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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




Birth of SGPC & the Role it has played post-independence – Successes & Failures

Jogeshwar Singh*

This is the text of my presentation on 30th November 2021 in a Webinar organised by the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh (ISS). I have focused less on the history of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) since so much information about it is already available on the internet. I find it more pertinent to express my views about the expected role of the SGPC should be, based on its successes and failures post-independence. Some of my views may be too radical for some readers but I owe them honestly in expressing my opinions.

Birth of the SGPC

Regarding the birth of the SGPC, briefly, In 1920 the emerging Akali leadership summoned a general assembly of the Sikhs holding all shades of opinion on 15 November 1920 in vicinity of the Akal Takht in Amritsar. The purpose of this assembly was to elect a representative committee of the Sikhs to administer the Harimandir Sahib Complex and other important historical gurdwaras. Two days before the proposed conference, the British government set up its own committee consisting of 36 Sikhs to manage the Harimandir Sahib. Sikhs held their scheduled meeting and elected a bigger committee consisting of 175 members and named it Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The members of the government appointed committee were also included in it. Harbans Singh Attari became vice president and Sunder Singh Ramgarhia became secretary of the committee. By that time Master Tara Singh had started taking interest in Sikh religious affairs. He was one of the 175 members elected to the committee. The formation of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee provided a focal point for the movement for the reformation of Sikh religious places. The Committee began to take over management of gurdwaras one by one, and were resisted by incumbent mahants.

Starting in late 1920, a large number of reformers both in urban and rural Punjab had joined to form separate and independent religious orders called jathas. The primary purpose of a jatha was to gain control over local gurdwaras. A jatha under the command of a jathedar would occupy a shrine and try to take over management in its favor from its current incumbents. Sometimes the transfer went peacefully especially in the case of smaller Gurdwaras with less resources. This was done sometimes with the threat of force as well.

Soon, the Shiromani Akali Dal started a non-violent struggle against the government for the control of the Gurdwaras. The reports of some immoral acts perpetrated at Tarn-Taran reached the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee at its meeting on 14 January 1921. A fortnight earlier, a local jatha was beaten up and not allowed to perform kirtan at the gurdwara. It decided to send a jatha from Amritsar under Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchar. Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar with Akalis from ‘KharaSauda Bar’ joined him. On 25 January, a group of about forty workers took over the control of Sri Darbar Sahib Tarn-Taran from its Mahant. In the ensuing conflict two Akalis were killed and several others wounded by the henchmen of the Mahants. The Mahants were ousted from the Gurdwara and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee appointed a managing committee.

Gurdwaras Act of 1925

In early 1920s, Malcolm Hailey, the governor of the Punjab showed his readiness to assist the Sikhs in taking possession of all the important Gurdwaras in the province through a five-member committee constituted by the Sikh members of the legislative council. Hailey presented a draft of a new Gurdwara Bill to the Akali leaders imprisoned in Lahore fort. Master Tara Singh, Bhagsingh Advocate, Gurcharnsingh Advocate, Teja Singh Akerpuri (Jathedar AkalTakht Sahib) Sohan Singh Josh and Sardar Teja Singh Samundri studied each clause of the bill carefully. The bill met all the Akali demands and was signed into law on 28 July 1925 by the Viceroy of India after its ratification by the Punjab legislative council. The Act came into force on 1 November 1925 with a gazette notification from the government of Punjab.

The Act made a Central Gurdwara Board elected by the Sikhs to be the custodian of all important Sikh places of worship. The first meeting of the Gurdwara board passed a resolution that its designation be changed to Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which was accepted by the government. The Punjab government withdrew its orders declaring the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and other Akali organs as unlawful associations and recognized the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as a representative body of the Sikhs. In making the Punjab government agree to such recognition, the Akali leadership undoubtedly scored a victory over the bureaucracy. The Sikh Gurdwara bill met most of the demands of the Sikhs, but the government was willing to release the prisoners conditionally i.e. on the understanding to be given by the Akalis that they would agree to work for the Gurdwara Act. The Shiromani Akali Dal and the executive considered conditions imposed for the release of prisoners as wholly unnecessary, unjust and derogatory. Among the prominent Akalis, Mehtab Singh and Giani Sher Singh along with twenty other Akali leaders accepted the conditional release. Master Tara Singh, Bhag Singh Advocate, Teja Singh Samundari, Teja singhAkerpuri (Jathedar Akal Takht) and Fifteen other Akalis did not come out as government emphasis on eliciting written assurance and acceptance was to Master Tara Singh, an attack on the self-respect of the Sikhs. He said, “We ourselves have enacted this Act and we are responsible for implementing it, then why this condition?” Teja Singh Samundari died of a heart attack in the jail after some time. The Punjab Government failed to prove the charges against Master Tara Singh and the remaining Akalis, few months later, they all were released unconditionally. The courage and sacrifice shown by the Akalis during the trial very soon drove the Mehtab Singh’s group out of the political field and led to a rift in the Akali ranks, as the newly released Akalis condemned Mehtab Singh’s group as collaborators. Mehtab Singh’s group was also known as ‘Rai Bahadur Party’. This group had majority in the committee and Mehtab Singh was elected its President. The Akali Party launched a campaign against the conditionally released leaders. When the new elections for the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee were held, the Akali Party won majority and the newly elected Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee elected Kharak Singh as the President[9] and Master Tara Singh as the Vice President. Since Baba Kharak Singh had not yet been released the responsibility of the president fell on the shoulders of Master Tara Singh.

So, the SGPC was given a statutory status by the Gurdwaras Act of 1925. I would like to mention two major amendments brought post-1947 to this Act:

In 1953, an amendment to the 1925 act allowed the reservation of 20 out 140 seats on the SGPC for the members of the Sikh scheduled castes.

The 2016 amendment to the act by the Indian parliament stripped around 7 million ‘Sehajdhari’ Sikhs of voting rights in the SGPC elections.

From what I have been able to gather from the internet, the present SGPC is composed or 191 members of which 170 are elected from different areas including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh of whom 11 are elected from Haryana and one each from HP and CHD; SGPC became an interstate statutory body after the trifurcation of Punjab in 1966.15 members are nominated from all over India (4 from Punjab, 3 from Haryana, Delhi, 1 each from HP, Rajasthan, MP, Uttaranchal, Maharashtra), 6 members include the Jathedars of the five Takhts and Head Granthi of Darbar Sahib. 30 of these 191 seats are reserved for women.The co-opted members are selected by the SGPC general house in a meeting chaired by the Amritsar DC. Elections should be held every 5 years but this does not happen in practice. The elections in 2011 were scrapped over the Sehajdhari Sikhs voting rights issue. Earlier, elections were held in 1960, 1965, 1979, 1996 and 2004.

Coming to the successes and failures of SGPC post-independence, I deeply regret saying that I see more failures rather than successes. A manifestation of this is the desire by Sikhs in Haryana to have their separate SGPC by taking out the Gurdwaras there from the control of the SGPC. Before I start enumerating what I consider as failures, the primary successes that I see are the many educational institutions funded by the SGPC: 53 schools, 35 degree colleges, 1 medical college, 1 dental college, 1 nursing college, 2 engineering colleges, 1 polytechnic and 2 universities. Apart from this, I am unable to see many other successes.

The list of failures is long:

1.    The biggest failure is the complete politicisation of the SGPC which has not just become hostage to a political party but through that party to just one family. On paper, SGPC is described as a Parliament of the Sikhs but we all know that in reality it is just hooked to a single family which decides who should be the President by sending instructions in a closed envelope. Such domination by a single family has caused SGPC to lose all credibility in the eyes of most educated Sikhs, especially those living outside India like me.

2.    By its subservience to one family, the SGPC has also diminished the credibility of institutions like Sri Akal Takht and its Jathedar which it theoretically appoints though everyone knows that the controlling family makes this nomination. By not honouring the traditional decision making institutions like the Sarbat Khalsa, the SGPC has weakened the democratic ethos of Sikhi. Dasam Padshah baptised the Panj Pyaras and then got himself baptised by them. He accepted decisions by Panj Pyaras in order to accustom his disciples to a collective style of decision making. During the period of Sikh genocide carried out by the Mughals and Abdali in the 18th century, Sarbat Khalsa helped throw up leaders like Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Baghel Singh Carorsinghia who raised the Nishan Sahib on the Red Fort in Delhi. Which towering leader has the SGPC thrown up post-independence, other than politicians using it for their personal ends?

3.    The SGPC has failed in including various sections of Sikh society outside Punjab to its ambit. Overseas Sikh diaspora has expanded in the past 10-15 years in ways which could not be imagined in 1925. Most young Sikhs that I meet outside India feel totally disconnected from the SGPC, finding it to be completely undemocratic in its functioning. Total lack of credibility here.

4.    The SGPC has not recognised an essential need of the hour: formulation of a new Sikh Gurdwaras Act to replace the existing legislation dating from 1925. We are in the internet age. Such a new Act is a crying need of the hour. It should provide much more space for including Sikhs living outside Punjab, whether in other states in India or outside India. It should allow for voting through internet to motivate young, talented Sikhs to participate in its composition. How many of us have in reality voted in elections to the SGPC? While we are at fault for not exercising our voting right, we did not do so because we felt that it would not lead to any positive results anyway since a political party or a family would continue to call the shots.

5.    I have also heard complaints from concerned people about poor educational standards in several academic institutions run by the SGPC not being up to the level which would motivate Sikh and other families to move their children away from Christian run convent schools to SGPC run schools. How many of us have sent our children to schools run by the SGPC? Complaints are heard about nepotism in selections of faculty, non-payment of salaries on time, political interference in the functioning of these institutions.

6.    In terms of reaching out to especially Sikh youth, I am unable to understand why the SGPC pays a large amount to a privately owned TV channel for broadcasting live keertan from Darbar Sahib Amritsar when other private channels are willing to pay large amounts to the SGPC to broadcast it. This is just one glaring example which comes to my mind. The absence of a well stocked and well-equipped library about Sikh history and other aspects of Sikh life including the arts, architecture (Bhai Ram Singh), military prowess etc on the level of the Library of Congress in Washington or the Bodeian Library in Oxford is another example. We have so many Sikh intellectuals to furnish such a library if asked.

I would like to make some suggestions for general consideration by the ISS and other Sikh forums for raising their voice for enactment of a new Sikh Gurdwaras Act to ensure that the SGPC becomes a genuine Parliament of Sikhs and not just the fief of one political party or one family, as is the case at present in the eyes of most Sikhs I talk to.

1.    A committee of renowned Sikh scholars should be constituted to suggest the text of a new Sikh Gurdwaras Act. It should include highly educated Sikhs having served in various capacities in the government and private sector, representatives of farmers, theologians, kirtaniyas, military officers, artists etc but no politicians. Politicians should be formally barred from the deliberations of this committee which should consist of maximum 15 members so that it does not end up as an unmanageable talking shop.

2.    Elections should be held every 5 years as per the Gurdwaras Act to ensure that membership keeps getting renewed. There should be a term limit of maximum two terms beyond which no Sikh should be eligible to be elected to the SGPC.

3.    No political party or professional politician should be allowed to stand for elections to the SGPC, only Sikh academicians, writers, architects, retired military / civil officers, farmers. 30% seats should be reserved for women. I find it hard to understand the concept of scheduled castes in Sikhi. We keep declaiming that Sikhi does not believe in the caste system while we continue to practice it in our daily lives. Considering this reality, 25% of the seats should be reserved for what are called Sikh scheduled castes. One of the primary tasks for such a non-political SGPC should be the diminution of the importance of caste in Sikh society since eradication has not been proven possible in spite of the clear message of our Guru Sahiban.

4.    SGPC is not reaching out to various sections of Sikh society. Two of our Takhts, Patna Sahib and Hazur Sahib, are outside its purview. Dakhni Sikhs have not elicited its attention to the extent they should have, nor have White Sikhs who converted to Sikhism in the West. Historical gurdwaras in Pakistan, including Dera Sahib, Panja Sahib, Nankana Sahib, are being looked after by the PGPC. I visited Pakistan twice, in 2007 and again in 2010. I found that gurdwaras there retain their original construction in small brick while on the Indian side heritage Gurdwaras have been plastered with marble and gold leaf to make them look more majestic. The SGPC has been negligent about maintaining the heritage character of so many of our shrines. It has not constituted a five member committee of renowned architects to give professional advice about maintenance of heritage character of Sikh shrines.

5.    The finances of the SGPC are not managed by seasoned financial professionals. For this also, there should be a committee of financial professionals to advise on how to maintain a basic corpus as an endowment like the one for Harvard University or other institutions. Professional management of such a corpus should generate enough annual income to meet current financial needs of various institutions run by the SGPC. As a senior banker for nearly 12 years with the Edmond de Rothschild Group in Geneva and now with a Swiss family owned bank I have seen how such endowments allow top quality educational, medical, engineering and other institutions to be quality entities. There is a large number of professional Sikh bankers, serving and retired, who would be more than willing to lend their services for this cause provided they know that political interference and family nepotism has been removed from the functioning of the SGPC. Proper internationally accepted accountancy standards should be applied to annual balance sheets of the funds under SGPC control. Sikhs are a very generous lot as has been seen in times of natural disasters not only in India but also in Canada, Australia, UK, USA and other countries. They deserve a more professional management of their generosity.

6.    A unified curriculum about Sikhi should be drawn up by experienced Sikh scholars to be taught in all educational institutions run by the SGPC. It should be based on the essence of our Guru Sahiban’s teachings instead of each institution being left to its own devices under the influence of this or that Sant or Dera. The current prevalence of Derawad in Punjab is an indication of the failure of the SGPC to wean students away from such ideas. Why is it not doing more to encourage Sikh kirtaniyas to recite Gurbani in classical ragas as defined by your Gurus in the SGGS? Even some of the bani being telecast from Darbar Sahib Amritsar is not being recited as per the specifications of the SGGS. I have seen some American young Sikhs reciting the Gurbani as per the Gurus’ indications. Without citing any specific names or organisations, I have seen remarkable work done for this in the US by Sikhs. Why is the SGPC not in constant liaison with such efforts?

7.    Sikhs are now an international presence. Organisations like Khalsa Aid have done excellent work to give us an international footprint. Why is the SGPC not able to liaise with such service organisations to ensure a more coordinated approach to showing the service aspects of Sikhi to attract more youngsters to its ambit? I have the feeling the SGPC is like a frog in a localised and politicised well, unable to see how fast the world outside the well has moved on to new dimensions.


Dasam Padshah gave us the boon of remaining in Chahrdi Kala. I feel instead of being in this state on just an individual basis, we should help the Panth to be in a collective state of Chahrdi Kala. A rejuvenated SGPC on the above suggested lines can be a powerful tool in ensuring this.



Sources: Text about birth of the SGPC sourced from Wikipaedia.






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