IN SIGNS of the growing rift between them, Deputy Chief Minister Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal and Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar held separate meetings of the SGPC executive committee members in the last two weeks.
The rival meetings could make Thursday’s scheduled SGPC executive meeting a stormy affair. They assume significance against the backdrop of the likely reorganisation of the SGPC once the Supreme Court disposes of a petition by the Sikh religious affairs body. The petition challenges a 2011 High Court verdict restoring voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs, and quashing a 2003 notification barring them from voting in SGPC elections.
The High Court verdict voided the 2011 election of SGPC. Since then the SGPC house has been in limbo. On the directions of the Supreme Court, a 15-member executive committee, headed by Avtar Singh Makkar, has executed SGPC affairs since then as an interim arrangement. 13 of these members are from Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal). The committee was the same as the one that existed before the 2011 elections, giving Makkar a long term in office.
Last month, the Parliament amended the Gurdwara Act to officially exclude Sehajdhari from the voting process. The next hearing of their petition in the Supreme Court is on July 7. With the Sehajdhari issue decided by Parliament, the SGPC has asked the court that the house elected in 2011 be allowed to function for the next five years.
On May 3, Sukhbir Badal, in his capacity as SAD (B) president, called a meeting of eight of the SAD members at his home in Chandigarh. Makkar, a member of the Akali Dal core committee, Makkar and four other SAD(B) executive members — Karnail Singh Panjoli, Sukhdev Singh Bahur, Rajinder Singh Mehta and Kewal Singh Badal — were not invited to the meeting. Bahur and Panjoli are known critics of the SAD’s leadership.
Suba Singh, one of the members present at the meeting, said that SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal asked them to pay more attention on the preaching of Sikh values.
Some others who attended said Sukhbir also cautioned members against setting up new colleges and making new recruitments on behalf of SGPC. The apex Sikh religious body has set up a number of colleges in the last decade or so, the time that Makkar has been president.
On May 5, Makkar called his own meeting, inviting the four others who were not called to Badal’s meeting. The group met at a famous international food chain shop on the Sarhind-Rajpura road. This gathering discussed the technical and political aspects of the meeting called by Sukhbir.
“Sukhbir is SAD president and he can call meeting of SGPC’s SAD(B) executive members, but not in the absence of SGPC president. He should have called Makkar,” said one committee member who attended the Makkar meeting.
Later Makkar also met Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal at which he brought up Sukhbir’s meeting, also offering his resignation. Punjab CM asked Makkar to stay on till the Supreme Court decision on SGPC’s plea to resume the house elected in 2011 for next five years.
The matter did not end there. Sukhbir visited Amritsar last Friday and held another closed door meeting with Rajinder Singh Mehta, who had attended the meeting called by Makkar, triggering speculation in SGPC circles.
“It was a personal meeting. There was nothing political in it,”said Mehta.
Makkar denies there is a rift between him and Sukhbir Badal.
“I am not going to resign. Everything is fine between me and SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal. In fact, I visited at his home today,” Said Makkar.
Commenting on his separate May 5 meeting with the four SGPC members, he said, “Some SGPC members just wanted to meet me. It was not in response to the meeting of Sukhbir with SGPC executive members.”
Calls to Sukhbir and his media advisor remained unanswered.