Legal implications remain as Hooda has his way on SGPC

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Hooda's way: Legal implications remain
Chandigarh, July 12: What he could not achieve in over nine years, he did in less than three hours. For Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the passing of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill, which paves the way for a separate body for Haryana's gurdwaras, may have been a cakewalk Friday but this has to overcome hurdles with serious legal and political implications.

Hooda, who became chief minister for the first time in March 2005 and has been in office since then, had been supporting the idea of a separate Sikh body for Haryana's gurdwaras ever since. He set up two committees which, naturally, gave favourable reports on this. However, Hooda, despite being powerful, could not or did not take things forward.

This raises the big question: Why now?

The answer lies in the accusation of Haryana's opposition parties, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in neighbouring Punjab and the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). They accuse Hooda of a political conspiracy to divide the Sikhs.

The Hooda government rushed with the bill in the assembly Friday, introducing it and getting it passed on the very first day of the monsoon session. It is now likely to push Haryana Governor Jagannath Pahadia to give his asset to the bill to make it a law.

Pahadia, appointed by the Congress-led UPA government and a former Congress leader, is completing his five-year term by the end of July. It is a tricky situation for him at the fag end of his tenure.

The SGPC and the Akali Dal, which approached union Home Minister Rajnath Singh when the Hooda government initiated the move for a separate Sikh body last month, have been given assurances by the centre that the Haryana government cannot push ahead with the legislation without the centre's consent. Finally, President Pranab Mukherjee has to give his assent to the bill.

With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the Akali Dal is a partner, at the helm of affairs at the centre, the bill passed by the Haryana assembly has to clear legal and political hurdles.

The legal view over the issue is divided.

While some say that Haryana cannot violate the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, as it falls under parliament's purview, the Hooda government got the legislation passed, saying it was competent to do so. If the bill becomes an Act, the Haryana Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC) will come into being.

The Hooda government has justified its move, saying Haryana's Sikhs were feeling neglected under the SGPC and wanted their own controlling body.

Sikh shrines in Delhi are managed by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (DSGPC). Sikh shrines in other states like Bihar and Maharashtra too are managed independent of the SGPC. If Haryana breaks away, the SGPC, known as the mini-parliament of Sikh religion and with an annual budget of Rs.950 crore, will have controlling power only on gurdwaras in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

The passing of the bill is certainly not the last word. It has to pass legal and political muster. To that end, the political turf war over Haryana's gurdwaras is not yet over.

IANS

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