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Unite on a Minimum Common Program

Inevitably, we have entered an era of coalitions. As a result of mounting political awareness, a number of parties have appeared on the scene, each contending for power on the basis of its own program. Their election manifestos vary and often contradict those of others. Very often no single party gets a majority to form a government of its own and to carry out its agenda. This naturally leads to coalition of two or more parties. The present UPA government is a coalition of several parties with widely ranging approach to social, economic and political problems. Its predecessor NDA government was no different in this respect. Several state governments are also run by coalitions. Punjab is lucky. It has only two coalition partners, so that distribution of pelf and power is manageable without much difficulty. The main thing to be noted is that all coalitions survive on a common progamme on which all parties must agree, and drop or suspend such items on their agenda, as are not acceptable to other partners. Once this requirement is ignored, the coalition falls. Therefore, sensible parties take care not to cross the line.

Religious leaders can learn a lesson from this experience in the political field. They can also apply the strategy of coalition for achievement of such goals as are common to all, but no single group can achieve alone. While major political parties are not many and could be counted on fingers, the religious groups or parties are innumerable. Apart from the big cartels like the SGPC and the DSGMC with large defined jurisdictions, there are countless deras spread over the entire state of Punjab and outside, which enjoy allegiance of the masses in their respective spheres. Some of these like the Sacha Sauda can significantly influence the elections and tilt the balance of power, as demonstrated in the February 2007 Punjab Assembly elections. Deras also have their jurisdictions where they have followers deeply committed to a Sant or the head of the dera. We must recognize that deras exist, and given the kind of faith our people have in babas, we can be quite sure that they are going to stay.

All deras profess Sikhism as their faith, and claim that they preach the Gurus’ gospel. Not all of them, however, follow the rahit maryada as approved by the Panth and notified by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Drawing largely on gurbani, and sometimes even distorting its meaning, however, they preach their own cult, which gives their follower an identity, distinct from others. But they all claim allegiance to the basic concepts of the Sikh religion, and they also realize that they can draw their followers from among the Sikhs only.

It is also a historical fact that, by and large, missionary work in Sikh religion has been done by sects like Udasis and Nirmalas, at their deras, besides some great saints like Sant Attar Singh who converted hundreds of thousands to the Sikh faith. That is to say that the sants and their deras have the required potential to propagate Sikh religion among the masses. There is thus no reason why this source with enormous potential should be ignored. In fact, this cadre needs to be properly mobilized to carry out a well-planned comprehensive programme or a campaign for revival of the pristine values of Sikhism.

The Panth faces numerous problems. There are serious challenges to its identity. A wave of apostasy is overtaking our younger generation, so that young boys with unshorn hair and turban on their heads have been reduced to a tiny minority. The elders have failed to look after them and to provide suitable role models. In fact, they are themselves falling prey to aggressive missionary programmes of other faiths. Large-scale conversions of Sikh families to Christianity have been reported from rural areas, where, due to ignorance and poverty, people can be easily misled by clever non-Sikh agencies. Christian churches are becoming a common site in Punjab villages. These missionary outfits have a target of a church in every village. It is surprising that our leaders have taken no notice of these serious inroads. Apart from this, there are other problems like widespread drug-addiction and social evils like dowry and lavish spending on marriages, etc., leading to indebtedness, misery and suicides. Lack of quality education and employment opportunities has caused deep frustration among youth. The situation is getting worse day by day. This state of affairs demands serious attention of all well-wishers of the Panth. A comprehensive all-out effort is necessary to put the Panth back on the rails.

This is a task which cannot be handled single-handedly by any individual or organization. All Panthic organizations and deras have to come together and make a united effort. No doubt, these agencies have their own agenda. But following the coalition philosophy, it is possible to evolve a minimum common programme, which would serve the cause of the Panth, and, at the same time, benefit all the individual agencies concerned. For, they know that if Sikhism flourishes, all Sikh organizations will benefit. And, if there are no Sikhs, their establishment will close. Closure and sale of a large number of Christian churches in UK and some other Western countries, for want of devotees, is a living example of this phenomenon. This should serve as a warning. It also stresses the need for intra-faith dialogue, which fortunately is not so difficult among Sikhs, as among followers of other contemporary faiths.

It is necessary, therefore, to convene a conclave of like-minded Sikh organizations to plan a campaign in which they could participate actively to adopt and carry out an MCP (Minimum Common Program) in their areas of influence. Initiative should legitimately come from one or both of the biggest Panthic organizations, the SGPC and DSGMC. Failing that, the Institute of Sikh Studies and the recently organized International Sikh Confederation should take up the challenge.

The MCP can include such items as are acceptable to all. Some of these are:

A. Campaign against :

i. Drug addiction
ii. Female foeticide
iii. Evils of dowry and other social evils
iv. Apostasy
v. Attacks on Sikh identity
vi. Inroads by other faiths
vii. Illiteracy

B. Divinity teaching in Schools
C. Training of divinity teachers
D. Quality Education
E. TV Channel
F. Organising special programmes for youth for weaning them away from drugs and other undesirable activities, and to arouse their interest in gurbani, gurdwara and games to promote physical and mental health.
G. Teaching nit nem and promoting sahj path of Guru Granth Sahib.
H. Job-oriented training courses for youth, both boys and girls.
I. Organising social service activities based on felt needs of the people in a particular area.

The conclave should lead to constitution of a standing committee for implementation of the programme in a coordinated manner. Also, it would be necessary to hold similar conclaves regularly, annually or atleast once in two years.



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