Reestablishing Sovereign Self-Governance: Panth Sewak Collective
As news emerges that SGPC-appointed jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh, has been unilaterally replaced by the SGPC executive committee, serious questions must be asked about the role and selection process of the jathedar of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib. In this collective statement from May 23, the Panth Sewak Collective shines light on the way colonial powers have undermined Sikh sovereignty and self-governance by directly subordinating Sri Akaal Takhat to the Indian state. Restoring our own sovereign self-governance is a crucial prerequisite to formulating any cohesive panthic leadership that is capable of addressing our contemporary challenges today. The Collective has announced a gathering at Sri Anandpur Sahib to outline the initial steps in this collective process to move towards consensus, collective decision-making, and regenerate panthic leadership structures to further our ongoing sangarsh.
Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib is a timeless institution that has been gifted to the Khalsa panth by Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib jee, the master of Miri-Piri. Sri Akaal Takhat is the temporal institutionalization of the patshahi bestowed upon the Guru Khalsa Panth by Akaal Purakh.
Those who embody the timeless ideals of the Khalsa have been called "Akalis" throughout history and have been entrusted with the seva and governance of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib. These Akalis have always remained true to Guru Sahib's ideal of sutantar vicharna (remaining independent/autonomous) and accordingly, have existed above any worldly powers, governments, or laws. Manifesting these principles in practice, the Khalsa developed a unique system of seva sambhal over Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib in which a jatha (unit) of Akalis is granted the seva sambhal and the jathedar of this jatha is known as the jathedar of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib. Akali Baba Phoola Singh jee was the jathedar of Buddha Dal and the seva of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib had been entrusted to the Buddha Dal which is how Akali Baba Phoola Singh became known as the jathedar of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib itself. This is how the sovereign self-governance of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib has always been based around a jatha, imbibing the selfless values of Akaal and instituting the principles of panch pradhani collective leadership and gurmatta-based decision-making
When the Firanghi (British colonizers) colonized Punjab, they made a concerted effort to completely eliminate the Akali Singhs and thereby took control over Sikh institutions themselves. When Sikhs in the 1920s embarked on a sangarsh (struggle) to take back control of Sikh institutions, they focussed on three central objectives: taking over the maintenance and governance of the Takhat Sahiban and other gurdwaras themselves, establishing collective leadership, and instituting collective decision-making by gurmatta. The colonizers refused to acknowledge or recognize these practices however, and imposed a condition that Sikh administration of gurdware would only be recognized if they adopted the colonial method of decision-making and selecting leadership. The jado jahid (struggle) between 1922-1925 revolved around ensuring Sikh governance over our institutions, collective leadership and decision-making in accordance with panthic traditions.
By enacting the Gurdwara Act in 1925 however, the colonizers were successful in imposing a modern/colonial process of selecting leadership and decision-making. Since then, Sikh leadership has been fixated on electoral mechanisms of selecting leadership rather than the panch pradhani method according to panthic tradition. Similarly, rather than collective decision-making through gurmatta in accordance with gurmat, Sikhs adopted Western bureaucratic structures of executives and sub-committees. Adopting processes completely devoid of the Guru's barkat (blessings), political powers were successfully able to ensure anti-Sikh decisions via self-interested politicians selected for panthic leadership through electoral processes. The 2015 forgiveness of the Sauda Sadh (without any apology) and then spending Rs. 90 lakh to justify the problematic decision through the SGPC is the prime example of this compromised dynamic.
The colonizers were intimately familiar with the character and commitment of the Akali Singhs which was captured in the writings of a number of Orientalist writers at the time. The colonizers could never tolerate the governance of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib by those Akaali Singhs who refused subordination even to the Sikh administration of the Lahore Darbar. Alongside marking the Akali Singhs for genocide, the colonizers were subsequently successful in imposing their own control over Sri Akaal Takhat by appointing a "sarbrah" (overseer). This was the very first time that a "Sikh" was in control of the seva sambhal of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib--but in accordance with non-Sikh processes and systems. At this point, rather than a jatha of Akalis, the Takhat Sahib was controlled by a singular sarbrah appointed by the British. When the colonizers successfully used the 1925 Gurdwara Act to impose colonial/Western control over Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib however, the new committee simply changed the name of the colonial "sarbrah" to "jathedar". This is how the colonizers have been able to erase the Panthic jugat (technique/method) of self-governance to this day.
With time, this process was degraded to such a degree that for the past three decades, one single family (Badal family) in control of an electoral political party has unilaterally appointed and removed numerous jathedars of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib. Recent rumours around removing acting jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh, is a clear illustration of the anti-Panthic administration of the Takhat Sahib today. The principles of gurmat and Panthic tradition are unequivocally clear that Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib cannot be subordinate to any political power, government or law but the current SGPC president, Harcharnjit Singh Dhami's, statements that the SGPC appoints jathedars in accordance with Indian legislation--the Gurdwara Act--demonstrates how the current administration does not even hesitate to suggest that Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib is directly governed by the Indian state itself.
Right now, the Indian state is trying to directly take over Sikh institutions, including the Takhat Sahib. Recent events within the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee clearly illustrate that the Bipparvadi BJP is maneuvering to ensure that the political power/influence of milvartaniye Sikhs (those Sikhs who work within foreign power structures for limited benefits rather than assert Sikh sovereignty) remains fragmented and does not coalesce even around those political parties that are actively working with/under the BJP. In both Delhi and Haryana, the BJP has simultaneously given its patronage to competing Sikh factions in order to ensure that they remain fragmented and polarized. As a result, regardless of differences, every Sikh faction is looking towards the BJP for its legitimacy and influence.
This process is becoming so entrenched, that the Haryana Gurdwara Committee which was originally created to escape the Badal-BJP nexus has fallen into the lap of the BJP immediately upon coming into existence. Using these circumstances to its benefit, the BJP is manipulating the weaknesses of milvartaniye Sikhs and thereby increasing its influence and control over Sikh institutions. After Hazoor Sahib, Patna Sahib, Delhi and Haryana, the BJP is using chakrail (those Sikhs who explicitly choose to serve foreign powers) Sikhs like Iqbal Singh Lalpura and Manjinder Singh Sirsa to influence Sikh institutions in Jammu & Kashmir, as well as other states, to gradually pave the way for direct control by the BJP.
The Bipparvadi government is using this process to lay siege to Sikh institutions and eventually take direct control over Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib--and this strategy is working. In these circumstances, the Gur-Sangat and Guru Khalsa Panth needs to reflect seriously on the dangers we are facing.
In this context, it is imperative that the governance of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib is freed from the control or influence of electoral political parties and instead, entrusted to a selfless jatha of Akalis so that any prospective decisions can be made in accordance with gurmatta in consultation with Sikhs around the world. This is the only way that we can combat the creeping influence, control, and manipulation of Sikh institutions--and ultimately restore the independence and autonomy of Sikh institutions.
The Panth Sewak collective is moving in this direction by calling a world Sikh gathering at Sri Anandpur Sahib on Miri-Piri Divas on June 28. This gathering will be focussed on consensus-building around reinstituting panch pradhani leadership and gurmatta-based decision-making at Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib. We humbly request jathay and organizations of the Gur-Sangat and Guru Khalsa Panth around the world to support these efforts and attend the upcoming meeting by selecting and sending their representative panch. Effectively enacting this process is the only way we can then proceed towards a Sarbat Khalsa and build the capacity to meaningfully enact decisions made through gurmatta. There are no shortcuts to rejuvenating our institutions and traditions.
Bhai Daljit Singh
Bhai Narain Singh
Bhai Lal Singh Akalgarh
Bhai Bhupinder Singh Bhalvan
Bhai Satnam Singh Khandewala
Bhai Hardeep Singh Mehraj
Bhai Satnam Singh Jhanjjian
Bhai Sukhdev Singh Dodd
Bhai Amrik Singh Isru
Bhai Rajinder Singh Mughalval
Bhai Manjit Singh Phagwara
9 Jeth, 555 Nanakshahi
May 23, 2023 CE