Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) house, last elected in 2011, will elect its new president on November 5. In an interview, Avtar Singh Makkar, SGPC president for the last 11 years, claims he is still not out of race. Excerpts:
Are you still a claimant for the post of president?
There is no question of not staking a claim. But the party has to take a final decision.
What is your biggest achievement in the last 11 years as the of SGPC president?
My biggest achievement is expansion of SGPC in education sector. Many new colleges and two universities, Guru Granth Sahib university and Guru Ramdas Medical university, have been opened during my tenure. These institutions have been performing high on the ranking by University Grant Commission and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). We have won Nehru Memorial Hockey cup for the third year in a row.
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But several times, Shiromani Aklai Dal (Badal) president and Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal has openly objected to SGPC’s advances in the field of education instead of religious preaching.
It is not that there was any lacking in the field of religious preaching. We have started talent hunt TV show to encourage reciting of Gurbani Kirtan among children and youth. Sikh youth have been baptizing in large numbers. They have been returning to the fold. We have taken many measures in field of preaching.
It means you do not agree with Sukhbir Singh Badal’s objection.
Our stress was not only education. I first improved the management within the SGPC. I ended the VIP culture that had penetrated into (Guru Ka Langar) community kitchen custom. The daily Katha (explanation of Gurbani) started at Manji Sahib Gurudwara. Also, SGPC did outstanding work during natural disasters in Kashmir and other parts of world. We have been providing free education to Kashmiri Sikh girls, including hostel and meals. We have given Rs 20 crore to fight the cancer problem in Punjab. We have constructed new modern inns for devotees. More than 1000 acres of SGPC land in different parts of Punjab have been freed from illegal possession.
Don’t you think SGPC men clashing with alleged encroachers of land also hurt the image of SGPC? Many of these pictures of clashes have been still moving on social networking sites.
It didn’t affect our image. People want there should be no illegal possession of the land of Guru Granth Sahib. And we have removed these possession under the protection of government and police. We never used violence for the purpose. There was one firing incident as the administration failed to provide protection under law. I have also increased the income of SGPC from the agricultural land. When I took over as president, SGPC was getting Rs 500 per acre annual rent for its agricultural land. Now, the minimum contract is given at Rs 20,000 to 25,000. Again, when I took over, the total budget of SGPC was Rs 250 crore. The last budget we came up with earlier this year was of Rs 1,060 crore.
Do you think party would consider your achievements while deciding on the new president?
My achievements and functioning are visible to everyone. I have also played constructive role when complex issues arise from time to time. My life is open and there is no blot of corruption on my career. But at the end of the day, it has to be decided by party.
Was the special post of chief secretary created in the SPGC administration last year a challenge to your authority as president?
You know everything. Don’t make me say anything on it.
But don’t you think decision-making powers should remain with the political leadership of SGPC and not with the administration?
I have not given him (Chief secretary Harcharn Singh) any authority. He is only doing file work.