This year, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the parkaash (birth) of Ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–1675). However, the farmers’ protest against what they see as unjust farm laws, has interrupted initiatives to commemorate the Guru’s life and martyrdom in some meaningful way.
Yet, lessons from the Guru’s history can be learnt to show a constructive way forward for both: a resolution of current conflict and memorialisation of the Guru’s Parkash centennial.
Prompted by Sardar Tarlochan Singh, ex-MP and Chair Indian Minorities Commission, the author forwarded some thoughts as below.
There is an echo from Guru Tegh Bahadur’s life mission and martyrdom as we see a flood of green turbans leading the farmers’ protest to save their livelihood and way of life. Although, the rather narrow traditional reason given for the Guru’s martyrdom is the defence of the Hindu religion, there were many other reasons which become clearer as we study the life of the Guru. There is little doubt that he was concerned with the wellbeing of all and not just of any one community or creed.
During the Guru’s time, the oppressive Mughal system of state used jagirdars and mansabdars to exploit the small as well as the larger farmers, the jamindars. For that reason, the agrarian relations between the state through the state appointed mansabdars/jagirdars, and the actual tillers of the land, the farmers, were always strained and led to rebellions, especially by the larger independent-minded jamindars. According to one source, “Agrarian relations were seriously disturbed. The whole economy in the countryside was in danger of giving way under the heavy weight of relentless exploitation by the State’s Jagirdars and Mansabdars.” (The system is explained by Fauja Singh and G S Talib in Guru Tegh Bahadur Martyr and Teacher (Punjabi University, pp 55-58).
The Guru’s liberating ideology of “fear none and frighten no-one” found popularity with the rural populations including the farmers and larger land owners who rebelled against the system from time to time. Many names are mentioned during the preaching tours of the Guru. Naturally, the Guru’s message of a life of dignity and freedom, which attracted large rural audiences and followers, troubled the Mughal state.
Today, the jagirdars, can be compared with profit-making large corporations threatening the farmers’ independence. They are least concerned about the way of life or livelihood of the average man (aam aadmi).
Quite amusingly as we see green turbans of farmers from all over India, we are reminded of the green turban of Gobind Das (later Guru Gobind Singh) in Bhat Vahis in connection with his dastaar ceremony! The place was Lakhnaur (now in Haryana). Little Gobind Das was seated on a cot. The colour of his turban was zamurdi (green).
As we celebrate 400th Parkash Year of Guru Tegh Bahadur, prominent Sikh Indians have been urging the Indian government to memorialise the Guru’s mission and unique martyrdom. Sardar Tarlochan Singh suggested, “a martyrdom museum in Delhi which should become a tourist attraction so that lakhs of foreigners and the local Indians who come to Delhi should know that [Sikhi] martyrdom concept is unique in the world and they should realise the history of the Sikhs especially Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Teg Bahadur. We will try to convince the government to agree to this proposal.”
The above suggestion is a good proposal and should be followed through. However, when invited recently, my additional suggestion took into account the present crisis which challenges the diversity and unity of the country. Singhu border on Delhi-Chandigarh road, is the command centre of farmers’ demonstration. This is where the farmers’ representatives were selected to hold discussions with the government to resolve their issues after three farm laws, now called the “Black Laws”, were enacted.
It is also the site of an existing memorial to Guru Tegh Bahadur. Sardar Tarlochan Singh wrote, “I may inform you that a proper memorial was built 8 years back by the Delhi government which is very impressive and everyone who enters Delhi it is visible on the left side. Interestingly till few days back this was being used by the farmers and there were lot of facilities made available for them. This is a huge complex in two acres area.”
Quite remarkably, the present “state versus people” conflict circumstances recall an episode in Guru Tegh Bahadur’s history. The Guru negotiated peace between Raja Ram Singh representing the Mughal empire and the Ahom ruler Chakradhwaj Singh of Assam, at a place called Hajo, also known as Teghpur or Tegh Parbat in memory of the Guru.
Another related point as discussed above, is the background to Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom which was at least partly due to the conflict between jagirdars and farmers (jamindars). The latter were independent minded, and many, especially in the Malwa belt, became devout followers of the Guru. The Mughal suspected rebellion and that resulted in the first arrest of Guru Tegh Bahadur eventually leading to his martyrdom after the third arrest.
Therefore, following in the footsteps of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Prime Minister Modi needs to show a clear vision of One Nation and One People united in their diversity as equal citizens. This is not a matter of personal prestige nor will it diminish his image as a world class leader.
The following steps are suggested for memorialising the life, vision and mission of the Guru:
1. Immediate announcement revoking the “black” farm laws and removal of all police barricades blocking the roads to Delhi.
2. PM Modi should then walk up to the Indian diversity united by the Farmers’ protest at Singhu border and announce the broad terms of an accord for the next steps to bring about the agrarian reforms needed in the states and by the states and the farmers and workers unions. The objective should be to ensure complete security for small farmers and workers while giving a major boost to farm produce through diversification and national/international marketing infrastructure while saving the environment.
3. Announce a museum as suggested by Sardar Tarlochan Singh and colleagues as an annex to existing Guru Tegh Bahadur memorial at Singhu Border to mark the accord and the occasion.
Thus, PM Modi can take a bold step to memorialise Guru Tegh Bahadur’s 400th Parkash anniversary while uniting the country. He has an opportunity to return the country to democratic rule with real separation of powers in a federal type of government.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: email@example.com. Click here for more details on the author.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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