Former Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar tells The Indian Express that the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was the Punjab Deputy Chief Minister in previous government, had informed him about the plans to get a pardon for Dera Sacha Sauda head, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, from Akal Takht, but he had advised him against the move. Makkar was the president of SGPC when the crisis broke out in 2015. While Sukhbir has always denied any interference in SGPC and Akal Takht affairs, especially about pardon for the Dera head, Makkar suggests otherwise.
Did you know about the plans to pardon Dera Sacha Sauda head?
No, I did not. I came to know about it only when Sukhbir Singh Badal called me to his residence in Chandigarh and informed about the plans on the morning of September 24, 2015. I warned him again any such move. I advised him to first consult all Sikh bodies and take them into confidence. Sukhbir agreed to my suggestions and told me to meet him again in the evening. I left for the Karnal for some function and, on the way, I got a WhatsApp message that Akal Takht had issued pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief. I was shocked at the development as I was not expecting it so soon.
Do you think the pending release of Dera head’s movie ‘MSG’ was the reason for this hurried decision?
I can’t say if the pending release of movie was a reason behind the hurry or something else. Only Sukhbir can explain it.
With you as president, SGPC issued advertisements in newspapers in support of the Akal Takht decision to give pardon to the Dera head on October 16, 2015. And on the same day Sikh Jathedars revoked the decision of pardon.
This is my point. I was taken into confidence neither before issuing pardon nor before revoking it. We, at SGPC, were trying to protect the honour of Akal Takht by asking people to support decision made on the behalf of Akal Takht, but Giani Gurbachan Singh was bent upon destroying the honour of Akal Takht.
After the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report was made public many SAD leaders, including Rajya Sacha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, have been demanding removal of Giani Gurbachan Singh. Why was his removal not considered in 2015?
His removal was considered in 2015, but we couldn’t find any good candidate for the post as people were angry and the atmosphere was not in our favour. No decent candidate was ready to accept the post at that time so we couldn’t remove Giani Gurbachan Singh. But now he should be removed at any cost. It is again difficult to find someone decent to replace him due to the present atmosphere. But SGPC should get rid of him whether it finds someone suitable or not.
You developed differences with Sukhbir Singh Badal during last years of your tenure. What was the core problem?
I was appointed as SGPC president due to the blessings of Parkash Singh Badal and his late wife Surinder Kaur Badal. When I was appointed SGPC president for sixth time in row, I thanked her personally even though she was seriously ill and bed-ridden. She told me that I was a member of Badal family and I will remain the SGPC president. Later, after she passed away, the Supreme Court suspended the results of 2011 SGPC elections and I had to continue till the case got resolved. It is at this time that Sukhbir developed a doubt that I was trying to delay the case to remain president. He also questioned my policy to strengthen the SGPC-run educational institutes. There was a lobby within SGPC that would incite Sukhbir against me. This lobby was actually against urban Sikhs and I would be called a ‘Bhapa’ (a derogatory term for non-Jat Sikhs) in SGPC and SAD meetings. Before removing me, Sukhbir had asked me who should be appointed SGPC president and I told him that he or she should be a religious figure and not political.
But going against your suggestion Gobind Singh Longowal is now the SGPC president, who actually sought votes from Dera Sacha Sauda in 2017 assembly elections while contesting on SAD(B) ticket from Lehragaga. How is his appointment justified?
Vekho ji, jinu Sukhbir ne bana ta oh jayej hi si (Look, anyone appointed by Sukhbir is justified).