Legal Status of Akal Takht
Dr Gurmit Singh
Under the Indian Constitution there are two forums to determine and confer legal status on an institution. The first and the primary forum is the Parliament or State legislature on State Subjects and Supreme Court is the second forum. Article 141 of the India Constitution reads:
141:-The law declared by the Supreme court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.
There is no mention in any Act of Parliament or State Legislature determining the legal status of Akal Takhat, but there is pronouncement of Supreme Court declaring Akal Takht as supreme religio-political institution of the Sikhs. So in view of the provisions contained in Article 141 of the Constitution of India quoted above, it should be treated as the law of the land and all law abiding citizens should respect it.
Akal Takhat was got constructed by Guru Hargobind Singh Sahib, the sixth Guru in 1606 A.D.; after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev at the instance of the then Mughal emperor Jahangir. At that time it was not legally permissible to construct a platform higher than 8 feet in height as the throne of the Mughal emperor was of that height and raising a platform higher than that of the ruler was considered to be an act of defiance, a seditious act. Akal Takhat is a shrine built on a platform 12 feet in height and was constructed with a purpose 1.e. to emphasize the sovereignty of the Sikhs as a nation.
The site, architectural design and location of Akal Takht, all have a hidden meaning. Akal Takhat is situated near Darbar Sahib the spiritual centre of the Sikhs which signifies that even while carrying on political activity, the spiritual aspect of higher religion is not to be ignored. It was intended to tell emperor Jahangir that there was another throne with more powers than the throne which wielded only worldly powers.
It is not without significance that while sitting at Akal Takht one can see Darbar Sahib but not vice versa. It signifiers that while taking political decisions religion is to be kept in view but while discussing religion and taking religious decisions politics is to be kept out of view.
There are two flags flying in front of Akal Takht. One facing ‘Darbar Sahib’ (Golden Temple) represents religion while the other one represents. Akal Takhat. The two flags are joined together from middle and jointly symbolise the concept of Miri-Piri. Hon’ble Bench of Supreme Judges comprising S. Murtaza Fazl Ali, A V Aradarajan and Saby Asachi Mukharji, JJ in Civil appeal No. 3419 (NCE) of 1981 dated 29-11-1984 titled S. Harcharan Singh versus S. Sajjan Singh and others, discuss the concept of “Miri” and “Piri” in their judgment. According to judges, the two words are Persian in origin and signify the relationship between religion and politics. The learned judges discuss the historical background of the concept and its necessity. The judges observe:
“Since Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, was subjected to torture by the orders of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, a strong reaction against that act of tyranny was witnessed amongst the Sikhs. When Guru Hargobind succeeded him as Sikh Guru, he decided to militarize the community. So at the time of installation ceremony of Guru Hargobind, he wore two swords, one called the sword of “Miri” and other called sword of “Piri” symbolising religion and temporal authority, respectively. According to some Sikh Sources when Baba Budha was performing the installation ceremony of sixth Guru Hargobind after the death of Guru Arjan Dev, due to casualness or chance, Baba Budha decked the Guru with a sword put on the right (i.e. the wrong side) and later tried to shift it to the left side. But Guru Hargobind Sahib advised him, “Do not shift what you have put on me already. Bring me another sword that I will dangle from the other side too. The one sword shall signify miri (secular power) and the other piri or faquiri (renunciation and spiritual station).” However it is note worthy in this regard that Baba Budha had performed installation ceremony of four Gurus earlier i.e. second to fifth Gurus and as such he was well versed with the ritual to be performed on the occasion and could not have committed the mistake nor acted with alleged casualness. It was a deliberate act. The judges have rightly described it as Guru’s reaction to the tyranny of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
During the trial of the election petition, Dr. Fauja Sing and Giani Partap Singh, the two Sikh Scholars of repute were examined by the two rival candidates as witnesses on the status of Akal Takht. The two scholar witnesses differed on whether Akal Takhat was Supreme political authority also or simply Supreme religious authority. Dr. Fauja Singh stated that “it was a symbol of both political and religious powers whereas Giani Partap Singh had stated that it was supreme religious authority.”
The learned judges accepted the opinion of Dr. Fauja Singh because “Dr. Fauja Singh had been professor and head of the Department of Sikh History in the Punjabi University from 1967 to 1978 and Since 1978, he is the Director Punjab Historical Studies. He is a scholar of great repute and well versed in Sikh History.
He has been teaching the subject since long.” The learned judges, therefore, held that Akal Takhat was a symbol of political and religious powers. Since in view of the provisions contained in Article 141 of the Constitution of India, the judgement of Supreme Court is to be binding on all the courts, it will be right to infer that under the Indian Constitution Akal Takhat enjoys the legal status of a Supreme Religious Political Authority.
What is a ‘Hukamnama’ was also discussed before the judges in this case besides the institution of ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ and Gurmatta- What are the pre-requisites of a Gurmatta and the distinction between the Gurmatta and communication from Akal Takhat were also canvassed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court and it was held that any communication from Akal Takhat will amount to appeal in the name of religion and the candidate will be deemed to have been nominated on behalf of the Sikh Community. The judges observed, “Taking into account the totality of the evidence in the background of the fact that some communication from Akal Takhat, call it Hukamnama or any other name, were issued and the editorials on Akal Takhat, which were mentioned by Shri Parkash Singh Badal as stated by the witness on behalf of the appellant and which is not denied by Shri Parkash Sing Badal, we are of the opinion, that in this case appeal in the name of religion was made on behalf of respondent No.3.”
It was argued in this case that in order to constitute a Hukamnama, there are certain pre-conditions, which were required to be fulfilled. Three conditions were, there should be order of Akal Takhat, approved by the Shiromni Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.), and the decision should be announced from the Akal Takhat.
Regarding legal status of Shri Akal Takhat the Hon’ble Judges observed, “It is undisputed that Shri Akal Takhat enjoys a unique position amongst the Sikhs. There is, however, difference of opinion between Dr. Fauja Singh and Giani Partap Singh regarding its powers as noted by the learned Trial Judge. Dr. Fauja Singh had stated that it was a symbol of both political and religious powers whereas Giani Partap Singh had stated that it was Supreme religious authority. Dr. Fauja Singh had been the professor and the Head of Department of the Sikh History in the Punjabi University from 1967 to 1978 and since 1978 he is the Director, Punjab Historical Studies. He is scholar of great repute and well versed in Sikh History. He has been teaching the subject since long. The learned judge felt his statement should be preferred and came to the conclusion that Akal Takhat was a symbol of political and religious powers. It was found according to the learned judge on the evidence that Exhibit P-4 was not taken in the form of ‘Gurumatta’. On the other hand, it was a decision taken by the leaders of the Akali Party at Fatehgarh Sahib written by Jathedar Sadhu Singh on the letter head of Shri Akal Takhat who announced it.” The judges held:
“In our opinion it is not a technical question whether Exhibit P-4 was a Hukamnama or not. It is a question, in the present controversy which has to be judged from a broader perspective. As noted before, the court has to examine the effect of the statements made by the candidate or on his behalf, upon the mind and the feelings of the ordinary average voters of the country.”
It was held further:
“It is undisputed that Shri Akal Takhat enjoys a unique position amongst the Sikhs. It is undubitable that any communication from Shri Akal - Takhat which is represented by eminent members of the Sikh Community as Hukamnama would have great religious persuasive value even though strictly speaking it might or might not be a Hukamnama. For the purpose of this appeal it is not necessary for us to decide whether in strict textual sense and strict rules of the Sikh Community, P-4 was a Hukamnama or not.”
Thus the learned judges left the question whether every communication from Akal Takhat is a Hukamnama and avoided a direct reply to the question what are the preconditions for a communication to be a Hukamnama. However, the finding of the High Court that Akal Takhat is Supreme Religious and Political authority of the Sikhs was not disturbed.
The matter before the Hon’ble Supreme Court had arisen during an election petition relating to Mukatsar constituency polling for which was held on 31st May, 1980 and the result was declared on 1st June, 1980 and in which Harcharan Singh, appellant before the Supreme Court, had secured 29600 votes and the winning candidate (respondent No.3 in appeal whose name is not mentioned in judgement) had secured 30,003 votes. In this constituency, Hindus constituted a majority of the voters and according to Krishan Kumar, witness in the case, who was also a Municipal Commissoiner and had appeared to give testimony in favour of winning candidate, Hindus outnumbered Sikhs by three times.