In 1699, the Guru selected the panj pyaras as the representatives of the Panth from far and wide, initiated them through amrit, and thus laid the foundation of his Panth. He himself sought to be similarly initiated into the Panth by the chosen five, thus equating himself to them, and thereby introduced the concept of collective leadership. He nurtured this body of five with a view to enabling them to make decisions and act as the situations demanded. He himself submitted to their decisions. All this was being done while the all four great sons of the Guru were alive. Clearly, the Guru had decided to give the Panth the responsibility to steer itself in the times to come. In 1708, he ordained the Adi Granth, i.e., the soul of the Gurus, as the Eternal Guru, Guru Granth Sahib.
From this, it follows that Guru Granth is the soul and Guru’s Panth is the body of the Guru. And as such, the role of the Guru from now on was to be performed by the Panth, under the guidelines enshrined in the Granth. This status is comparable to that in the Guru-period, when Bani was Dhur ki and, therefore, Eternal, and the physical frame changed from one Guru to the next.
But the confused state in which the Panth finds itself today shows that the Panth has faltered in its role and is not functioning upto the Guru’s expectations. So, the Panth is in dire need of devising a system or setting up a body to handle the controversial issues that plague us today as well as those that might raise their heads in the future. This Body should be the voice all Sikhs, men and women, from all sections — urban and rural, Indian and the diaspora, old and the young.
A long list of controversies confronts the Panth today. If each was to divide the Panth into two factions, as did the langar controversy, we can well imagine the number of factions that would ensue. These controversies cannot be simply wished away ; they are here to stay. The only way to get rid of them is to address them and resolve them to the satisfaction of all Sikhs. No issue, however difficult, is too large for the Panth to clinch.
We drag sensitive issues to the streets, and that makes us the laughing stock, while achieving nothing. We cannot solve issues by inciting or hurting the sentiments of our opponents. Such an approach leads only to factionalism, hostility and violence. Issues of the nature of Dasam Granth, jathedari system, etc., are best left to the scholars of respective subjects. Whatever the researches would reveal, should be acceptable to the Panth, as there is no place for blind faith, and logic is inborn to Sikhism.
The decision of the SGPC on the Nanakshahi calendar and its acceptance by the Panth, irrespective of the State’s response, clearly brings out the cohesion and will of the Sikhs to make unanimous decisions as per gurmat. This decision was also welcomed by Sikhs abroad. But some issues, such as the langar issue, could not be solved amicably to the satisfaction of all. Thus, participation of Sikhs from abroad also is a must before a conclusion is reached on any issue concerning the Panth. Had they been a party to discussions, the final outcome would have been acceptable to all, without ripping the Panth apart.
Apart from resolving controversial issues, the Body should concern itself with the task of propagating the Guru’s message at the global level. For this, we need to tap the latest media of communication. Various activities need to be undertaken to disseminate this message. Free health services, education, counselling, shelter, etc., should be provided for the needy. Presently, the funds of the SGPC are mainly being utilised for the upkeep of the gurdwaras. If separate departments catering to these needs of the Panth could be set up, then people could donate directly to these as per the areas they consider to be of foremost importance. In this way, the Panth would be in a position to boost the course of development and progress. Trusts with transparent functioning for each department could be set up to mediate between the donors and the recipients.
A cell should be created to address queries and take suggestions from the masses which should be viewed critically. If any convincing arguments are offered, even an established norm(s),could be reviewed.
It is easy to list the roles that could be assigned to the Body; the real task is to bring it into existence. Deriving from history, selection is often mentioned as the preferred mode over election, for creation of any Sikh organisation. It is easier said than done. We cannot do today what the Guru did on the Baisakhi of 1699. Nor can the Sarbat Khalsa of the style of the misl sardars of the 18th century be adopted without modification. At that time, there were no warring factions within the Sikhs. All the misl leaders had the same mission, and were, therefore, united against a common enemy. Today, there are numerous factions / sects within Sikh community, each arrogantly claiming infallibility. Actually, the panj piaras of Guru Gobind Singh were bhais (brothers), but today we are all sardars (leaders). Probably, we all wish to be leaders as was the Guru, but we forget the humility the Guru demonstrated to the extent of giving up his guruship.
We have landed in this dismal situation because of lack of a representative Body acceptable to the whole Panth, over the last few centuries. With such a Body in place, we may ensure smooth sailing in the future. We have to devise a method, keeping in view the globally-dispersed and widely-differing Panth and its concerns in the 21st century. The Guru envisioned the Panth as a dynamic, not a static entity ; that is why only basic guidelines were penned down in gurbani leaving the details and rules to the Panth. Well, if selection is to be the mode in this day, then let us consider the following :
– Who will enjoy the authority to select ? The sangat ? Even the small sangats of literally every gurdwara, the world over, do not reach a consensus on appointing even a manager of their gurdwaras. Is consensus at the global level a possibility today ?
– Whose selection will be acceptable to all ? Those who will select Bhai Ranjit Singh will reject Bhai Puran Singh, and vice versa.
It is also often stressed that only those persons who practise Sikhi, and are imbued with teachings of Guru Granth Sahib should be selected. Again easier said than done.
– Is there any instrument of the nature of barometer / thermometer that can determine the degree to which a Sikh is practising Sikhi ? Can one Sikh say to another, “I am a more Sikh than you.” or “You are less Sikh than I.” ?
The electoral system, too, is held in contempt and the elected members’ capacity to be representative in doubt. But we must not forget that they are there because we have voted for them. Our leadership reflects the standards of our community. If the community is bought by drugs, then it is getting what it deserves. Lack of sense of responsibility is on our part ; let us not blame it on others. We are all, each one of us, equally responsible for the situation we are in today.
Moreover, the electoral system does not force any people to contest elections; on the other hand, it rather encourages a unanimous decision by providing incentives. So, the electoral system comes into play only after unanimous selection has failed. So, if our representative bodies are formed of elected members today, it shows that we, as a Panth, have failed to select members, as we were expected to. We have yet to evolve to the gurmukh stage. Thus, true representation of the Panth is in our hands, whether it be through election or selection.
Hopefully, the day is not far when Sikhs will proudly demonstrate their cohesion and, thereby, their ability to handle their affairs smoothly, without depending on the electoral system.
For the present, the already existing representative bodies of Punjab and Delhi, such as Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), could be the foundation for building a structure that truly represents the entire globally-dispersed Panth. For this, to the elected members of SGPC & DSGMC could be added an equal number of nominated members, warring factions inclusive, from the world over as well as representatives from all other active Sikhs organisations to constitute an Apex Body of Sikhs. The total number of members and the ratios of different categories could be worked out. Various committees to deal with different subjects comprising of scholars from respective fields can be formed to assist the Apex Body make logical decisions.
Let us not wait for an ideal situation to come about. We have to act upon a practical plane, so that, the ideal situation may come about. The Gurus never waited for all people of the Indian sub-continent to become true Sikhs / Khalsa ; they continued with their mission. So, we must identify our role in history and take necessary steps, irrespective of how many of us are practising Sikhi, or to what degree; with time, the chaff will get sifted, automatically.
The Apex Body should take birth now, in or in spite of the present scenario; it will grow / evolve with time. Let us make a beginning, and pray for Waheguru’s blessings on His Panth. Unless we stand united, through a single common organisation of the Panth, how can we share the Guru’s message with the rest of humanity ?
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