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Raveen Thukral
State of Affairs

HGPC: Blame it on Badal and Hooda

The war of words between Hooda and Badal has generated a lot of political heat.

f the Haryana Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HGPC) is becoming a reality today, a move that has widely split Sikh community's opinion on state and political lines, blame it on the Chief Ministers, Parkash Singh Badal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Hooda can be blamed for meddling in Sikh affairs and timing HGPC's creation to polarise the community's votes for the beleaguered Congress. And Badal for igniting the demand for a separate gurdwara management body in Haryana by ignoring the interests of the Sikhs from the state and denying them their due representation in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which he runs as his personal fiefdom.

Politics and religion are a heady mix, but political parties seldom refrain from blending the two for their narrow political gains. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab has always used the SGPC, whose main task is the management of gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, to meet its political ends and now the Congress in Haryana is playing the HGPC card to woo the near 6% Sikh electorate (12 lakh+) in the state.

The Congress’ move for the creation of the HGPC is thus clearly political, with eyes on the 12 lakh odd Sikh votes in Haryana.

Former SGPC secretary, Manjit Singh Calcutta, says that the HGPC would not have happened had Sikhs in Haryana been given due importance in gurdwara affairs. He says this happened due to "the excessive interference" of the SAD government in religious matters. "The SGPC moulded its decisions as per the political will of SAD at the cost of ignoring the interest and representation of Sikhs in Haryana" he says.

Those who have been demanding the creation of HGPC say that donations to the tune of Rs 180 crore are collected from the 79 gurdwaras, including seven associated with Sikh gurus in Haryana. They allege that since SGPC controls these, the money is diverted to Punjab and spent to suit the political designs of the SAD. They also claim that local youths are overlooked for jobs in the gurdwaras, while over 5,500 people from Punjab are employed there.

The demand for the HGPC was first raised in 2000 when an ad hoc committee was formed under the leadership of Harbans Singh Dachar. In the 2004 SGPC elections, the ad hoc committee won seven of the 11 seats in Haryana, thereby providing a kind of legitimacy to the demand.

Due to differences within the HGPC ad hoc committee, their seats in the 2009 SGPC elections were reduced to zero and Badal used this decimation to project it as a verdict against the formation of a separate body. However, since 2000, the SAD and the SGPC did little soul searching to find the reasons for the alienation of the Haryana Sikhs and take steps to resolve the same. Had they done so, this situation may have been avoided.

The Congress adopted the demand in 2004 by promising the creation of a separate HGPC in its election manifesto. It subsequently formed a committee under the chairmanship of former Finance Minister H.S. Chattha, which collected over 2.5 lakh affidavits in support of HGPC, a claim that the SAD refutes.

For almost a decade, the Congress moved slowly on the issue, literally putting it on the back burner. But the party's Lok Sabha debacle brought it right back to the forefront. In the LS elections, the Congress won only 15 of the 90 Assembly segments, which puts it to on a very sticky wicket for the Vidhan Sabha elections scheduled later this year. The Congress' move for the creation of the HGPC is thus clearly political, with eyes on the 12 lakh odd Sikh votes in Haryana.

The war of words between Hooda and Badal has generated a lot of political heat, with the latter accusing the Congress of dividing the Sikhs and dubbing the act as "an assault" on the community, parallel to Operation Blue Star and the 1984 riots. The SAD has also sought the Centre's intervention to stall the move, but so far there has been no reaction from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

While it may take some more time for the air to clear finally over the creation of the HGPC, this acrimony, a result of political interference in religious matters by both the SAD and the Congress, is undesirable. Political parties must refrain from treading religious lines, as matters of religion and faith are best handled when left to the followers.

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