Sahajdhari Sikhs, or those who practice the Sikh faith without strictly adhering to its five basic tenets, will not be able to vote in elections to religious bodies under the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) as per an amendment passed in Parliament to a decades-old law. The move fulfilled a long-pending demand from the community ahead of Punjab polls next year.
The Lok Sabha passed the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2016, to incorporate the change even as the Congress opposed it saying it “seeks to divide families”. The government defended the move saying it was as per a demand from the SGPC itself.
“Those who are qualified to stand for the elections to the various posts should alone be qualified to vote in those elections,” BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi told the Lok Sabha during the discussion. Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittoo got engaged in a war of words with her and also with a visibly agitated Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who had raised objections to “non-Sikhs discussing matters concerning the management of the Sikh faith”. “It is for the Sikhs to decide who should vote for their gurdwaras and who should not. If anybody has an objection, I do not think non-Sikhs are in a position to decide who is a Sikh and who is not,” Harsimrat said even as Congress’s Santokh Singh Chaudhary said that MPs discussing an amendment in Parliament was not the same as “anybody discussing matters of the Sikh faith”.
As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, only Sikhs who follow all the fundamental tenets of being a Sikh can contest the election. But as per a 1944 rule, the electorate included Sahajdhari Sikhs as voters as well —- a tradition decried by the Sikh community.
“The SGPC office-bearers and members have often demanded that those who are not Sikhs should not be given voting rights (to select members of the board and committees constituted under the Act). The SPGC General Assembly of 2001 also passed a resolution regarding this. The High Court has said that a competent legislature needs to pass the Bill. Even the Rajya Sabha has passed the Bill unanimously,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha while replying to the discussion on the Bill.
The Congress’s contention was that Sahajdhari Sinkhs had been given a right to vote by a 1944 rule under the Act and that the right should not be taken away because Sahajdharis were followers of the same faith.