BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Urdu Hindi Pashto Bengali Tamil Nepali Sinhala

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: South Asia  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 05:10 GMT
Analysis: Tussle over Sikh religious body
Sikh demonstrators protest against government's measures
This year's polls have become a fevered contest

In the Indian state of Punjab, annual presidential and executive committee polls to a powerful Sikh religious committee is causing tensions between Sikh factions and the state government.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Sikhdom's highest body, controls more than 250 historic Sikh shrines and institutions in northern India.

Sikh voters elect a general committee of 176 members every five years and they elect the SGPC president and executive committee every year.

The SGPC's influence stems from its power to appoint senior Sikh clerics, including the head priest of the Akal Takht of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism's highest religious and temporal seat.

This gives the political group controlling the SGPC considerable influence over the Sikh masses, particularly the more devout believers living in rural Punjab.

Stamping out dissent

This is the context in which the current fierce battle for the SGPC presidency and executive committee is being fought.

The Golden Temple, Sikhdom's holiest shrine
Mr Badal is already in the Golden Temple
For the past five years, Punjab's main Sikh political party - the Shiromani Akali Dal - controlled the SGPC.

This was largely because the party was also in power in the state and easily silenced any opposition to its supremacy within the Sikh committee.

The Shiromani Akali Dal and its president, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, not only expelled dissenters, but were also accused of using the clergy to settle political scores.

Mr Badal and his colleagues in government sacked at least two Akal Takht head priests, who refused to toe the party line.

Major confrontation

Now, after losing the state to the Congress, Mr Badal's efforts to retain control over the SGPC are meeting strong opposition.

Bhai Ranjit Singh, priest-turned-activist
Faith and Sikh politics share a fine line

Rival Sikh groups are sensing an opportunity to dislodge the Shiromani Akali Dal and wrest control of the powerful SGPC.

The rival groups, especially one led by veteran SGPC president and former Badal colleague, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, are receiving covert support from the state government.

Like the rival Sikh groups, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh too would like to see Mr Badal out of the SGPC since this would weaken him as a political rival.

As a result, this year's election to the SGPC presidency and executive committee has turned into a major confrontation.

Mr Badal and his Akali Dal colleagues say the government's actions constitute illegal interference in the Sikhs' religious affairs.

Both the government and the rival Sikh faction led by Gurcharan Singh Tohra, for their part accuse Mr Badal of abducting and intimidating SGPC members.

Both the rival Sikh factions are claiming the support of a majority of the 176 general members of the SGPC.

While these claims will only be tested at the polls on Tuesday, neither side is willing to take any chances.

Mr Badal and his supporters have already ensconced themselves inside the Golden Temple complex.

See also:

22 Sep 02 | England
31 Mar 02 | South Asia
12 Feb 02 | South Asia
27 Jun 01 | South Asia
06 Jun 01 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more South Asia stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |