Selection & succession for Panth, Need for a national Sikh assembly

British Sikh scene has seen some major developments in the last few weeks, including the potential imploding of Sikh Council UK. GURMUKH SINGH, O.B.E. shared his views over two columns for Panjab Times in the last two weeks. We combine them as one entry

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The Sikh Manifesto developed by the Sikh Federation (UK)
By Gurmukh Singh OBE | PANJAB TIMES | OPINION |

 

SELECTION & SUCCESSION PLANNING IN KHALSA PANTH

In year 2000, I wrote an autobiography of late Bhai Rama Singh ji in English with the title In Search of the True Guru. This was based on an earlier book in Panjabi with the title Roop Gobind Ka, Raj Khalsay Ka, Sikka Sonay Ka edited by Sardar Harjinder Singh Mander of Panjab Times as recited by Bhai Sahib. Mine was an interpretation rather than a direct translation and, for that reason, I spent long hours with Bhai Sahib who was staying in the area. I was trying to understand his vision, especially that of Raj Khalsay ka.

He had given much thought to the future of the Khalsa Panth. His vision was clear and positive. In his own simple language he discussed even complex concepts like Panthic organisation, selection procedures and collective decision making. When I told him about my own interpretation of Sikhi tradition, he would smile, look at me and say something to the effect that he was not asking me to agree with him but that he had full trust in my sincerity in interpreting his own experience. He was most reluctant to talk about it till persuaded by many letters and especially by a dedicated Gursikh couple from Southall.

In short, we can agree to disagree and yet we can come to common Panthic decisions for Panth di chardhi kalaa (Raj Khalsay ka) above jathebandi politics. I was reminded of these discussions with Bhai Rama Singh ji, when on 27 April 2019, I attended a General Assembly of the Sikh Council UK with a certain apprehension. Only a few hours before the meeting I had seen a disturbing letter of resignation from the Council, published by an e-journal, which had a list of names appended to it. There was no way to confirm the authenticity of the letter and whether formal written approval of the individuals named had been obtained or, if those representatives themselves had prior authority from their respective Gurdwaras or organisations. Sadly, on the face of it, the letter seemed to be a hurried way of putting pressure on the General Assembly through mass resignations. Demand for refund of subscriptions seemed to detract from seriousness of objections raised.

There will be reports of the General Assembly elsewhere. Suffice to say, that despite a well-attended Assembly in the Sarbat Khalsa tradition, there was a background sense of sadness about refusal by some to sit together to sort out differences. While regret was expressed, it was equally stressed that resignations (historical cross-reference to ਬੇਦਾਵਾ) were never heeded in Khalsa tradition. Decisions taken following solemn Ardas before the Guru were always carried out. There was prior notice of such tradition-based procedure in the call to the General Assembly.

Quite rightly, reconciliation was given high priority by all present, but not at the cost of coming to decisions for moving forward. No organisation can remain stagnant in suspended state for long, nor can any survive without timely succession planning.

Finally, the general impression gained by those present was that the main objectives were achieved above jathebandi politics: a strong desire to reconcile differences while moving forward with a new team.

 

A CASE OF RE-INVENTING THE WHEEL – WHY WE NEED A NATIONAL SIKH ASSEMBLY

Sikh corporate (ਪੰਥਿਕ) life is part of Sikhi living. Few would argue against the need for a national assembly of Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations to agree common Panthic objectives when approaching the government regarding Sikh issues and concerns. Only through a national assembly can the participating organisations be empowered to lead in own areas of activism with collective community support behind them: fields such as charity, Sikh heritage, Sikhi education, social, economic and political.

The second main objective of such an assembly is the ongoing need for centrally agreed community guidance to settle internal disputes which require interpretation Khalsa tradition, ideology and processes. The main concern of community sevadars, above jathebandi politics, is the wellbeing and progress of the community.

Sikhi temporal-spiritual ( ਮੀਰੀ-ਪੀਰੀ ) activism covers the whole spectrum of the Sikh way of life. It is clarified under Article XXIII of the Sikh Reht Maryda:- The concept of service is not confined to fanning the congregation, service to and in the Guru ka Langar etc. A Sikh’s entire life is a life of benevolent exertion. The most fruitful service is the service that secures the optimum good by minimal endeavour. That can be achieved through organised collective action. A Sikh has, for this reason, to fulfil his/her Panthic obligations (obligations as a member of the corporate entity, the Panth), even as he/she performs his/her individual duties&hellip. Every Sikh has also to fulfil his obligations as a unit of the corporate body, the Panth.

Organised collective action for Panth di Chardhi kalaa (progress) as envisaged in the Sikh Reht Maryada is only possible if there is an agreed list of community issues and priorities. It should come as no surprise that a number of dedicated professional level Sikhs did produce such a draft for general reference. That was the Sikh Manifesto which focused on Sikh issues only above internal jathebandi affiliations.

It was published and distributed to UK politicians. In addition to comprehensive information about British Sikhs, the Sikh Manifesto sets down Sikh issues with clarity for the period 2015 to 2020. Yet, it remains as a draft on the Panthic table to be continually d and improved.

One high priority always has been Sikh identity representation in the Parliament. Election of the first turban wearing Sikh MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, and the first Sikh woman MP, Preet Kaur Gill, can be attributed to massive Sikh support and by stating the case for better Sikh political representation in line with Sikh numbers in the UK. Sikh statistical monitoring in own right is a related issue.

Recently we heard that the Sikh Council UK is no longer a united voice of the Sikhs. Regrettably, for some of us, that is history repeating itself. Yet, after some time, there are likely to be calls for a national Sikh assembly again because we do need one! We hope next generations will avoid such mistakes and build on the success stories of earlier generations. We need to learn from the past to guide our future and avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: sewauk2005@yahoo.co.uk. The article first appeared  at The Panjab Times, UK. See here and here.

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

 

RELATED STORY:

British Sikh future in politics is bright (Asia Samachar, 27 April 2019)

UK Government Sikh Roundtable (Asia Samachar, 20 April 2019)

Doctrine of Double Sovereignty (Asia Samachar, 31 March 2019)

 

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