Sikhs are a unique religious group living divine community life where individuals do honest work, share the fruits of their labour. They are expected to care for the lowest amongst the low and live life without fear or causing fear. Harmony with nature and wishing good for all are also their cardinal principles.
Akal Takht the seat of God was established by the sixth Master for enabling blossoming of this ideal and for giving justice to all. Seeds of sovereignty in religious, cultural and social matters were sown. These would be termed as ‘religious freedom’, ‘human rights of a minority community’ in today’s terminology.
During Guru Sahib’s lifetime they sat on the throne on behalf of the Akal and directed community a affairs whether from Amritsar, Kiratpur, Anandpur Sahib (during 6th to 9th Gurus’ times) or Anandpur Sahib, Nanded or Talwandi Sabo where Guru Gobind Singh moved.
Guru Gobind Singh ji left the throne to the Sabad Guru (Guru Granth Sahib) in spiritual matters and to Guru Panth represented by Chosen five for temporal matters.
After 10th Master’s demise, Banda Singh Bahadur was the supreme commander and the fought tyrants to uproot the ignoble empire. He took decision consulting his advisers sent along with him by Guru Sahib.
In the later period because of unfortunate split, there was isolation and downfall for the whole community.
Then came the Misl period, when we were fighting for sheer survival. From then onwards till Khalsa kingdom was established, was the glorious period of sacrifices and the institution of Akal Takht. All major decisions were taken by a Gurmatta after deliberations by the Sarbat Khalsa. The matter related to strategies for battles, war-fare with Moghals or Pathan invaders or temporary truce between the Panth and the rulers.
During Ranjit Singh’s time, the decisions were mostly taken in his darbar after discussion with ministers and officials and the Takht controlled by Akali Phoola Singh functioned mostly for religious matters and up keep of Harmander Sahib, Akal Takht and other gurdwaras. The exceptions were when Ranjit Singh was personally asked to appear for his mis-demeanour, or in an another instance when Maratha Holker’s petition was considered. Unfortunately Akali Phoola Singh’s advice for giving protection to Holker was disregarded and the opinion to remain at peace with the British prevailed. A via media was found to shelve the issue.
When the British occupied the Punjab, the control of the Takht and Harmandir Sahib was given to a Sarbrah appointed by DC Amritsar of British Government. This arrangement continued, till Singh Sabha movement vested control of Gurdwaras from corrupt Mahants. Arrangements of a Jathedar for Akal Takht was started with the establishment of SGPC and Akali Dal under Gurdwara Act 1925.
Many decisions were taken on Panthic issues, some good and some not good, but by and large sovereignty of the Panth was asserted in its own matters. Even many Sikh personalities considered rebel by the Govt were given robes of honour; famous amongst them Baba Kharak Singh, Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh (and the later Sardar Kapur Singh after independence).
At the time of Gurdwara Act 1925 consideration, enough attention was not given to details specially the institution of Akal Takht. Its role and name were not recognized as deserved by its expected status and functions. The legislation mainly covered the fact that historical gurdwaras were to be brought under Sikhs’ control and managed by them.
After independence, Punjabi Suba Movement was blessed by Akal Takht, and after a long struggle was agreed by the Govt. Later Dharam Yudh Morcha was taken up to press for control of river waters, left out Punjabi speaking areas and other issues like Capital city etc. But the struggle did not achieve its goal. On the other hand in Operation Blue Star, the Akal Takht building was demolished and thousands Sikhs killed in this and other operations conducted in Punjab.
At present the Akal Takht only supervises Rehat Maryada and other religious mattes. The temporal aspect has been hijacked by SAD (B) the major political party; others are vyring for their share. Each has its own manifesto. It has not been possible to bring all Akali parties on a common platform and make a choice for a common Panthic goal or put forward an agreed manifesto.
The Jathedar Akal Takht is appointed by the SGPC (established under Gurdwara Act 1925) and is not a necessarily a unanimous choice of the whole panth, although he is required to take decision concerning the whole Panth. Matters mostly related to individual aberrations have been taken up which have rattled the whole community and diverse opinions and reactions have appeared in the press, thus undermining the high status and dignity of the Akal Takht.
In the present method, the choice is made amongst Granthis, Head Granthis, Parcharaks or Jathedars of other Takhts in Punjab. By virtue of their limited training and experiences they are knowledgeable only of traditional theology and history of the Panth but have no qualifications or experience of political environment of the country, national or international matters, or inter-faith issues of the World. They also have no in-depth knowledge or research studies of various issues confronting the Panth in India or abroad. They are also not supported by a team of experts in such fields.
Under these circumstances there are great limitations in their decision-making. It is important therefore to strengthen the institution in matter of quality, experience and background of Sikh matters in the present day modern world. It is also important to remove any hurdles in the Jathedar’s way so that he is free to exercise is judgment without succumbing to any pressure from influential persons and looks only to interest of the Panth at large.
An attempt will be made to outline the role, the expectations of the Panth and the qualification and experience of the incumbent if he is to discharge his functions satisfactorily.
Jathedar Akal Takht has to express collective wishes and aspirations of the whole Panth on issues such as :
1. Political issues concerning well being and dignity of our community, minority issues and human rights including rights of women and children.
2. Religious issues concerning identity, apostasy, maryada and issues of conflicts / splits in the panth.
3. Social and cultural issues arising out of modernization.
4. Inter-faith dialogues for understanding between various religious groups for World Peace.
- He has to be a true Sikh in life, full of wisdom and should command respect of the whole community. He should be knowledgeable of gurbani, History and Sikh way of life.
- He should be articulate, should be able to express himself clearly.
- He should be courageous without being arrogant and offensive.
- He should be un-biased under any pressure and should think of only the interests of the Panth.
- He should be able to guide political parties and various groups and line them up for common goals in the best interests and dignity of the Panth according to principles enshrined in Gurbani.
- Should be able to understand peculiar problems of Sikhs including those living in other states of India, abroad in east Asia, UK, Europe, Canada, USA, Australia etc and be able to guide them on Sikhi principles.
- Should enable various panthic groups to understand issues involved regarding maryada and other controversial issues and make them sit together for a dialogue and adopt a common approach according to gurbani.
- Should have broad idea of other religions for inter-faith understanding and find common points for good of humanity. Wherever Sikh values are different, a good mutual appreciation and respect for each others views should be arrived at.
Minimum a degree, preferred a Masters or Ph.D, Command of Punjabi (& English if possible) language. Deep knowledge of Gurbani Sikh history, Broad idea of World History and other religions and cultures.
By concensus by gurmatta of various representatives of Panthic groups/institutions (Guidelines will have to be drafted) Duration of charge should be 4 years. Removal under exceptional circumstances by impeachment during Sarbat Khalsa gathering.
- A team of experts on gurbani, Sikh history.
- Experts on political matters/international matters, social issues of modern world.
- Experts on inter-faith matters.
- Media experts, Legal experts, Legislation
All changes required should be brought about in a suitably modified legislation or a new act.
The institution of Akal Takht should not be allowed to become static and dogmatic so far in allowing voice of dessent to be curbed. It should be dynamic and alive to inevitable changes in the life of community. Transparency of proceeding and principles of natural justice must be adhered to while pronouncing judgment in individual cases. Concept of Halemi Raj must always be kept in mind.