SIKH GURDWARAS LEGISLATION AFTER PARTITION
Principal Surjit Singh Gandhi
As a result of 1947 partition, though the number of gurdwaras was reduced to five hundred and eighty three from 761,1 yet the S.G.P.C. continues to wield a lot of influence among the Sikhs – the reason being that still it had at is disposal vast financial, organizational, institutional and moral resources, besides being considered as the chief spokesman and grand symbol of Sikh aspirations. It was exactly because of this, different aspirants began to form groups and strategies to seek preponderance in S.G.P.C. so as to utilize its resources for advancing their respective interests.
Retrospectively speaking, this tendency had been manifested since the passage of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act. If we look at the electoral strategies of the different parties in the first gurdwaras elections of the Sikh community, we will find that these centred on assuming the control of S.G.P.C.’s resources primarily rather than framing programmes to promote religion. For instance, the Sardar Bahadur party and the Malcolm Hailey’s Sudhar Committee had made electoral adjustments to avoid triangular contests benefiting the Akali party. The Government had instructed its officials to exercise their influence in favour of the former for its victory at the polls.2 The Sardar Bahadur Party which was in power on the eve of S.G.P.C.’s first election, made free use of the propaganda machinery of this religious institution, particularly its platform and its employees to its electoral ends.3
The Akali party on the other hand was financially helped by the deposed ruler of Nabha, whose restoration was made an issue by it for election.4 The other issues on which it capitalized was the unconditional release of the Sikh prisoners jailed during the Gurdwara Reforms Movement. It propagated that if other parties were returned with a majority, these persons would never be released without accepting the humiliating conditions. The pattern of factional conflict over the control of the S.G.P.C. continued upto the mid-thirties. Afterwards, it became more politically-oriented. The 1939 Gurdwara elections were contested more or less on distinct party identities. In these elections, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Master Tara Singh) was supported by the Congress party. The Central Akali Dal and the Khalsa National Party made joint front and were helped by the Unionist party. Although the Shiromani Akali Dal returned with high majority to S.G.P.C. and had earlier forged a common opposition front in the Assembly, yet rift between the pro-Congress Sikhs and pro-Master Tara Singh elements of Shiromani Akali Dal came to surface. The immediate cause was Master Tara Singh’s refusal to support the Congress at the time of non-cooperation with the British to protect the interests of the Sikh recruits. Mohan Singh Nagoke belonging to the pro-Congress faction known as the Nagoke faction after the name of its leader Udham Singh Nagoke created such an atmosphere that Master Tara Singh5 thought it sagacious to resign from the presidentship of S.G.P.C. paving way for Mohan Singh Nagoke belonging to pro-Congress Sikhs to assume presidentship. The pro-Congress members remained dominant and in the general meeting of S.G.P.C. on 28th may 1948, they elected Udham Singh Nagoke as the President of S.G.P.C. Mohan Singh Nagoke became jathedar, of Sri Akal Takht Sahib.
Soon after, on 17th March, 1948, the S.G.P.C.’s Working Committee decided that all the Panthic members should join the Congress. The meeting was attended, among others, by Master Tara Singh6, Baldev Singh, Ishar SinghMajhail, Jathedar Udham Singh Nagoke and Bawa Bachittar Singh. In pursuance of the decision, all the twenty-three Akalis in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, after having signed the Congress pledges, merged themselves in the Congress.
But soon the circumstances began to take an adverse turn. In the then body-social of the Punjab, the Hindu chauvinists started holding out aggressive postures. Their chief spokesman, Arya Samaj, vigorously campaigned to propagate their brand of Hinduism ridiculing Sikh rituals, ceremonies, even doctrines. Their writings of those days and their speeches from different fora put new interpretation on Sikh religion and Sikh history, as, for instance, they vouchsafed that Guru Gobind Singh had created the Khalsa for the protection of Hindu society against Mughal aggression, and since after independence, the problem had been solved and many Muslims had left India, the existence of the ‘Khalsa’ as such was not necessary and it was high time that the Sikhs should revert to the Hindu society and stop asserting their separate identity. The Sikh thus were dismayed as well as annoyed. Synchronistically, the Sikhs began to be discriminated in services by the Hindu officials. In the ruling Congress also, the Hindu members started thinking on communal lines and notions began to be conceived and upheld not to allow the Sikhs to enjoy ‘glow of freedom’ which they had expected in the independent India for which they had made a lot of sacrifices in terms of lives and property. They were totally flabbergasted when even their demands regarding statutory safeguards for their religion, culture and Punjabi language (and not for Punjabi Suba) were rejected by the Punjab Government as well as by the Central Government. The Arya/ Hindu Press unabatedly and unashamedly continued to doubt the patriotism of the Sikhs. The treatment meted out to the Punjabi language of the Punjab by the government and semi-government agencies was disturbing to the Sikhs, because in the post-partition Punjab, it was expected that like other states, the Punjabi language would be accorded its due status. It was astonishing that the Jullandhar Municipal Committee in February, 1948, passed a resolution that the medium of instructions at the primary stage in the educational institutions maintained by the Jullundur Municipal Committee should be Hindi despite the fact that the majority of the people including Sikhs spoke Punjabi. In October, 1949, Sachar formula was announced by the Congress to settle the language issue. The formula created a zone in which Punjabi in Gurmukhi script was to be the medium of instructions upto matric and Hindi in Devnagri script was to be taught from the last year of the primary school. A parent could opt for Hindi as the medium if the number of such scholars was not less than ten at the primary stage. Even so, a boy had to take up Punjabi as a compulsory language from the fourth class and a girl from the sixth. The districts of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Jullundur, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Ferozepur constituted the Punjabi Zone together with Ropar and Kharar Tehsils of Ambala district and portions of Hissar district lying on the north of Ghaggar. The rest of the Punjab formed the Hindi zone in which the position of Punjabi and Hindi was reversed.
Though the formula was far from satisfactory in the opinion of the Sikhs as it gave option to parents whether for Hindi or Punjabi, thereby enlarging opportunity to disown one’s mother tongue, yet the Akali Party, the chief spokesman of the Sikhs, chose to accept it, albeit hesitatingly. However, the Arya Samajists with Urdu Dailies in Jullundur and Delhi were opposed to it. They were supported by Jan Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha. The Arya Samaj institutions refused to implement the formulae. The language issue, a legacy of the pre-independence days, had come to stay. The Arya samaj attitude was in fact reinforced by the political implications of reorganization on linguistic basis. The government instead of implementing the formula with vehemence gave the impression that it would not hesitate to ignore the legitimate demand of the Sikhs regarding giving recognition to their mother-tongue as medium of education.
The Sikhs baffled by such moves demanded linguistic state. Master Tara Singh, in a signed article that appeared on the 27th November, 1949 in the daily ‘Ajit’ said “according to my estimate this province will be composed of 7, 8, or 9 districts of the East Punjab and more. People may call it a Sikh area because there will be more religious, cultural and social affinity and oneness. This will be a province based on language alone. It may be given the name of Punjabi Suba.”
The Congress leaders hastened to label the demand as communal and a subterfuge to create a Sikh state or a home-land for the Sikhs. The Hindus especially of Arya Samaj did not lag behind in trumpeting the aforesaid ideology still further to bedevil the governments as well as people of their ilk. One could understand the opposition from Arya Samaj and Hindu chauvinists, but it was painful to see that the Congress leadership indulging in a virulent propaganda against the demand and its sponsors and supporters. The Congress in order to scuttle the move of Shiromnai Akali Dal led by Master Tara Singh for the attainment of Suba on linguistic basis resorted to Machiavellian scheme of setting Sikhs against Sikhs on the issue of linguistic state. Quite a number of the prominent Sikhs including giant Kartar Singh and Ishar Singh Majhail arrayed themselves against the demand and branded the Punjabi Suba as ‘Sikh Homeland’, ‘Sikhistan’, ‘another partition of the country.’
It was against this background that the Shriomani Akal Dal issued a show cause notice in early July, 1950 to the Panthic members of Legislative Assembly who had merged in Congress in early 1948 as to why they should not leave the Congress party and have a block of their own. The Congress government strove hard and succeeded to persuade all the Akali M.L. As except Jaswant Singh Duggal to flout the directive of the Akali Dal. The holding back of Akali M.L.As. in the Congress fold did not hold back the Sikh masses from joining the Shromani Akali Dal. The Congress held All India Congress Sikh convention at Amritsar on the 15th December, 1950 to impress upon the Sikhs that Punjabi State was not in the best interest of the Sikhs.
The Akalis also held their conference a day later to demonstrate the Sikhs’ mobilization behind the Punjabi Suba demand. The conference adopted the resolution that provincial boundaries be changed on linguistic and cultural basis to promote the natural development of different parts of the Punjab. The conference did not make any reference to the carving out Sikh majority areas into a separate province.
All through these years, the Congress party tired its best to keep its control over S.G.P.C.’s affairs by up keeping the dominance of pro-Congress members of the S.G.P.C. whom it extended its whole hearted support. Udham Singh Nagoke remained President till he was replaced by Pritam Singh Kharanj on December 5, 1952 who was the Candidate of Shiromani Akali Dal supported by other factions opposed to the Congress. The successful replacement of the incumbent in the office of President of S.G.P.C. was possible owing to the raising of the demand of Punjabi Suba by Shiromani Akali Dal which so worked upon the minds of some members of S.G.P.C. that they broke away from pro-Congrss group and arrayed themselves enthusiastically in favour of Pritam Singh.
With the slipping of the control of S.G.P.C. to the Shironani Akali Dal, the vast resources of S.G.P.C. were not unlikely to be used to promote the interests, policies and programmes of Shiromani Akali Dal.
The emerging scenario was unplatable to the ruling party, as it posed a serious threat to its own dominance in the affairs of the Sikhs/ province, especially when the top leadership of the Congress at the Centre disfavoured the demand of Punjabi Suba considering it as an attempt at the objectification of particularism of the Sikh community. Naturally, the Congress desired to dislodge Akalis from S.G.P.C. But how could it be done? With little hope of regaining its lost position under the existing provisions of law even by defections from Shiromani Akali Dal, the Congress planned to put an end to the Shriomani Akali Dal’s dominance by bringing forward a spate of amendments in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act.
Darbara Singh, a member of the Congress party, introduced a Bill in the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1953 which provided for a no-confidence motion against the office bearers and the members of the Executive Committee if they lost majority in the S.G.P.C. The Bill also guarded against the possibility of the majority party attempting to disqualify the members of the minority by allowing the latter the right to make appeal before the Sikh Gurdwara judicial Commission. The Bill thus sought to add a clause to the Act which did not exist earlier for the express purpose of overthrowing the elected office bearers of the Shiromani Akali Dal. The real motive of the Congress party was highlighted by Wazir Singh in his statement in Punjab Legislative Assembly on 12th March, 1953.
“The party which was defeated in elections which pitted its strength against the party in power in October last and which had not the courage to try its strength against the party in power in the session that was held only recently wants to recapture power in an indirect manner and by backdoor method."7
Exactly what Wazir Singh had apprehended and predicted, that very thing happened. A motion of no-confidence was tabled soon after the passage of the Bill and the pro-Congress group assumed power in the S.G.P.C.8 Another amending Bill was passed in the Punjab Legislative Assembly in October, 1953. After the merger of eight princely states of Punjab into one larger unit called P.E.P.S.U. (Patiala & East Punjab States Union), the total quota of eight members hitherto allotted to states had come to be filled up by means of nomination by the Rajpramukh as advised and guided by the Chief Minister. The Bill now left to the S.G.P.C. to co-opt the eight members. At the moment, when the Bill was passed, the intention of the Congress party was to strengthen its position in the S.G.P.C. because, it being in majority in S.G.P.C. was in a position to co-opt member of its choice. This aspect was highlighted by Sarup Singh in his speech in the Punjab Legislative Assembly on 18th January, 1954. He said.
“In reality it is tentamount to misusing the legislative powers for the sake of party politics. The members occupying the treasury benches have felt that the representatives of the PEPSU do not cooperate with them by casting their votes according to their will. Only with this objective in view, they have changed the whole view.”9
Notwithstanding the mischief-laden motivation of the party in power, the Bill added another important dimension to the structural set-up of the S.G.P.C. by strengthening S.G.P.C.’s linkages with the influential Sikhs of PEPSU and recognizing its notional hegemony over all the gurdwaras and Sikhs in the area of PEPSU.
Another amending Bill was passed on the 9th March, 1954. It sought to empower the government to remove any member of the Gurdwara Judicial Commission on grounds of incompetence and absence from meetings etc.
Such amendment in Sikh Gurdwaras Act was not made out of sacred motivation but with the design that members of Judicial Commission should work according to the wishes of the government, out of fear of the government. Bhim Sain Sachar, the then Chief Minister moved this Bill. The statement of Sohan Singh Josh is pertinent in this regard:
“The Bill has been brought to help the ruling Congress group in the S.G.P.C. by providing it a henpecked Commission whose members would always be submissive to it for fear of their removal by the government."10
The Alali apprehensions came out to be true when the Chairman of the Commission, Buta Singh, considered to be of Akali views, was removed telegraphically after rushing through the amendment.11
Two more amendments were effected by the ruling Congress party on the eve of Gurdwara elections in 1954. One of these extended the relevant provision of the Representation of the people Act, 1951 to the Gurdwara elections to provide against the electoral offences therein.12 The other amendment empowered the government to make territorial adjustment in the constituencies for the gurdwara elections due in the following months. Both these amendments were criticized- the one on the ground that it would be used by the government for promoting electoral responses from the Sikh masses in favour of Congress candidates, the second because it enabled the government to indulge in gerrymandering tactics of the ruling party in order to win the coming Gurdwara elections.13
These amendments apparently looked innocuous and genuine; but in the perception of the Shriomani Akali Dal, these were effected to strengthen the position of the pro-Congress Sikhs, and if possible, to dry up the roots of the Shiromani Akali Dal among the Sikhs.
But it so happened that when the elections took place, the Khalsa Dal, a special wing of the Congress, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of its rival, Shiromani Akali Dal. The khalsa Dal contested 132 seats and won only three. The Shiromani Akali Dal contested 112 seats and won all. Amazingly, the communists’ front organization, Desh Bhagat Board (D.B.B), entered into the electoral allianace with the Shiromani Akali Dal. The Communists probably were motivated by the compulsions of democratic politics of the changed polity. Their major objective seemed to be to expand their support base in the Sikh peasantry assuring them of a clean administration of gurdwaras. They thought it rewarding to approach the masses through the medium of religion and their culturology.
The Congress defeat on the other hand looked puzzling, especially when it had equipped itself with many supporting measures and was ruling the state; but to all those who had a better knowledge of the political ecology, there was nothing to be bewildered. The Shiromani Akali Dal fought the Gurdwara elections on the issue of Punjabi Suba which carried great appeal with the Sikhs who considered its creation as an imperative if the Sikh culturology as well as religiology was to survive and to be promoted. Further, the Shiromani Akali Dal successfully articulated the feeling among the Sikhs that the gurdwaras in the control of Shiromani Akali Dal’s members were more safe than under any other party including Congress. Historical consciousness among the Sikhs also led them to consider Shiromani Akali Dal as the legitimate inheritor of Gurdwara administration since it were the Akalis who had liberated Sikh shrines form the shackles of Mahants and their supporters, the British and certain groups of Hindus. Besides, the traditional Government versus Sikhs dichotomy was brought to bear upon the minds of the Sikh electorate and the pro-Congress candidates were dubbed as ‘Sarkarias’ a derogative term used for toadies.
The S.G.P.C. even after the elections of 1954 did not have harmony among its members. The Congress even after its defeat at the hustings did not stop playing its own game in order to establish control over S.G.P.C. It delayed the election of the new office bearers of the S.G.P.C. by about one and a half months, thereby providing time to the outgoing executive committee to nominate the members of the local committees of the Gurdwaras with the approval of the old S.G.P.C. , which on the eve of election had pro-Congress majority. It thus succeeded to keep some of the gurdwaras out of reach of Shiromani Akali Dal. The process was facilitated by the removal of Buta Singh, the Chairman of the Sikh Gurdwara judicial Commission from his office and by the appointment of one Sardul Singh, a staunch Congressite in his place.
The Shiromani Akali Dal’s victory in the elections of S.G.P.C. was significant in many respects. It not only put at the disposal of Shiromani Akali Dal vast moral, financial, financial, institutional and social resources, it also justified and upheld the claim of Shiromani Akali Dal that it was the only legitimate spokesman of the entire Sikh community. This thing enabled S.G.P.C. to put more vigorously the demand for the creation of the Punjabi Suba without any further delay. Bhim Sen Sachar’s Ministry clamped ban on raising slogans for Punjabi Suba on 6th April, 1955 against which Shiromani Akali Dal launched peaceful agitation. The government had to withdraw the ban on 14th July, 1955 under pressure, however. Now the Congress found it politic to alter its approach to the whole Sikh question as a result of which Nehru-Tara Singh pact (1956) was signed. The pact recognized the Sikhs’ autonomy to manage their gurdwaras without governmental interference and stipulated that any proposal for amendment to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act would be respected and welcomed by the government. It also envisaged a solution to the communal problem in Punjab by hitting at a plan, known as Regional Formula. In pursuance of the pact and the Formula, the Shiromani Akali Dal was merged in the Congress on the eve of the second general elections held in 1957.
Subsequent to the merger of Shiromani Akali Dal in the Congress, many fresh developments took place. In the elections to be held in 1957, 22 Akali entrants in the Congress secured tickets to fight the election while they expected at least 40 in proportion to their following among Sikhs as it was reflected in the last Gurdwara elections. Not only this, Master Tara Singh was not even consulted while selecting the Sikh members for contesting elections. This was a rude shock to Master Tara Singh who was given the impression by Jawahar Lal Nehru that he should be consulted in regard to the election of the Akali candidates from different constituencies. Master Tara Singh now decided, even against the resolution of Shiromani Akali Dal in favour of Shiromani Akali Dal’s merger with the Congress, to nominate candidates in his individual capacity to fight against the Congress. This thing put an end to the collaboration between the Shriomani Akali Dal and the Congress. The upshot of the general elections was that Congress won overwhelming majority and Partap Singh Kairon formed his ministry taking the erstwhile Akalis, Gian Singh Rarewala and Giani Kartar Singh, in his cabinet. The Shiromani Akali Dal led by Master Tara Singh drew a blank in the general elections.
Soon after the Hindus led by Hindi Raksha Samiti started ‘Save Hindi’ agitation. Instead of facing it, the Congress government led by Partap Singh kairon decided to placate the Hindus by whittling down the provisions of the Regional Scheme in all its essentials. It conceded that the government notifications at district level and below would be bilingual; that application would be allowed to be submitted in either of the two languages and replies would be given in the same language; and that the record upto the district level would be maintained in both the scripts. The government also conceded free use of Hindi even in that part of the states where Punjabi was spoken predominantly. Pepsu and Sachar Formulas began to be considered by a special committee consisting of Jai Chander Vidyalankar and Bhai Jodh Singh to decide in regard to the compulsion for teaching either of the two languages. All these concessions to Hindi Raksha Samiti ran counter to the basic principles involved in Regional formula that Punjabi will be the language of the Punjabi region in offices, courts and other administrative offices at the district level and it would have that status which other regional languages have enjoyed in their territories. Not only this, the Congress ministry dealt with implementation of the Regional formula seven months after the inauguration of the assembly and the rules and regulations were notified still later. These promulgated rules prescribed the conduct of business in the Punjab Regional Committees but did not put restriction on the use of language other than Punjabi. It was open to any member to transmit any motion, amendment, withdrawal, in Hindi or English and the conduct of correspondence with the office could be in Hindi language or in any other language. The concerned members were also entitled to demand that the conduct of business transacted by the committee should be in Hindi. This again was a clear contravention of the spirit and understanding embodied in the Regional Formula about the use of Punjabi in the demarcated Punjabi region.
The wrecking of regional Formula was also prompted by factional fight within the Congress. No-confidence motion in the Punjab Assembly was contemplated by some Congress members along with the members of the opposition. Partap Singh Kairon, in a bid to woo Hindu members of the Vidhan Sabha, professedly agreed to the demand of the Hindi Raksha Samiti. Synchronistically, he took steps to sponsor and accentuate conflict between the Akali Dal and the Congress in the political field- ostensibly to secularize the communal politics of the Akalis.
At this volte face of the Congress government, Master Tara Singh kept studied silence for some time; but then he finally re-raised the demand of Punjabi Suba on the 16th September, 1958. The first Punjabi province conference was held in October, 1958.
Immediately afterwards, the entire government machinery was moved to oust Master Tara Singh from the presidentship of S.G.P.C. In this game, Giani Kartar Singh played a leading role at the instance of Partap Singh Kairon and the Congress High Command. He coalesced all the opposition groups including 22 communists with his own group by promising them important offices in the executive of the S.G.P.C. and thereby he was able to defeat Master Tara Singh by 77 votes to 74 votes on the 16th November, 1958.
No doubt Master Tara Singh had been defeated and a nominee of the Congress ministry had been installed as the President of S.G.P.C., but it was apprehended in Congress circles that Master Tara Singh would be able to regain his position, unless measures were taken to keep him out of power in the S.G.P.C. For that purpose, the Sikh Gurdwaras Amendment Bill was proposed on the plea that representation was to be given to the Sikhs of the erstwhile PEPSU area on the S.G.P.C. after the merger. A delegation headed by the S.G.P.C.’s president waited upon the Chief Minister (Partap Singh Kairon) to press him to call a special session of the Assembly for early passage of the Gurdwara Amendment Bill. To begin with, it was stipulated that the executive of the S.G.P.C. along with the then 13 members of the Interim Gurdwara Board of PEPSU area and also the then 12 coopted members from the PEPSU area in S.G.P.C. would nominate thirty-five additional members for S.G.P.C. but then under the pressure of the Sikhs led by Master Tara Singh, the relevant provision of the amendment Bill changed to have a democratic look, at least, the electoral college now would comprise about 3000 Sikh voters from PEPSU area including the sitting Sikh members of the Parliament and of both houses in the state from PEPSU area, heads of the registered Singh Sabhas and Sikh educational institutions14, Sikh members of the municipal committees in PEPSU, Sikh sarpanches and Sikh Nayaya Pardhans of Nagar Panchayat and Nagar adalats respectively, all members of the Interim Gurdwara Board including twelve of its executive. The Bill in the amended form was passed into an Act in early January, 1959.
The aforesaid amending Bill was passed in a specially convened session of Punjab legislative Assembly. The government declared that it had done so because of its concern for the restoration of democratic rights to the Sikhs of PEPSU. But the majority of the Sikhs especially the Akalis regarded this a clever ploy of the government to increase the strength of the pro-Congress Sikhs in the S.G.P.C. as also to safeguard its interests in the coming Gurdwara elections.15
Admittedly, the government was motivated to move the amendment with an eye on its self interest; but the Act was such that it also benefited the S.G.P.C. The jurisdiction of S.G.P.C. got extended and as a result, historical gurdwaras in PEPSU came under its purview and jurisdiction. Besides, the amending Bill enabled the S.G.P.C. to legitimately lay claim to the allegiance of almost the whole Sikh community.
Apart from extending the Sikh Gurdwaras Act to the territories of erstwhile PEPSU state and making provisional arrangement of giving representation to Sikhs of PEPSU area, the Act laid down that the Board constituted with in the meaning of section 51 would consist of 160 members instead of 162 fixed as per Punjab Act 44 of 1953. The number of elected members was increased to 140 from 132 and the number of coopted members were reduced to 15 from 25. The head ministers of Sri Durbar Sahib Amritsar and the Four Takhts continued to be the members of the Board. Besides this, only those persons were permitted to contest election to the Board who were twenty five or more than twenty five years of age. This also applied to the coopted members. Further, the persons seeking toe contest elections to the Board or to be coopted to the Board were required to read and write Gurmukhi in addition to other conditions detailed under Section 45 of the original Act.16
Further, the Act empowered the Board to assume direct control and administration of the following gurdwaras considering itself committee of management for these:
1) The Sri Akal Takht Sahib at Amritsar and Sri Takht Keshgarh Sahib, Anandpur.
2) The Darbar Sahib Atal Sahib and all other notified Sikh gurdwaras other than Sri Akal Takht Sahib situated within the municipal boundaries of Amritsar.
3) Sri Darbar Sahib, and all other notified gurdwaras within the limits of Municipal area of Tarn Taran.
4) All the notified Sikh gurdwaras at Anandpur and the gurdwaras connected therewith other than Sri Takht Keshgarh Sahib.
5) The notified Sikh gurdwaras at Mukatsar.
6) Gurdwara Dukhniwaran Sahib Padshahi Naumi, along with Gurdwara Moti Bagh (including Gurdwara Sudh-Sar) Khel Sahib, Patiala.
7) Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib along with Joti Sarup, gurdwara Burj Mata Gujri and Shahid Ganj situated in Harnam Nagar.
8) Grudwara Padshahi Naumi at Dhamtan along with Bunga Dhamtan, Patiala.
9) Gurdwara Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib in Jind with Gurdwara Kharak Bhura Padshahi Naumi and Khatkar Padshahi Naumi in Tehsil Narwana.
10) Gurdwara ber Sahib (Padshahi Pehli) at Sultanpur Lodhi along with Gurdwara Hat Sahib, Kothri Sahib, Sehra Sahib, Sant Ghat and Guru-ka-Bagh.
11) Gurdwara (Padshahi Naumi and Dasmi) Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo along with Gurdwaras Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, Jandsar and Bunga kaltuwala at Talwandi Sabo, Gurdwara Sahib Padshahi Dasmi Takht Damdama Sahib, Bhai Bir Singh Dhir Singh Mazhabi Singhwala at Talwandi Sabo, Grudwara Sahib Takht Sri Damdama Sahib malwai Bunga Padshahi Dasmi at Talwandi Sabo, Sri Dasmdama Sahib, Bunga Likhansar Padshahi Dasmi, Sri Damdama Sahib Gurdwara Holsar Padshahi Dasmi at Talwandi Sabo ki.
12) Gurdwara Nankiana Sahib, Sangrur.
As per Punjab Act of 1844, out of the surplus accruing after meeting the lawful expenses upto 20 thousand could be spent on any religious charitable education or industrial purpose, but now under the Act of 1959 not only the upper limit of expenditure was removed but also the scope of expenditure was widened. It was laid down that any amount may be spent out of surplus on any religious or charitable purposes or any other purpose which promotes social welfare.
Another distinguishing feature of this Act was that it established a research fund of the Board to which the Board was to contribute at least twenty thousand rupees per annum from the fund of the Board or from the income of the gurdwaras managed by the Board under Section 85. The objective of the Board was laid down as carrying out research in Sikh history and publication of books and journals in connection there with.
Another highlight of this Act was the setting up of a Religious Fund with specific purpose of promoting and preaching Sikh religion. The fund was to be controlled and operated by a committee of seven members to be appointed by the Board in its general meeting. The President of the Board was to be ex-officio president of the committee. No member of the Executive of the Board including office bearers could become the member of the committee. The fund will be subscribed by every committee of management of notified Sikh gurdwara as per the norms laid down in the Act.
Still another amendment was made in Sikh Gurdwaras Act in April, 1959. According to it, all the section 87 gurdwaras with annual income of Rs. 3000 and above would have four elected members on their committees of management and one member to be nominated by the Board. Out of the four elected members at least one must belong to scheduled castes. The committees of management of gurdwaras having annual gross income would have members nominated by the Board. In both the cases, the nominated members should be the residents of the district in which the gurdwara or the gurdwaras to be managed by the committee was/were situated.
The ruling party claimed that they had done so as they were interested in streamlining gurdwara administration. The Shiromani Akali Dal, however, regarded this act of the Government an interference in the religious affairs of the Sikhs and cunning par excellence to nominate their own men to committees of management. Speaking on the occasion Atama Singh, an Akali member pointed out in the Punjab Legislative Assembly:
“One of the ministers has made these gurdwaras his public Relations Department and trying to use the funds for all the gurdwaras for his personal propaganda and against the Sikh religion….The religious places have been controlled with governmental force and these are being used for stabilizing ministers.” 17
The Akalis were correct in as much the S.G.P.C. then controlled by pro-Congress Sikh members nominated their persons on different committees, presumably to utilize the gurdwara administrative structure to boost their own interests in forthcoming Gurdwara election.
The 1960 Gurdwara elections which had been pre-empted by the legislative measures by Congress government to support its group in the S.G.P.C. almost repeated the pattern of the 1954 election. The three main contestants, namely, Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and Desh Bhagat Board participated in the election. The Shiromani Akali Dal attained 132 out of 139 seats while the Desh Bhagat Board was totally rejected by the electorate. Congress could return extremely small number of its members to S.G.P.C. On the basis of the result in gurdwara election, Master Tara Singh who headed the Shiromani Akali Dal as well as S.G.P.C. claimed that he was the sole spokesman of the Sikh community and interpreted the poll verdict as a plebiscite for the formation of the Punjabi Suba as it was this issue on which the Shirmani Akali Dal contested Gurdwara election.
Now Shiromani Akali Dal launched struggle for the attainment of Punjabi Suba and against the interference of the government in Sikh religious affairs. The overwhelming majority being Akalis, the S.G.P.C. also championed the cause of Punjabi Suba and extended18 wholehearted support to the demand. Master Tara Singh induced the majority of the erstwhile Akalis to resign as Congress legislators but failed. Then he called a Punjabi Province conference in May, which was attended by some leaders of Swantantra and Praja Socialist parties and announced a demonstration march in Delhi in June, 1960. He was arrested followed by large scale arrests of Akali activists numbering eighteen thousand upto July 1960. The government did not budge and Jawahar Lal Nehru in his Independence Day speech said, ‘Every Punjabi should himself consider to learn both Hindi and Punjabi but there could be no bifurcation of the Punjab. Sant Fateh Singh went on fast unto death on December 18 to move the Prime Minister to concede the legitimate demand for the Punjabi province purely on linguistic basis. He gave up his fast on the persuasion of Master Tara Singh who had been released on January 4, 1961 and who had met Jawahar Lal Nehru at Bhavnagar on Januray 7, 1961. On the 8th January, Nehru had declared that no discrimination was deliberately made against the Punjabi language and the Sikh community. He underlined that Punjabi was the dominant language of the entire Punjab and deserved encouragement in every way. In Master Tara Singh’s view, the demand had been essentially met. Sant Fateh Singh too agreed to this conclusion albeit reluctantly. On the basis of this statement, Sant Fateh Singh gave up his fast. When nothing concrete happened, Master Tara Singh, at the instance of Shiromani Akali Dal, went on fast unto death on 15th August, 1961. On October 1, Malik Hardit Singh, professedly an emissary of the Central government, came to Amritsar and on the basis of certain assurances, Master Tara Singh broke his fast, but even after that nothing came out. Rather, the anti-Punjabi lobbies stepped up their campaign. Jagat Nerain, for example, who had resigned as a minister on the issue of Regional Formula, warned the government on October 6 against any settlement with the Akalis. Tara Singh met the Prime Minister on October 30. A commission was formed a little later with S.R. Das as its Chairman. Its report came out in February 1962. The Commission concluded that the implementation of the Regional Formula was only delayed but not stopped, and therefore, it involved no injustice. It did not touch the issue of Punjabi Suba. Akalis did not present their case to the Commission; only a few representations were made to the Commission, including one by Virendra, who argued that Punjabi was dialect of Hindi and Grumukhi merely a religious script.
At this stage, the Sikh’s moral rage against Master Tara Singh was at its height, as according to them, he was responsible not only for breaking his own fast but for persuading Sant Fateh Singh to give up his fast without achieving the goal for which the fasts were undertaken. There was another reason for their resentment. Both Tara Singh and Fateh Singh had gone back on their decision to fast unto death and taking a vow in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib at Akal Takht, which act on religious grounds was unpardonable. The resentment was specially directed against Master Tara Singh who being senior-most was expected to be more discreet in matters of religion. Master Tara Singh could sense the change of wind against him. In the elections of 1962, the Congress won ninety seats out of 195 and the Akalis were defeated although in Punjabi region they got 72 per cent of Sikh voters while the Congress got less than 60000.19
In the meanwhile split occurred in S.G.P.C. One section led by Sant Fateh Singh revolted against Master Tara Singh and organized a new party known a Shiromani Aakli Dal (Sant). The rump continued to operate as Shiromani Akali Dal (Master Tara Singh). Early in October, 1962, Master Tara Singh and his executive were removed through no-confidence vote of seventy-six against seventy-two. The Akali leaders of Delhi demonstrated their support for Master Tara Singh by severing all connections of Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee with S.G.P.C., Amritsar. Now the inter-group struggle for having upper hand in S.G.P.C. started. In the January, 1965 Gurdwara elections, the major fight was limited only to these two Dals. Sant Fatech Singh won 90 seats and Master Tara Singh group got only 45 seats in S.G.P.C. elections.
The Congress party in the face of inter-group conflict of Akalis and its failure to assume dominance in S.G.P.C. made a shift in its strategy from direct electoral participation to indirect participation in Gurdwara election and manoeuvrings against the dominant Akali faction in S.G.P.C. This shift was manifest in the abrupt cessation of the Congress policy of bringing about amendments in the Sikh Gurdwara Act after the Shiromani Akali Dal Split, and its abstaining form 1965 and 1979 Gurdwara elections. This shifts is also visible in Congress support to Shiromani Akali Dal (Sant) against shiromani Akali Dal (Master) against the Shiromani Akali Dal (Sant) in 1964. In the post-reorganization period, it extended similar support to Lachhman Singh Gill, the leader of Janta Party in his bid to capture the S.G.P.C. after dislodging Fateh Singh’s Akali Dal.
Except evincing indirect interest in S.G.P.C. the Congress in power, directly and as a party had to restrain itself from adopting constitutional strategy for the attainment of its political aims. After reorganization of the Punjab in 1966, the S.G.P.C. made four major structural demands which required the government either to amend the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 or to enact some new legislation for the management of Sikh shrines. In all the four cases, the government did not accept the proposals. Whereas the demands for transferring certain gurdwaras from section 87 to Section 85 of the present Act and for the enactment of All India Gurdwaras Act were not at all taken cognizance of, its proposal of its territorial integrity was only belatedly accepted by the Janta Government in 1978.
In the case of Delhi gurdwaras, however, the Congress regime at the centre being deeply involved in the S.G.P.C. politics did not hesitate to resort to constitutional strategy to establish its influence in D.G.P.C. Not only it passed a separate Act for the independent management in the early seventies, in the early eighties, the Central Government (Congress) brought an amendment in the Delhi Gurdwaras Act for lowering down the qualifications for the D.G.P.C. office bearers, ostensibly with a view to accommodate Jathedar Santokh Singh who headed the pro-Congress S.A.D. (Master Tara Singh). The strategy of Congress government in Punjab Vis-à-vis Gurdwara legislation & S.G.P.C. is different from that of Central Government (Congress). In Punjab, since it has constantly failed to muster reasonable strength in S.G.P.C. it is not tempted to make alterations in the S.G.P.C.’s structure. There is another reason for that. Now S.G.P.C. has been recognized as an inter-state Corporation, and this being so, it does not remain with the Punjab government to make any change in the constitution of S.G.P.C. But the case is different with the Central Government. It has not ceased to play active role in the Sikh Gurdwaras legislation, if it suits its policies and conceptual framework.
1. Before partition the total number of gurdwara under the control of S.G.P.C. was 761. One hundred seventy-eight gurdwaras were left in Pakistan as a result of partition. In free India the total number of gurdwaras under the control of S.G.P.C. stands at 941 in 1991.
2. The Akali Te Pradesi, July 4,1926.
4. Govt of India, Home Department (Political) File 112.
5. Bajwa Harchan Singh: Fifty Years of Punjab Politics,(1920-70), pp.29-30 Chandigarh— Modern Publications, Chandigarh. Also refer to Punjab Government—Five years of Provincial Autonomy in the Punjab (1937-42). (Lahore : Superintendent Genera, Printing Press 1944)
6. Master Tara Singh reluctantly accepted the decision of the working Committee.
7. Punjab Legislative Assembly Debates Vol. 1.No 12 (12th March, 1953), pp. 12.(42)
8. Proceedings of the General Assembly (18th January, 1954) file 12, pp12,17
9. Statement of Sarup Singh, Punjab Legislative Assembly Debates. Vol.1.No.6 (6th October, 1953) p.61
10. Statement of Sohan Singh Josh, Punjab Legislative Council Debates, Vol.vi, No. p. 79
11. Statement of Master Tara Singh, The Spokesman, Vol.1,No.3-7 (Baisakhi Number, 1959), pp.51-52
12. Punjab Act 25 of 1954, Section 3
13. Statement of Abdul Ghani Dhar and Acchar Singh Chhina, Punjab leg.Assembly Debates, Vol.III,7(12th Nov 1954), pp.7 (1956-58)
14. These should be registered in or before December, 1958
15. Immediately after Nov 1958 presidential election of S.G.P.C. the Shiromani Akali Dal wanted to bring forth a vote of no-confidence against the Congress president Prem Singh Lalpura. The ruling party however, obtained an injunction against it from S.G.P.C. The injunction was vacated only after it had increased its strength in S.G.P.C. through amending Act. Statement of Master Tara Singh, The Spokesman, Vol 9, No.13-14 (Baisakhi Number 1959), pp.51-52
16. A person shall be deemed to be able to read Gurmukhi if he is able to recite Guru Granth Sahib in Gurmukhi and write Gurmukhi if he is able to communicate his consent to become a member in Gurmukhi in his own writing.
17. Statement of Atma Singh, Punjab Vidhan Sabha Debates, Vol. 1.No.29 (8th April, 1959), pp. 29(82-83)
18. All the Akali members of S.G.P.C.took a pledge at Akal Takht on 24th January, 1960 to work for the achievement of Province with single-minded devotion and with all the resources at their command.
19. Grewal, J.S. The New Cambridge History of India- The Sikhs of the Punjab, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
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