Lessons for the Task Force

Malaysian Sikh organisations had gallantly come together in response to the Guru Granth Sahib beadbi issue in Punjabi, and the Modi visit to Malaysia. What are the lessons learnt from the two events?

Opinion | Malaysia | 14 Dec 2015 | Asia Samachar |


By Hb Singh

For many years, the Sikh community in Malaysia had been operating in silos. They had been chugging along in their respective gurdwaras or organisations, or in their own individual circles and families. Rarely had they come together on a single platform.

The beadbi of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) in Punjab gave them a chance to stand united. The community found a common cause to get together. They came together and even curated a document capturing their feelings. The resulting memorandum was addressed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Well done, Task Force, as the group badged itself. A good number of Sikh organisations come on board with the memorandum. The last time the Sikh kaum here had come together in this fashion was in the aftermath of the 1984 attack on the Harmandir Sahib. Those were far, far, more sad times.

Getting the Sikh organisations to sign up for the protest of the SGGS beadbi was the easy bit. Most Sikhs were disturbed by the incidents. They wanted something to be done about it.

SEE ALSO: 30 orgs, 125 gurdwaras in Malaysia condemn use of lethal force in Punjab

Then came the Modi visit to Malaysia. The Task Force swung into action again on 16 Nov 2015.

However, this time around, things were not as smooth as in the earlier round. One key issue: Should Sikhs meet Modi?

Sikhs in Malaysia were divided on this issue. Some simply wanted to ignore long standing Sikh grievances and greet Modi as an Indian leader. Some felt Sikhs should meet Modi to engage him on issues confronting the community. Others felt that Modi should be shunned.

Needless to say, the Task Force had some balancing act. In the end, the meeting of Sikh NGO representatives agreed on four resolutions. Resolution No 4 reads: “All Sikh NGOs/individuals are advised to stay away and not attend any function or programme held in conjunction with the visit of PM Modi, due to PM Modi’s failure to issue a statement condemning the attacks on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the violations of human rights against the Sikh protesters.”

SEE ALSO: 22 Sikh NGOs to shun Modi events in Malaysia

The issue brings to the fore the divide in the local Sikh community. We don’t need Modi to tell us that the local Sikhs are not always on the same page. That is quite normal, acceptable even, to a certain degree. Division, at times, means people are thinking and acting, though not necessarily at the same wave length.

On the Modi ban issue, some questions come to mind. 1. Was the Task Force successful in forging a consensus on the issue? 2. Was the meeting of the Task Force called in a proper manner? 3. Were the representatives who attended truly tabling the views of their respective organisations? 4. Did those organisations deliberate the issue before dispatching representatives?

“Effective meeting management involves ground rules, agendas, clear purposes, facilities planning and preparation, careful recording of results, notification of members, and communication,” according to an article entitled Consensus building, collaboration, and decision making by the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany [See here for full article].

So, did the Task Force deliberations meet the above requirements?

We can formulate a dozen more questions. If you were involved in the Task Force, take it easy. These questions are merely to invoke a discussion. As we ponder on these questions, some lessons emerge. They can serve the Sikh organisations should they come together again, either in the name of the Task Force or in any other form.

LESSON ONE: Understand your subject

Understand who you are dealing with. India – the political animal – is a well-oiled, mean machine. It has diplomats and officials who understand the ground, perhaps, better than we ourselves. Don’t underestimate them. Just look at the ‘terrorism’ play and ploy that they have been peddling. Like it or not, they have been pretty successful. So, you require some equally sharp people on board. If you don’t already have them in your team, start looking out for such expertise.

LESSON TWO: Consensus building takes time, patience

As mentioned earlier, round one for the Task Force was a walk in the park. Everyone was agreeable to ‘doing something’ for the beadbi issue. But the Modi visit issue was a little bit more tricky, more challenging. From the onset, we should have expected disagreement. So, how do you manage these disagreements? How do you win them over? How do we forge a consensus?

Easier said that done! Managing these issues takes time and demands patience. Most of the folks at the Task Force are people with their own full-time jobs and businesses to run. So, time is not always a commodity in abundance.

The same goes with patience. Not everyone has the patience to handle negotiations. Some of us are hopeless at negotiations, we lose our fuse at the drop of the pin. Hopefully, the Task Force had the right mix of people to handle the delicate task at hand. In future, make sure you continue to have the right mix, as well.

LESSON THREE: Manage disagreements

After a few rounds of negotiations, we still do not have a consensus. How now? In community work, managing disagreements is probably one of the most critical areas of concern. It’s easy to ‘whack’ those who do not agree with you. But what good does that do? How do we achieve this? Maybe someone can fill the space here.

LESSON FOUR: Avoid the ban and boycott button

Bans and boycotts have their place in civil movements and politics. But they should never be the first port of call. They should always be the last resort. SEE ALSO: Ban, burn, blast and boycott

LESSON FIVE: If you’re not with me, you’re against me 

For heaven’s sake, drop this attitude. This is one area that many of our Sikh NGO leaders and representatives need schooling. We need to grow up.

In this particular case – of the Modi visit – some who had associated themselves with the Task Force were heard slamming those who did not agree with their position on the matter. You are free to express your opinion. You are welcome to push forward your position. But don’t berate others for their views. Don’t scorch them with words, either on stages or via the social media. We don’t need more fire-spewing leaders. There are plenty of them out there already.

As leaders and representative of Sikh NGOs, learn how to respect their views, as much as you disagree or dislike them. It takes maturity and humility to reach this higher ground.

So, there you have it. Five lessons for future task forces and other Sikh NGOs when dealing with community matters. If you think they make sense, share. If you think they are fit for nutters, hit the delete button. Whatever you do, don’t press ban or boycott, just yet (pun intended).


[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]


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