Unutilised land, the State and Religious
The state government gives funds and concessions to religious
bodies. Such favours are extended with a view to gaining
votes in subsequent elections. The more than 200 acres sold
to one such sect in Mohali for the unbelievably neglible
price of Rs 2 lakh per acre (by the government’s own
admission as stated in response to an RTI query.) shows
the extent to which the state’s resources are misutilised.
This is only one institution. One wonders how many others
have been obliged.
It must be borne in mind that the 200 acres on the outskirts
of Mohali had been productive fields that provided livelihood
to hundreds of farmers. The land as of today lies idle.
Only a tiny portion of it is utilized to hold satsangs once
a week. No farmer should be dispossessed unless it can be
amply demonstrated that his land can be used for another
purpose that is much more productive and beneficial to all
of society than growing crops and supporting a family. A
farmer should not be forcibly divested of his land so that
real estate developers and speculators can profit.
It must also be said that the sect’s 200 acres on
the outskirts of Mohali was lying completely unutilized
until late 2008 when it came to public notice through a
petition under the Right to Information Act.
At current market rate, the worth of the 200 acres allotted
to the sect in Mohali is worth Rs 6,000 per square yard
and comes to approximately Rs 5000-6000 crore. It would
be fair to all if all such unutilized properties were resumed
on payment to the allotee at the rate of purchase plus interest
and resold to the farmers at the rate of the original compensation
plus interest. Rational land use is essential at a time
when the government is searching for land that can be utilized
for SEZs and similar productive purposes.
A similar issue came up under the previous Congress State
government. At that time, (Sept 2002) the Punjab government
was seeking Rs 50 crore from the Central government to develop
the Khalsa Heritage Complex at Anandpur Sahib.
At that time, we questioned the move on the grounds that
if government funds can be sought for the Khalsa complex,
why should they not be sought for projects related to other
religions? If Rs 50 crore can be lavished on the Khalsa
complex, why not spend something on subsidizing Haj pilgrims,
why not renovate historic Hindu or Jain temples, why not
help Christians? If such projects are accepted, how does
the state decide how much money to allocate to the various
religions? And would atheists have no claim to assistance?
Providing such funds can only engender suspicion and ill-will.
All religious activity must be insulated from state power
and manipulation. The case of the SGPC is glaring. Election
to the SGPC and its office-bearers can be and is manipulated
by the state. Gurcharan Singh Tohra was supposedly a hardliner
but, except for a brief interlude, he was kept as the SGPC
president by either postponing the elections or managing
the elections during the period of Sikh militancy. But on
the other hand, Akali governments were kept out of power
and in 1991 even the elections were countermanded after
the election campaigns had ceased. This indicates the level
of control by the government over the SGPC elections.
It is for that reason we demand that Sikhs accept no government
money for the construction of a monument to their religion
and culture. In any case, the entire gold-and-marble based
concept is flawed and counter to the spirit of Sikhism.
The best embodiment of the Khalsa is the Khalsa, that is,
the believers themselves.
In 1985 the Akal Takht was rebuilt with government funds.
The Sikhs promptly tore it down and rebuilt it with money
donated by the sangat. This was an absolutely correct course
of action. The same sentiment should have governed construction
of the Khalsa complex at Anandpur Sahib. It seems that the
Punjab government and Central governments have come to believe
that there is nothing wrong with state fingers meddling
in religious matters. In the name of “clean management”,
establishment of government-ruled shrine boards has become
Likewise the government declares that it has the sole right
to conduct elections to the SGPC. This is wrong. If shrines
are mismanaged, let the devotees either stay away from these
shrines or exert themselves to rectify the shortcomings.
If the SGPC cannot be trusted to conduct honest and peaceful
polls on its own, then let the Sikhs themselves withdraw
authority and legitimacy from that body. If the government
is to concern itself with Hindu or Sikh shrines and the
personnel who administer them, why should it not stand over
the Christians when they select their bishops, or the Muslims
when they appoint or remove mullahs from their mosques?
Such interference endangers public amity, as was recently
demonstrated in the case of the Amarnath Shrine Board land
allotment controversy in J&K.
The Constitution of India declares ‘The Union of India
to be a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizens
of justice, equality, and liberty; the words ‘socialist’
and ‘secular’ were added to the definition in
1976 by constitutional amendment. The Constitution not only
spells out right to freedom of religion (Article 25: Particulars
of Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and
propagation of religion, Article 26: freedom to manage religious
affairs, Article 27: freedom from payment of taxes for promotion
of any particular religion, Article 28: Freedom as to attendance
at religious instruction or religious worship in certain
education institutions. Also the Constitution specifies
Cultural and Educational rights. (Article 29: Protection
of interests of minorities, and Article 30: Right of minorities
to establish and administer educational institutions.)
Parties and politicians avowing religious principles are
not a rarity anywhere in the world: the Shiv Sena and the
Akalis fight elections in India, the Christian Democrats
fight elections in Germany, the Jamaat-i-Islami fights elections
in Pakistan. MASR has no quarrel with those who say that
religious values should guide the actions of individual
politicians or even political parties, but we very much
oppose any religion imposing public policy on the citizens
or the state involving itself in the affairs of any religion.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies,
2007, All rights reserved.