Religions

Parliament passes bill to exclude Sehajdharis from voting in SGPC polls

April 26, 2016 09:05 AM
SGPC Headquarter at Teja singh Samundari Hall, Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar

New Delhi: The Parliament on Monday passed the bill to amend a 91-year-old law to exclude Sehajdharis Sikhs (‘gradual adopters’) from voting in the elections to Sikh religious bodies.

Ahead of assembly elections in Punjab next year, the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed by the Lok Sabha more than a month after Rajya Sabha approved it. President’s nod is now pending for it to become an Act.

The definition of Sehajdhari Sikh has no religious sanction as far as the fundamental tenets of the religion are concerned. This nomenclature was added to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 under British rule. The bill proposes to remove the further exception given to Sehajdharis in 1944 to vote in the elections. 

Replying to the debate on it, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the demand for not giving voting rights to Sehajdari Sikhs was made by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) that “often demanded that those who are not Sikhs should not be given [the] voting rights. The SPGC general assembly of 2001 also passed a resolution regarding this”. 

“Those who are qualified to stand for the elections to the various posts should alone be qualified to vote in those elections,” BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi told the Lok Sabha during the discussion. Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittoo got engaged in a war of words with her and also with a visibly agitated Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who had raised objections to “non-Sikhs discussing matters concerning the management of the Sikh faith”. “It is for the Sikhs to decide who should vote for their gurdwaras and who should not. If anybody has an objection, I do not think non-Sikhs are in a position to decide who is a Sikh and who is not,” Harsimrat said even as Congress’s Santokh Singh Chaudhary said that MPs discussing an amendment in Parliament was not the same as “anybody discussing matters of the Sikh faith”. As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, only Sikhs who follow all the fundamental tenets of being a Sikh can contest the election. But as per a 1944 rule, the electorate included Sahajdhari Sikhs as voters as well —- a tradition decried by the Sikh community.

The Union cabinet had recently approved the amendment with effect from October 8, 2003. It had earlier been carried out by a home ministry notification on that date, but was quashed by the HC on December 20, 2011, leaving it to the legislature to amend the Act.

The definition of Sehajdhari Sikh has no religious sanction as far as the fundamental tenets of the religion are concerned. This nomenclature was added to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 under British rule. The bill proposes to remove the further exception given to Sehajdharis in 1944 to vote in the elections. 

Badal thanked parliament while Capt Amrinder Singh said Bill “unfortunate”

Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, however, said in the House that the “Sikh Gurudwaras Act should be renamed Badal Gurudwara Act”, taking a jibe at Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal. The latter heads the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) which controls the SGPC for several years now.

“You are trying to divide families through conspiracy...You are doing wrong with 70 lakh Sikhs who had voting rights in SGPC for 60 years... You are dividing the already minority community of Punjab into a sub-minority community,” he said.

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday thanked Parliament and the Centre for the amendment to Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) Act barring Sehajdhari Sikhs from casting votes in the SGPC elections and termed it as a “historic moment” for Sikh community.

“It is indeed a matter of pride for all of us and we profusely thank Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre for this historic initiative,” he said.

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