The four-year-old amendment in Section 11 of the Takht Sri Nanded Board Act, 1956, allowing the Maharashtra government to appoint the president of the board suddenly sparked a row this week when the head priest of Hazur Sahib passed a resolution seeking to revoke the amendment. It was followed by Akali leaders and the divided clergy speaking in one voice against the BJP government’s alleged intervention in Sikh affairs. Akali leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa went to the extent of threatening to break the SAD-BJP alliance. This, in turn, prompted Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate Rashtriya Sikh Sangat to accuse Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) of fuelling this row in order to continue its stranglehold on the clergy. Here is a look at the play of history and politics behind this row.
What is the Gurdwara Sachkhand Board, Nanded?
Takhat Hazur Sahib in Nanded, Maharashtra, is one of the five Sikh takhts. It is of great historical importance as the 10th Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh passed away here. As per the Maharashtra government’s Gurdwara Board Act, 1956, the Gurudwara Sachkhand Board Nanded looks after the management of the Takht Hazur Sahib with an annual budget of around Rs 100 crore. It also has property worth crores.
Seeds of the controversy
Traditionally, the president of the board is democratically elected by its 17 board members. But in 2015, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Maharashtra amended Section 11 of the Act giving itself the power to directly appoint the board president.
BJP MLA Tara Singh became first government appointee on the president’s post in 2015 and completed his tenure in October 2018. He continues to be the officiating president of the board. The 2015 amendment is now being seen as governmental interference in Sikh affairs. Since the post of the president is vacant, various Sikh bodies are demanding that the amendment be revoked, and the president be appointed by the 17 board members as was done before 2015. This Monday, Kulwant Singh, Jathedar of Takht Hazur Sahib, passed a resolution to this effect and called on Nanded Deputy Commissioner. Some board members also met CM Devendra Fadnavis with this resolution. On Tuesday, Union Minister Harsimrat Badal also tweeted, requesting the Maharashtra CM to review the amendment.
The RSS angle
Sikh bodies see Tara Singh, the president appointed by the Maharashtra government as an RSS man though Singh himself claims that he has nothing to do with the Sangh and affiliated to BJP. RSS-affiliate Rashtriya Sikh Sangat jumped into the controversy on Wednesday accusing Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) of crying foul because it will no longer be able to dictate its terms under the new system.
“The Maharashtra government has waived off Rs 62 crore debt of the board. It has given it financial support for celebration of anniversaries. What is wrong if it makes an appointment. After all, it will only appoint a Sikh,” said Sikh Sangat Mahasachiv Avtar Singh Shastri.
Gurmeet Singh, a member of the Hazur Sahib board, attributed the amendment to the RSS’s desire to control Sikh institutions. He said the amendment was made to accommodate four-time MLA Tara Singh. Since Fadnavis was not in position to make him a minister, he put him at the helm of the board.
After the outburst of SAD leader and outgoing general secretary of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee Manjinder Singh Sirsa warning that the amendment could cause a rift between the BJP and the Akalis, the latter have reacted in a measured manner. SAD (B) leader Daljit Singh Cheema said, “Our opposition to the amendment is in principle. No state government can be allowed to appoint the head of any Sikh institution. We have raised the issue with CM Devendra Fadnavis and we are hopeful that it will be sorted out.”
Sikh Sangat which alleged SAD(B) for misusing Akal Takht to break deal with Dera Sirsa head Gurmeet Ram Rahim just before 2014 Assembly elections voting day. But then SGPC came with a statement against Sikh Sangat on Thursday and said that RSS was trying to create confusion and SGPC will not allow any kind of intervention in Sikh affairs.