| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 12 Aug 2016 | Asia Samachar |
“Naujawan Sabha is not a mere society, it’s a brotherhood for Sikhi parchaar,” quips Amarjit Singh, the immediate past Jathedar of Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) and a long-time volunteer.
After a brief pause, he continues: “What kept us awake at night? Sheer enthusiasm, sheer seva bhavnaa [love abundance for selfless service]. Every night, we planned on running programmes.”
He pauses again. There is a tinge of despondency in the air, discomfort in the voice.
“Times have changed. There is [now] some urge for recognition. Back then, we were still young and just coming out. Back then, we were nobodies.
“As you get recognition, you start feeling that you are a somebody. Seva is such a dangerous thing. As you do seva, you get pats on the back. This is hard to handle, hard to control. That is the devil manifesting itself, it feeds on you. It takes root. We know it, yet it’s there.”
There is a heavy look on the face of the 64-year old, but still active, volunteer of the Kuala Lumpur-based organisation. He retired from corporate life some years ago as one of the top officials at Koperasi Angkatan Tentera Malaysia Bhd.
He joined SNSM in the late 1970s, served in various capacities over the years, and assumed the responsibility of the Jathedar, or president, for two years between 2010-2012.
Amarjit was reflecting on a question posed by Asia Samachar on the state of the SNSM today as the organisation prepares for its 50th annual general meeting (AGM) on Sunday (14 Aug 2016).
“Just like gurdwaras, it is not a society, but you need a legal form to open banking facilities and other stuff. Sabha is a brotherhood of Sikhi parchaar,” he says it again. Parchaar means preaching. “To some, a society is a society. The legal framework overrides the essence. So they talk about voting. That is our downfall.”
He knows a thing or two about voting at the organisation. The SNSM constitution states that the house elects a leader called the Jathedar, who then nominates an executive committee (exco). At present, a jathedar is allowed to serve two consecutive terms of two-year each. It used to be three consecutive one-year terms.
In the past, leaders of the organisation went to great lengths to avoid voting at the general house. They would strike out compromises to ensure that they do not have to vote one candidate over the other.
That tradition was put to a test in 2010. Malkith Singh, another long serving volunteer of the organisation and a well-known personality, had just finished his four-year term. He had put forward Pavandeep Singh. A compromise saw Amarjit elected as the Jathedar and Pavandeep as a deputy.
Two years later, the ‘no contest’ tradition came to a breaking point. Backed by Malkith, Pavandeep mounted a challenge against Amarjit. At the AGM, Amarjit backed out from forcing the house to go to a vote, despite some saying that he had enough support on the floor.
“I don’t want to be the person to break this tradition,” he told a fellow sevadar then. When asked, he confirmed the story.
At the AGM on Sunday, the out-going exco is putting forward Dr Jasbir Singh, a central banker and another long-serving volunteer, as the nominee for the Jathedarship.
“If the members deem me fit, I will undertake the responsibility,” he told Asia Samachar when contacted.
MAKING OF JATHEDARS
Looking back, Amarjit said SNSM has seen a dimensional shift in the make-up of its leadership, especially the Jathedar’s role.
In the past, he said the Sabha was made up of deans and lecturers, with the rest as support staff.
“It used to about programme planning, programme structure, with the logistics as a support to make it happen. This dimensional shift has taken place,” he said.
What’s the impact? “We have excellent cooks, excellent logistics people; but with very little material content. That is limited to a few who put their heads together to produce things.”
He added that the Jathedar has to be a father figure who can express to, and relate with, the flock.
“The young has plenty of youthful exuberance, energy, but they are a bit short on seniority to tackle issues, short on maturity, the siaanpa aspect.
“Hosh (wisdom) and josh (action). Excessive amount of josh is all action, no wisdom. You need a combination. To get this combo, you need older jathedars. Not old, but older. When you are too old, you don’t have the fire anymore,” he said, breaking into a laughter as he pointed at himself.
Amarjit spoke out against any idea of bringing back jathedars who have served their full term.
“If you repeat an old jathedar, you are recyling jathedars. If you do so, you are bankrupt of ideas, talent…How to move forward? You will have more of the same. You won’t see innovation. You must bring in new people. Each new person coming in will have his own contacts. It keeps the family growing.”
Touching on the Sabha ‘flock’, Amarjit shares another concern. Too many senior volunteers have drifted away from the organisation.
“During Master Daljit’s time, there was an explosion. Everyone came in. Now, we’ve had an implosion,” he said.
Daljit Singh, a retired headmaster, served as SNSM Jathedar between 1982 and 1985 and is credited for spreading the Naujawan Satsang movement in the country.
“The main difference in the last 30-40 years was Master Daljit Singh. He was a draw. He brought so many people into the Sabha. He produced so much material. Until today, when you talk about him, you feel good. It’s his natural love. It was during his time that we bought the first Sabha House and the first Sabha van.”
Moving forward, Amarjit cautioned younger volunteers to stay focused on performing selfless service and not to treat it like a trade.
“Chip-based seva comes with obligations. You think he’s doing seva, but the person is actually collecting chips to be used for bargaining in the future,” he said.
Despite the ups and downs, Amarjit will not trade the experience with Naujawan Sabha with anything. The more than four decades spent serving the SNSM had also given him tremendous joy and satisfaction.
“The Sabha job had been very enriching. It has been an informal training ground, a university of hard knocks. It had contributed to work place advancement, career advancement. I encourage all my children to get involved.”
Naujawan Sabha at the crossroads – Take Two (Asia Samachar, 9 Aug 2016)
Naujawan Sabha is broke (Asia Samachar, 14 March 2016)
SNSM AGM: Win back trust, scrutinise Khalsa Land samelan plan (Asia Samachar, 18 Oct 2015)