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Kirpal Singh Badungar was unanimously elected Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) president on Saturday in the first meeting of the House elected in 2011. Badungar, however, is the only experienced hand in his team as all the newly appointed office-bearers in the in the 11-member executive committee and 15 members Dharam Parchar Committee are fresh faces.
This will be Badungar’s second stint as the SGPC president, the first being for a little less than two years and ending in July 2003.
By appointing Kirpal Singh Badungar as SGPC president, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has made an attempt to tackle several challenges it faces ahead of the 2017 Assembly. SAD’s humble face is new SGPC president elections in Punjab.
Badungar, who belongs to the Backward Classes community, has served as SGPC president earlier too, from November 2001 to July 2003. Later, the
SAD-BJP government appointed him as the chairman of Punjab State Backward Classes Commission. As SAD secretary prior to taking over as SGPC president in 2001, Badungar was a key political strategist in SAD, besides being the Officer on Special Duty to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Badungar (74) has authored six books on Sikhism. He was jailed during the Emergency. As his first SGPC president, he had an eventful tenure before he loyally stepped down to pave way for (late) Gurcharan Singh Tohra after the latter’s truce with SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal.
It was during the tenure of Badungar as SGPC president that Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was acknowledged as having been killed in Operation Bluestar on June 6, 1984. Akal Takht put an end to the controversy whether Bhindrawale was dead or alive by declaring him a martyr on June 6, 2003. Before the closure on the issue, Sikh seminary Damdami Taksal, among others, was insistent that Bhindranwale was alive and would emerge again. On June 6, 2003, SGPC honoured Bhindranwale’s son Ishar Singh with a robe of honour and declared to observe June 6 as the martyrdom day of Bhindranwale every year as per Nanakshahi calendar.
The Nanakshahi calendar, the tropical solar calendar to celebrate and observe events relating to Sikh gurus and Sikh history and which replaced the lunar-based Vikrami calendar, was approved on the occasion of Baisakhi in April 2003 at Talwandi Sabo when Badungar was the SGPC president. Currently, the Sikh community is divided over the calendar issue, with a section supporting the original Nanakshahi calendar and others going by the amended version of Nanakshahi calendar approved by the SGPC. The SAD and SGPC are also criticised over opting for the amended version under the influence of RSS.
After being named as SGPC president on Saturday, Badungar said the issue relating to calendar would be reviewed.
In the backdrop of last year’s setbacks to SAD over incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, controversial pardon and later revocation of pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, appointment of Badungar as SGPC president is being seen as one aimed at restoring the position of SGPC on Panthic turf.
“I give him full credit for 2003 Nanakshahi calendar as it was approved during his tenure as SGPC president,” said former SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta. On martyr status to Bhindranwale, Calcutta said a declaration to this effect was made way back in 1995 by Akal Takht during World Sikh Conference when Tohra was SGPC chief.
“The criteria is that the most obedient to Badals qualifies to be selected as SGPC chief. This is how Avtar Singh Makkar had made his way as SGPC president when no one knew about him. However, among the most obedient, the selection of Badungar is on merit. As far as Sikh tenets and principles are concerned, he has much more knowledge than his predecessor. How he fares would be a thing to watch for with SAD calling the shots in SGPC,” said Calcutta.
Calcutta said appointment of Badungar also assumes significance in the wake of “Sarbat Khalsa” being organised in
its second edition on November 10 at Talwandi Sabo.
Dalmegh Singh, also a former secretary of SGPC, hailed the appointment of Badungar praising him as “intellectual,
religious and seasoned person”. “SGPC has suffered setbacks in the past. I am hopeful, new president will ensure that SGPC regains its position,” said Dalmegh Singh.
“This is a welcome step. All the team [executive] is energetic. The new president [Badungar] is an experienced and dedicated scholar. He is a non-controversial figure. I am sure the new team would ensure improvement in the functioning of SGPC,” said SAD spokesperson and cabinet minister Daljit Singh Cheema.
United Akali Dal president Mohkam Singh said, “We welcome the appointment, but the new president should press for fresh SGPC polls since in the last six years many who voted in 2011 SGPC polls are no longer alive and there are scores of new voters. If Badungar fails to push for fresh elections, he would also be a failure.”