Of Missing Opportunities Where None Exist: The Case of Bhai Banta Singh

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By Karminder Singh Dhillon | Opinion |

I refer to ST’s Letter to the Editor “Baba Banta Singh in Malaysia – A missed opportunity” published in Asia Samachar on 17 January 2024; in which the writer laments that “Sikhs in Malaysia that have a different view on Nitnem Bania, Amrit Sanchar Baniaa, Simran and other Sikh practices” missed an opportunity for a dialogue with the preacher.

The lament assumes that Bhai Banta Singh is amenable to a dialogue, open to discussion, and willing and agreeable to an exchange of views – particularly with those who disagree with him.

The truth of this assumption needs to be put to the test. 

In April 2022, while speaking at Lal Kila Smagam in Delhi, Banta Singh claimed that Guru Gobind Singh ji fought 14 wars against the Mughal Sultanate.  The truth is that Guru Gobind Singh fought only 3 wars with the Mughal Sultanate including Chamkaur and Khidranna. Eleven wars were fought against the Hindu Hill Rajas.

The Delhi Gurdwara Sahib Management Committee (DGSMC) member Bibi Ranjit Kaur took Banta Singh to task and wrote on the social media asking Banta Singh to name his sources for the fake claim that Guru Gobind Singh fought 14 wars against the Mughal Sultanate.  She ended her post with ਆਪ ਜੀ ਦੇ ਜੁਆਬ ਦੇ ਇੰਤਜਾਰ ਵਿਚ । Awaiting your response.

Her post was carried by the Sikh News Network that has 80,000 subscribers. Click here.

The Shromani Akali Dal Youth Wing Chief Jasmeet Singh Pritampura also called on Banta Singh to explain his distortion.  He further called upon then Akal Takhat Jathedar Gyani Harpreet Singh to summon Banta Singh and ask for an explanation.

There is no record of Bhai Banta Singh making any attempt to engage Bibi Ranjit Kaur and Jasmeet Singh for a dialogue, discussion or debate. There is no record of him even responding to both these individuals who are not ordinary people who “have a different view” but Sikhs in positions of authority.

In November 2022, one of Banta Singh’s supporters named Gurpal Singh Hansra posted a notification of a scheduled one-day debate between Banta Singh and Sarabjit Singh Dhunda. Dhunda responded to say that even if he was not consulted or asked to take part in the debate by Hansra, he accepted the challenge saying he was prepared to debate Banta Singh for “as many days as necessary.” Dhunda wanted Hansra to confirm that Banta Singh would not “eventually run away” “ਬਾਬਾ ਬੰਤਾ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਖੀਰ ਤੇ ਭੱਜ ਨਾ ਜਾਵੇ।” This debate never happened because Banta Singh did eventually run away. Readers can get the details of so called challenge here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi-G-FzE1so

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi-G-FzE1so

The writer of the letter, ST, makes a number of claims about Bhai Banta Singh as follows: (i) He is regarded as one of the foremost and shiromani parcharaks. (ii) He is regarded as a great Sikh scholar and regularly does Katha at Manji Sahib, Amritsar. (iii) Baba Ji is also known to be a zealous defender of Sikh practices, belief system and literature.

The truth of these claims needs to be put to the test. 

A “foremost and shiromani parcharak,”a “great scholar” and a “zealous defender of Sikh practices” can be excused for confusing the truth of 3 wars fought with Mughals with 14 wars.  It could simply had been a “counting error” or a “slip of the tongue.” 

If indeed it was a genuine error, Banta Singh could have corrected it subsequently and responded to DGSMC’s Bibi Ranjit Kaur and  Shromani Akali Dal Youth Wing Chief Jasmeet Singh Pritampura. He did not.

The truth of the matter this is that Banta Singh’s “confusion of 3 battles with 14” was a deliberate distortion of Sikh History. The false claim was made within the framework of an agenda that is decided by his handlers and enablers. 

His objective in distorting Sikh History is to exonerate the Hindu Hill Rajas from their crimes. Remember that the Hindu Hill Rajas invaded and attacked the Guru in 11 separate battles. Banta Singh wants to inject a distorted “fact” in the minds of Sikhs that the enmity of the tenth Guru was NOT with the Hindu Hill Rajas but with the Muslim Mughal Sultanate.

Such a distortion is in line with the dictates of RSS, BJP and the supporters of Hindutva who are trying to rewrite history to say that (i) Guru Gobind Singh (and other Gurus) were actually defenders of Hinduism and (ii) that the enmity of Sikhs is with Mughal Muslims and never with the Hindu Hill Rajas when the factual reality is different.

This is the reason why Banta Singh did not correct his distortion and did not respond to Bibi Ranjit Kaur and Jasmeet Singh Pritampura.

So much for Banta Singh being a “foremost and shiromani parcharak,” a “great scholar” and a “zealous defender of Sikh practices.” The truth of the matter is that the RSS is the handler and enabler of Banta Singh. RSS is his sponsor.  RSS is his patron.

The Lal Kila Smagam where Banta Singh spoke was organized by the Indian Government in which Prime Minster Narenda Modi personally participated. Banta Singh was their “prime parcharak.” He performed par excellence in propogating the RSS agenda from this government enacted platform.

Readers can listen to Banta Singh distort this portion of Guru history here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZWOvoNQC7c

So there was no “missed opportunity with Banta Singh.”  There never was any opportunity as has been proven by Banta Singh’s own conduct in the above mentioned latest two episodes.  One cannot “miss” what does not exist in the first place.

Three other points within ST’s letter need comment. The first relates to his statement in para four of his letter as follows: “Guru Nanak Ji would have gone to meet these so call deviant people and had a discourse with them.” (Italics added). 

If the intent is to declare “Sikhs in Malaysia that have a different view on Nitnem Bania, Amrit Sanchar Baniaa, Simran and other Sikh practices” to be deviant, then this amounts to shutting the door on the same dialogue and discussion that ST is calling a “missed opportunity.”  Labelling and disparaging the other side and hoping for a dialogue with them is anti-thesis to any exchange of ideas. 

If, however, the intent of ST Singh is that the Sidhs that Guru Nanak dialogued with were “deviant,” then I must call upon ST Singh to go read the dialogue in Sidh Goshat to see if Guru Nanak labelled and disparaged them as such.  It would be beneath Guru Nanak’s character to have done any kind of labelling or judgement with parties he dialogued with.

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Second, ST Singh writes in para four: “In his talks in Kampar, Baba Ji had made cursory reference to people who are these days questioning Sikhi, questioning Nitnem Baniaa, questioning Amrit Sanchar Baniaa and questioning some Sikh practices such Simran, etc.” This is indeed an accurate observation except that it is diplomatically put.  Banta Singh hardly ever fails to label and disparage his critics with words such as “Nindaks.” This is his way of responding to those who disagree with him.

Finally, there is a world of difference between “questioning Sikhi, questioning Nitnem Baniaa, Amrit Sanchar Baniaa and questioning some Sikh practices such as Simran” and having questions about Sikhi, Nitnem Bania, Amrit Sanchar Bani and Sikh practices such as Simran.”

Banta Singh knows the difference.  He knows that Sikhs across the world have questions regarding a host of issues. He knows that the questions are legitimate. He knows that if answered on the basis of Gurbani and Gurmat – his RSS agenda will be exposed.  He thus has two options: (i) provide deviant answers that serve the agenda that is decided by his handlers and enablers, and/or (ii) paint the persons who raise questions as persons “questioning Sikhi”, as “Guru-Nindaks” or as “anti-Sikhs.”

Here are some legitimate questions that some Sikhs in Malaysia have on Sikhi, Nitnem Bania, Amrit Sanchar Bania and Simran (the issues pointed out by ST Singh).

  1. Is Sikhi unique or is it part of the framework of Snatan, Vedic and Hindutva designs?
  2. The Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) has 1,429 pages and 5,000 plus shabds.  When deciding on Nitnem Banis – why did we have to resort to 3 (out of 5) rachnas compositions from OUTSIDE the SGGS? Did we run out of banis from the SGGS?
  3. Of the 5 banis that are read to turn the water into Khande de pahul – why are three from outside the SGGS? Those who take the pahul – are they being initiated into Khalsa of the SGGS? If so, then what is the need of recitations from OUTSIDE the SGGS?
  4. Is the chanting of mantras the Simran of Sikhi? What does the SGGS say about the practice of Simran in Sikhi?

There are different answers these questions that will create different levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction amongst those asking them. It would be one thing to say (to questions 2 and 3) that this is decided in the Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM) – a decision of the panth.  It would be another to say the panth needs to re-look issues 2 and 3. It would yet be another to say that something is not right with the panthik decisions – they don’t appear to have been made in accordance with the SGGS. Yet, all the responses would be legitimate.  That is because at the end of the day – all the questions are legitimate. They are legitimate concerns of Sikhs.

But to say that these questions are “questioning Sikhi”, or that they are raised by “Nindaks” or by “anti-Sikhs” etc. is the nonsense of those who either lack the capacity to answer such questions or have specific agendas to promote – the RSS agenda in particular.

Banta Singh has the capacity to answer them, but only in accordance with the RSS agenda. He is out to prove that Sikhs are part of the Snatan-Vedic tree. And those who disagree with his agenda are “Nindaks who are questioning Sikhi.” 

So there really was no “missed opportunity to dialogue with Banta Singh” to begin with.

Sikh thinker, writer and parcharak Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston), is a retired Malaysian civil servant. He is the joint-editor of The Sikh Bulletin and author of The Hijacking of Sikhi. This article appeared in the The Sikh Bulletin – 2023 Issue 3 (July – September 2023). Click here to retrieve archived copies of the bulletin. The author can be contacted at dhillon99@gmail.com. 

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