibility of resolution is dismissed before exploring any possibilities. The resulting situation is the one Sikhs have recently witnessed in Amritsar on the occasion of commemorating the establishment of Akal Takht by sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib. Simranjit Singh Mann was invited to attend the function but was not given time when he wanted it. It spoilt the whole show of the historic celebrations. Fortunately, no loss of life occurred, but turbans came off heads of SGPC president, Avtar Singh Makkar, Akali Dal(A) head Simranjit Singh Mann and many others. The physical attack on the turban is worse than the death according to a devout Sikh. It is symbolic of loosing balance of mind and body. Sikhs in such circumstances are the object of contempt and curse of the public. The loathsomeness is ten times higher for representative Sikhs since they are considered a bundle of contradictions. What they claim to uphold for the posterity, is just an antithesis of their own value system.
Management of religious institutions, programs, celebrations and events by most Sikh bodies seems to be an uphill task. The clashes, murders and vulgarity in expressions often hurt common Sikhs as such incidents project an image of intolerance and use of violence to settle the score over petty matters. Opposition parties trade charges against each other. Sometimes these go beyond common decency. The spectators complain of becoming sick at the exposure of main players’ immoral stance and insensitivity to feelings of Sikhs. It creates an adverse effect on younger generations of Sikhs who receive ambiguous messages when taught about Sikhi in the same Gurdwaras where they become eyewitnesses to vulgar, violent and vicious display of behavior of the so called guardian of Sikhism.
The sensational theme of Behzti had inflamed the sentiments of U.K. Sikhs who had forced the cancellation of show in the country. Many advocates of the community argued that the writer chose the Gurdwara to defame the whole community. The rape can’t take place in holy places, was the argument. Zee T.V.’s telecast on the ruckus created during the celebration of the establishment of Akal Takht was not liked by many, because it hurt their sentiments. Some tried even to blame the news channel for presenting leaders disheveled beyond recognition in the melee.
The general amnesty pronounced by Akal Takht Jathedar created turmoil in Panthic circles. It took time for Panthic organizations to decide their position on the issue. ‘The response was not only predictable but also as ambivalent as ever. The unprecedented call for pardoning should have been seen in the background of Sikhism’s tolerance for diversity of opinions’, say people supporting Badal group. On the other hand, the opposite parties interpret the move as a political ploy to allow RSS to damage Sikh institutions. ‘If Badal was playing in the hands of RSS and BJP, Panthic parties were playing in the hands of Congress. Both subscribe to Hindutva in a deft way. Congress can not be absolved of 1984 massacre and BJP is responsible for Gujrat mayhem. What is the difference in the two?’ argued a Sikh from Fresno. He further elaborated that warring factions of Sikhs are playing everybody else’s game except their own.
One opinion is that the Jathedar’s general pardon is seen as a conciliatory move to dispel doubts of many that the historic body was being used by Parkash Singh Badal and his cohorts. The general accusation was that the Jathedar was punishing only opponents of Badal as it happened in the case of Sarna brothers. If that was true then a greater number among the guilty should be the opponents of Badal. In that respect, the amnesty should benefit more Badal’s critics as it would allow them to be reintroduced into the Panth without any religious punishment. But Panthic parties saw more into the Jathedar’s game and that was the RSS’s angle to it. The secret meeting of BJP’s Navjot Singh Sidhu and Parkash Singh Badal with Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti has been taken seriously.
The historic address of the Jathedar may be the result of deep down realizations on his part and SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar that arrangements for the celebrations of 400 years of the establishment of the Akaal Takhat were not scrupulously made to avoid unsavory situation like the one that happened on the auspicious day.
Whatever the reasons of such a broad appeal might have been, yet one thing is clear that it is the beginning of a new phase in Sikh politics. The conflict resolution, mediation, minimum consensus and common grounds are some of the topics most Sikh bodies disdain. They entirely reject each other’s existence. That is why they are dubbed as total agents of one or the other party.
To atone for the unsavory situation during the program for 400 year establishment of the Akal Takht institution, thousands hailing from different groups joined in prayer. The usurpation of the stage to monitor the historic celebrations by Simranjit Singh Mann’s supporters previously was the high point of contentious politics of Akali groups. The traditional Akali Dal and SGPC on the one hand, splintered Akali groups known as Panthic organizations, Sarna brothers, Capt. Amrinder Singh on the other had been debating the tragic past of killings of thousands of people on both sides. One side blamed the other for using religious institutions for political and monetary gains, the other accused of ethnic cleansing of Sikhs through operations like Blue Star and distortions of history.
Capt. Amrinder Singh in his capacity as Chief Minister tried to have his influence in the SGPC, but failed to dent the determinations of Badal supporters. He recognized that Badal’s Achilles’ heel was Gurcharan Singh Tohra and his honest and humble origin. He employed Prof. Balkar Singh to write a book on veteran leader S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Balkar Singh is now in the frontline to become vice chancellor of Punjabi University Patiala. Critics point out that the move was to embolden Tohra’s supporters within Akalis to engineer a mutiny in favor of Panthic organizations. Such a move was not only necessary for the Congress comeback in the state, but also the only option left in the wake of anti-Congress campaign by Parkash Singh Badal. The case of Manjit Singh Calcutta was expected to be a massive blow to the stature of Badal, but it only created a whimper. Calcutta had openly declared his membership in Badal’s critics’ camp on failing to get the covetous post of the president of SGPC.
In the wake of the prevailing situation, the disruption of the ceremonies of the SGPC for the commemoration of the establishment of the Akal Takht was inevitable. On that day Mann and his party appeared on the scene as if it was their religious duty to knock down the influence of ‘Mahant’ Badal. In their haste to embarrass him, they forgot to show respect to ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ in whose authority all were savoring lectures from speakers of diverse backgrounds. Badal’s enemies were so much imbued with their hatred for his leadership that they held only him responsible for the disrespect shown to Guru Granth Sahib.
Mann’s appearance at the Akal Takht and his acceptance of the edict of the five high priests started the reversal process. Panthic organizations that supported Mann and accused Parkash Singh Badal for the disrespect were left high and dry. According to their expectations, Mann would disobey the high priests on similar lines as the editor of Spokesman, Joginder Singh, and the author of the controversial books Kala Afgana did. The anticipation of embarrassing Jathedar Vedanti and SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar by Mann at his appearance before the Akal Takht Jathedar and high priests disappointed many who had sworn their allegiance to him.
The amnesty announced to bring back excommunicated leaders into the fold of the Panth is like atoning for the sins of the excommunicated people. Jathedar Vedanti’s has done an unprecedented gesture that has historical ramifications and even metaphysical dimensions for many sects to embrace Guru’s blessing, opined an Amritdhari Sikh in Fremont. They have been given one chance to embrace Sikhism as has been enshrined in the code of conduct. How many will respond to this call of the Jathedar, will be seen in the times to come.
At the same time Panthic organizations have given a call to liberate gurdwaras from the stronghold of Akalis. The only way to achieve their goal is to create their influence at the grassroots level by exhibiting a sense of responsibility, an art of statesmanship and consistency of opinions.