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An Ideologue’s Legacy

John F Kennedy once remarked, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” Dr Kharak Singh, who passed away on August 6, 2008, was synonymous with an idea. And the great idea was to pull Sikh Panth out of its stereotyped medieval mindset in all its intellectual, religious, social and cultural moorings and set it on a path of becoming a vibrant, modern socio-religious entity which could stand proudly among the comity of various other denominational entities in India and among the nations in the world without compromising with its fundamental ethos and doctrines. For bringing about this phenomenal transformation, he not only undertook to lay down the conceptual framework for each and every aspect of Sikh society, but also traced the broad contours of the roadmap by traversing which the Sikhs could realize this cherished goal. While he arrived at the conceptual framework through his own deep contemplation based on his profound study of Sikh philosophy and consensual finalization after holding brainstorming discussions with enlightened Sikh scholars and thinkers, he set out to implement its roadmap by laying the foundations of two institutions to fulfill these twin tasks. A visionary, an ideologue and a practical doer as he was, he has left a clear blueprint for the coming generations to follow, and march forward. He created this paradigm for Sikh survival and resurgence with a spirit of commitment and earnestness.

Let us now familiarize ourselves with the various facets of this paradigm. The first and foremost dimension of this pyramid is the mental and intellectual enrichment and empowerment of the Sikhs, particularly of its youth. In the modern knowledge-based global world, qualitative academic education is the primary need. For this, he envisaged a requisite financial funding of each and every needy, meritorious Sikh. For accomplishing this monumental task, he proposed the creation of a one billion dollar corpus fund through mobilizing individual, corporate and institutional donations. Being a person of both precept and example, he made the first substantial contribution to this Sikh Educational Fund, named ‘Guru Nanak Educational Fund’ (GNEF). Many others followed suit and this set the ball rolling. On his demise, his equally dedicated family made a further contribution of rupees five lacs to this fund. Achieving the target is, no doubt, awe-inspiring, monumental and apparently utopian, but given the instinctive propensity of the Sikhs to donate liberally for their religious causes, it is not impossible. The Sikhs owe it to their qaum.

For the religious rejuvenation of the Sikhs with its alarming state of apostasy among the Sikhs, particularly the youth, Dr Kharak Singh advocated the utilization of the powerful electronic media to reach out to the Sikh population. Programs diligently prepared on Sikh scriptures, Sikh philosophy and Sikh history, impressively choreographed and telecast through the electronic media can go a long way to stem the tide of apostasy and bring back the prodigals to the Sikh fold. The audio-visual impact of the electronic media is too powerful to resist. For the accomplishment of this task, Dr Kharak Singh had envisaged an independent Sikh Radio and TV channel which may telecast live the chalked out programs through diverse modes of dramatics, lectures, symposia and quiz contests.

Equally important to him was the standard translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib into English on the lines of the only one authorized version of the Bible into English, undertaken and accomplished in the early seventeenth century by the then British monarch James I. Another related task in this sphere which Dr Kharak Singh pin-pointed is the need for identifying and then translating the primary sources of Sikh philosophy and Sikh history into English for the effective propagation of Sikhism to the world at large and to a vast section of Sikh readers of English. While emphasizing the need for translation, he also favored a critical evaluation of these primary sources some of which have contents that contradict the basic doctrines of Sikh philosophy. The most prominent among these is the Dasam Granth. Dr Kharak Singh had proposed a committee of Sikh scholars to be constituted by the SGPC under the aegis of Sri Akal Takht Sahib to undertake such a task and give a final verdict on its authenticity.

Dr Kharak Singh had been exhorting all Panthic leaders and institutions to rise above their narrow considerations and think in terms of the greatest good of the greatest number of Sikhs. He had been stressing upon the supremacy of the Akal Takht in Sikh affairs with well-defined status and role of its Jathedar and the need for an advisory Committee of Sikh scholars and professionals, which could assist the Jathedar in finding solutions to the emerging complex problems of the globally-dispersed Sikh Panth. In order to make the shiromani body of the Sikhs, the SGPC, more representative and comprehensive, he stressed the need for getting the All India Gurdwaras Act passed in the Parliament. Like an astute physician, Dr Kharak Singh had diagnosed all these religious maladies and suggested sensible and viable solutions. These issues can neither be wished away nor brushed under the carpet. Rather, these need to be tackled on an urgent and priority basis.

For realizing these well-conceptualized missions, Dr Kharak Singh laid the foundations of two institutions – the Institute of Sikh Studies and the International Sikh Confederation. The former is devoted to producing English translations of primary Sikh sources and well-researched Sikh studies as well as watch out for any kind of calculated propaganda and/or distortions in the Sikh ideology/history. The latter (ISC) addresses the academic, educational, legal, economic and religious issues on a global scale.

What is needed is the integrity, commitment and determination of those who are on the bandwagon of Dr Kharak Singh’s brilliant mission. A befitting tribute to the legacy of a great and dedicated Sikh savant and visionary shall be to accomplish the tasks and goals set out with passion and commitment by him.

Let us finally pay our homage to Dr Kharak Singh by repeating and reiterating with another twentieth century intellectual giant, George Bernard Shaw, “Life is not a brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Are we ready to take over this splendid torch and keep it burning more brightly?


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