Every Sikh has the right to raise questions about the process that led to the recent Sarbat Khalsa. It lacked transparency or an open discussion about the Jathedar qualifications. But this is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems that plague the Sikh governance.
As Sikh re-engages with the Sarbat Khalsa, s/he must carefully examine or assess the Sikh governance. Major reforms at all levels of Qaum (nation) and Panth (Khalsa consciousness) must be at the top of our re-engagement agenda.
Without holding firmly to the Sikh values, Sikh leaders continue to strive to very long careers. They offer a depressing catalogue of incompetence, malfeasance, and gross misconduct on projects ranging from gurmat awareness to identity politics to undoing of Guru Hargobind Sahib’s Akal Takht. Thanks to colossal mismanagement, the Sikh governance has failed the Guru and the Sikhs.
SGPC’s bureaucracy is sclerotic, incapable of providing necessary expertise in a timely fashion and unable to discharge or discipline incompetent performers. Also notable is not addressing those leading nefarious anti-Sikh activities. The lack of accountability stems from the fact that decisions on administration are driven more by political expediency than by the values it espouses.
The track record of SGPC is checkered at best. However, they do some invaluable work, especially in the areas of humanitarian assistance recently. But more often than not, its powerfully aligned committee members are unable to rise above ruling Akali party politics. Some members of this outdated relic are bit players at best.
The dismal affairs more generally at the SGPC present a clarion call for major alternative. The size and scope of political diversity among 30 million Sikhs may defy any real attempt at change, but it must be given a chance. Too many entrenched practices and people have a vested interest in preserving the shambolic status quo. The SGPC may not yet be nearing the fate of its Mahants predecessors, but global representative of some kind is in order.
Selection of the next Jathedars offers the opportunity for new leadership but the lowest common denominator process of selection among the influencers for the appointment inevitably emphasizes bland over brilliant. Neither drive nor determination are high on the list of essential attributes. In any event, the challenge is beyond the capacity of a single individual or school of thought, and will require a concerted effort by members of the Sikh Qaum.
A complete assessment of policies and processes must be a top priority along with tighter accountability mechanisms. A full reconstruction of Akal Takht Sahib with Panj Piare that befits Gurmat (Guru-granted Sikh paradigm) and 21st-century realities designed for effective action rather than paralysis, is way overdue.
If Diaspora Sikh intends to help restore some luster to the Panth, they must champion overhaul and use its intellectual and financial contribution as leverage to instill genuine Sikh governance and encourage others with similar concerns in the homeland to follow suit, including via physical presence.
Better days from the recent past provide little guide for the future, while fine rhetoric about principles and values does little to mask serious flaws in performance. A campaign for real Sikh governance may not win many votes for our free Akal Takht Sahib aspirations but it might be an act of Sidak (conviction), and could meet help reposition the Panth to some of its revolutionary goals articulated at inception.
If you want to bring about change, join the Panth this Vaisakhi. Think about why certain jathebandis (groups) seem to get immediate face time while your ideas rarely get anyone’s attention. Who funds matters in our lives, every day. If we accept a political system that disenfranchises 90% plus of the Sikhs, then we have policies and solutions that favor those groups working to undermine Guru Nanak’s Sikh revolution.
A first step is to become answerable only to the Guru. A second step is to demand zero interference at all levels of Sikh governance by the state. A third step is to become vigilant about all political parties, including Sikh parties, who end up manipulating Akal Takht Sahib. A fourth step is improve process for the Sarbat Khalsa. A fifth step is to revive the institution of Panj Piare. None of these are new things, they are well established in Gurbani (wisdom), Tavarikh (history) and Rahit (lifestyle). Now, more than ever, we need Sikhs of the Guru to act. “Movers and shakers” will eventually join the caravan. The essential element initially required to address all five is defiance!
Vaisakhi is great reminder that “Five Lovers” weren’t of the same background and catalytic criterion was love above everything else. And the Khalsa consciousness is a journey that weaves compassion (daya), discipline (dharam), courage (himmat), determination (mohkam), and sovereign (sahib). Freedom is realized mentally first!
Let’s chisel ourselves to with Sabad (wisdom) such that we become sangat (collective) oriented. Let us prepare to have open block parties like at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 where a barber was empowered given the creative excitement and became Bhai Sahib Singh.
Are you ready to love?
14 April 2016
Harinder Singh co-founded Sikh Research Institute and Panjab Digital library. He currently serves as an organizer of the Free Akal Takht movement.