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Friday, January 21, 2022

Explained: The significance of Delhi government’s recognition to fifth Sikh Takht

🔴 The AAP-led Delhi Assembly has passed an amendment Bill, recognising Takht Damdama Sahib as the fifth Takht of Sikhs. What is a Sikh Takht, and how politically significant is the move?

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
Updated: January 6, 2022 1:02:33 pm
The Akal Takht. (Express File Photo by Rana Simranjit Singh)

Ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP)-led Delhi Assembly on Monday passed an amendment Bill to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1971, recognising Takht Damdama Sahib as the fifth Takht of Sikhs.

What is a Sikh Takht?

A Takht, which means a throne, is a seat of temporal authority for Sikhs. There are five Sikh Takhts, three in Punjab and one each in Maharashtra and Bihar.

Akal Takht: Located in Amritsar, it is the oldest of the Takhts, and considered supreme among the five. It was set up in 1606 by Guru Hargobind, whose succession as the sixth Guru after the execution of his father, Guru Arjan Dev, is considered a turning point in Sikh history. The Akal Takht, a raised platform that he built in front of the causeway leading to the sanctum sanctorum of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), symbolised the coming together of the temporal authority and the political sovereignty of the Sikh community (miri) with the spiritual authority (piri). It is seen as the first marker of Sikh nationalism. The Akal Takht is a five-storey building today; the first storey houses the Guru Granth Sahib.

The other four Takhts are linked to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.

Takht Keshgarh Sahib: Located in Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh raised Khalsa, the initiated Sikh warriors, in 1699.

Takht Patna Sahib: Guru Gobind Singh was born here in 1666.

Takht Hazur Sahib: In Nanded, where Guru Gobind Singh spent time and where he was cremated in 1708.

Takht Damdama Sahib: In Talwandi Sabo of Bathinda. Guru Gobind Singh spent several months here.

What does the amendment to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act mean?

Simply put, it adds one more ex officio member in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Managament Committee (DSGMC) house. Earlier, there were four ex officio members in the house — the chiefs (jathedars) of the other four Sikh Takhts.

Prior to this, the DSGMC house was of 55 member: 46 elected, two co-opted, two chosen through lottery from among the gurdwara Singh Sabhas, one nominated by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), and four jathedars of Sikh Takhts. If the Delhi Lieutenant Governor gives his approval to the amendment Bill and it becomes a law, it will make the chief of the Takht Damdama Sahib, too, an ex officio member in the DSGMC house, taking its strength to 56. Ex officio members have no voting rights in the house.

Is it the first time it has been recognised as the fifth Takht?

No. It was back in 1999 that Takht Damdama Sahib was recognised as the fifth Sikh Takht by the Union Home Ministry, which included it as such in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 (Punjab Act VIII of 1925) with a notification dated April 23, 1999. Before that, an SGPC sub-committee had declared it the fifth Takht of Sikhs back in November 1966 after Punjab was carved out as a separate state through the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said it was already recognised as the fifth Takht, and the amendment appeared only to be aimed at recognising it in consonance with the earlier amendment to the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925.

Former DSGMC president Manjit Singh G K, who fell out with SAD and has floated his own party, told The Indian Express: “I had first taken up this issue in March 2017 to make amendments to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act. Sentimentally, the correction has been made and it is a great thing for Sikhs. But, practically it is a cosmetic change.”

How politically significant is the move?

It comes ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Delhi’s ruling party, has high stakes. AAP’s Rajendra Pal Gautam, Minister for Gurdwara Elections in Delhi, told The Indian Express that the Bill was introduced and passed as “DSGMC had approached the Delhi government for this”. Gautam denied that it was linked to the Punjab elections.

Former SAD leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa, who recently switched over to the BJP and later withdrew his resignation as DSGMC president, said in a video message that he along with DSGMC office-bearer Harmeet Singh Kalka had met with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the Home Secretary about this. “After they agreed, today Delhi Vidhan Sabha has also approved this,” he said.

Gautam said: “Manjinder Sirsa is doing politics over this. It was the people’s demand and that is why it has been done. It has nothing to do with politics. It was a religious demand which has been fulfilled… The Centre has nothing to do with this.”

Sirsa said: “The only purpose for seeking the amendment was that the chiefs of four Takhts used to attend meetings of the DSGMC house and we wanted that the fifth Takht too should be recognised and its chief should attend the meetings.”

What is the role of the Sikh Takhts?

The Takhts are known to issue hukumnamas from time to time on issues that concern the Sikh community. Akal Takht is supreme among them because it is the oldest and was created by a Sikh Guru himself, say Sikh scholars. Any edict or order concerning the entire community is issued only from Akal Takht. Also, it is from Akal Takht that Sikhs found to be violating the Sikh doctrine and code of conduct are awarded religious punishment (declared tankhaiya) and even excommunicated, depending on the degree of violation and failure of adherence to directives of the highest temporal seat of Sikhs.

Scholars say the first hukamnama was issued by Guru Hargobind from Akal Takht. Today, the Akal Takht jathedar issues edicts for the community after deliberations with the chiefs of the other Takhts. A seal believed to have been used by Guru Gobind Singh for his edicts is preserved at Damdama Sahib.

Who appoints the jathedars of the Takhts?

The three Takhts in Punjab are directly controlled by the SGPC, which appoints the jathedars. The SGPC is dominated by SAD members. It is widely understood that SAD puts the final seal on the appointment of these three jathedars. The two Takhts outside Punjab have their own trusts and boards.

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