Khalsa jee ke bol baalay: Reorganizing the Panth and Rebuilding Sikh Power
Throughout each period of political turbulence, the Khalsa has been guided by its commitment to Khalsa jee ke bol baalay, sarbat da bhala, and the establishment of halemi raj.
Throughout each phase of our history, the Guru Khalsa Panth has regrouped and revitalized its organizational structures to meet the needs and conditions of each era.
Today, alongside a deep internal leadership crisis, we are living amidst increasing political turmoil within the subcontinent as well as increasing geopolitical tension within the wider region. These conditions put the Panth and Punjab in an important position between multiple global powers and the millions of oppressed peoples who would be impacted by potential conflict. At this critical juncture, it is imperative that we engage in meaningful introspection about the state of our leadership structures and how this will shape our destiny in the next century.
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Throughout each period of political turbulence, the Khalsa has been guided by its commitment to Khalsa jee ke bol baalay, sarbat da bhala, and the establishment of halemi raj. Khalsa jee ke bol baalay, in particular, has always been at the heart of this project as the independent political power and sovereign decision-making authority of the Khalsa is necessary in order to achieve the latter two goals. This vision has been at the forefront of every phase of panthic mobilization from the misl period and Sirkar-e-Khalsa to the original emergence of the Akali Dal, and most recently, the ongoing struggle for Khalistan. In each example, our bazurg (ancestors) prioritized the development of sovereign, autonomous panthic power in order to confront and replace the political structures around us–not the other way around.
Rather than fixating on recreating ‘history’ or reviving old organizations along the exact same lines, gurmukhs of each era sought the support of Guru Granth-Panth and revitalized panthic traditions to embark on the path of sangarsh given the needs and conditions of the time. Accordingly, the need of the hour now is not just to revive organizational structures that worked in the past but to refocus on our vision and mission–and reflect on what organizational structures are needed to accomplish those today.
Khalsa jee ke bol baalay and electoral politics
In the aftermath of the recent Punjab state elections, there has been increasing concern about the decline of panthic politics, and the need to regroup panthic energy around a new political party. At the centre of this discussion is concern that the massive electoral loss of the Shiromani Akali Dal represents the decline of panthic politics as a whole. As we reflect on our next steps however, it is important to separate these two things in order to move forward in a way guided by Guru Granth-Panth.
The Akali Dal was first mobilized as a panthic collective dedicated to reasserting the Khalsa’s sovereignty, starting by wresting control of Sikh gurdware and institutions from the colonial-backed administration in the early 1900s. This mobilization gave Sikhs political direction built around decentralized grassroots organization, collective leadership, and radical direct action. While the Akali Dal began as a bold manifestation of sovereign Sikh organization and leadership against colonial rule, it has since declined into a disfigured shadow of its predecessors and reduced itself within the confines of Indian nationalism.
This degeneration was largely inevitable once the Akali Dal entered the arena of electoral politics within the institutions setup by the British–with the very purpose to facilitate our colonial domination (i.e. the political and administrative structures of the Indian state). The Akali Dal, like all parties confined to upholding the Indian constitution, began to fulfill a function to further the assimilatory politics of the Indian state.
Internalizing the logic of Western political systems, the Akali leaders that eventually emerged from the bureaucratic structure of the political party led the organization to its downfall as a result of their pursuit of subedari (subordinated/borrowed power) from the Delhi takhat. Disconnected from their honourable legacy, the Akali Dal turned away from its original commitment to Khalsa jee ke bol baalay, and instead embarked upon the selfish pursuit of power and money.
To achieve this personalized desire for power, the Akali Dal gradually began distorting the definition of the Khalsa–reducing it from its sublime form as the Guru Khalsa Panth to a simple vote bank based on a cultural identity–and subsequently portrayed their respective political party as the Panth itself, or at least ‘the representative body’ of the Panth.
This process has had a massive impact on Sikh politics and mobilization over the past century.
Prior to this, the Guru Khalsa Panth always operated as a concrete institution with a clear distinction between the divine patshahi bestowed upon the Khalsa, and its objective to establish halemi raj in this world. The Panth itself was the overarching guiding force and organizational framework of Sikh mobilization. Through the mechanisms of collective leadership (manifested in the Sarbat Khalsa) and gurmatta-based decision making, the Panth always moved as a collective entity–temporarily organizing smaller jathay (units) or misls as necessary to accomplish immediate objectives. This organizational structure itself was acknowledged as the embodiment of the Khalsa’s sovereignty (patshahi) and the core power base upon which the Khalsa established external structures of raj (political governance/administration).
With the shift of the Akali Dali into an electoral party, a dynamic was created–with the full support of the colonial state–in which the party began to replace the Panth as the fulcrum of Sikh power, organization, and decision-making. As a result, electoral results–subordinate to another power–became our measure of success rather than the objective of Khalsa jee ke bol baalay.
This had three key impacts on our collective consciousness:
The electoral party replaced the Panth as our concrete organization for leadership and decision-making;
Electoral gains–subedari by its very definition–became our goal instead of Khalsa jee ke bol baalay; and
Our means of building political power became entirely dependent on state structures rather than our own independent institutions.
This has impacted the way we conceptualize our mobilization to this day. Rather than generating grassroots sources of power to counter oppressive empires, we have now fixated all of our attention on operating within state-controlled institutions of power–whether that be the SGPC or the Punjab state assembly.
Our work today is not only to once again reconnect our sovereign existence to the concrete organization of the Guru Khalsa Panth, but to rebuild our own political power through autonomous institutions, rather than seeking subedari (borrowed power) or reforming the political structures of the Indian state.
The building blocks of Sikh power
The Guru Khalsa Panth plays a central role within the wider Sikh sangat, as it is the Khalsa that is Guru-roop (collectively the form of the Guru) itself. The Khalsa anchors its sovereign authority in the patshahi bestowed upon it by the Guru, manifesting this sovereignty in the world through the institutions of the Sarbat Khalsa and Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib–not a political party subordinate to the Indian state.
Staying firm to the Khalsa’s tradition of sutantar vicharna (remaining independent) and the steadfast commitment to be sovereign or resist (baagi ja baadshah), these qualities can be seen throughout history in Misl Shaheedan, the early Akali Dal, and Sikh jujharoo jathebandiyan in recent times. These organizations refused the enticement of subordinated political power (subedari) and instead, maintained their primary loyalty to building and protecting the Khalsa’s sovereignty and mobilizing this power to establish raj.
This sovereignty has always been rooted in the institutions of the Khalsa itself rather than relying upon the dominant political structures of the time. From the base of sangat and decentralized jathay (units) to the governance of Sri Akaal Takhat and Sarbat Khalsa, the Khalsa builds its own power then expands outwards to establish halemi raj as an external political structure. This administrative political structure, dedicated to achieving sarbat da bhala, remains separate from the Khalsa itself.
As Punjab, the wider region, and the entire global order are currently undergoing massive shifts, our actions today will have long-lasting impacts much further than we can see—similar to the period prior to 1947. It is imperative that the interest and energy going into the discussions about reviving the Akali Dal are not limited to electoral politics and the recalibration of political parties seeking subedari from the Delhi takhat.
Ultimately, we must sever our imbalanced reliance on political parties and elections as our sole focus when we think of Sikh politics. This system will always be vulnerable to the weaknesses of individual leaders, centralized and bureaucratic structures, and the constant interference and repression of the Delhi takhat. Particularly given the volatility of the current political climate, we need to focus instead on rebuilding the autonomous, decentralized organizational structures of the Khalsa alongside an effective mechanism for collective leadership that reflects our current realities and is committed to gareeb di rakhiya, jarvanay di bhakhiya (protection of the poor, destruction of the tyrants).
Grounding our politics in these independent institutions will be crucial to maintaining our stability and strength in the face of potential conflict and a rapidly changing environment. Our priority must be to rejuvenate the strength of our panthic institutions on our own terms, in order to build our political power and effectively move towards achieving Khalsa jee ke bol baalay and the establishment of halemi raj, Khalistan, today.
-ਖਾਲਿਸਤਾਨ ਕੇਂਦਰ | @KhalistanCentre | www.khalistan.org
The Khalistan Centre is dedicated to supporting and cultivating Gurmat-driven leadership to further the struggle for Khalistan.