HSGPC row: Narendra Modi Government in catch-22 situation

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SAD has rejected the HSGPC Bill passed by Haryana Assembly.
Akal Takht, the supreme temporal body of Sikhs, on Sunday gave a fresh directive and restrained from functioning the newly elected office bearers of Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC). It also instructed that Amritsar-based SGPC will continue to manage the day-to-day affairs of Sikh shrines in Haryana.

What has the Akal Takht said?

Akal Takht head Gurbachan Singh on Sunday asked the Sikh leaders in Haryana not to disturb the previous administrative system run by Amritsar-based SGPC to manage Sikh shrines in Haryana. Virtually giving gag orders, Singh directed all Sikh organisations and Sikh political outfits not to make statements before media till the SGPC row is resolved amicably.

"A crisis was created recently which led to unrest among the Sikh community, especially after the formation of HSGMC by the Haryana government," a statement quoting Singh said.

"Let the affairs of management of all Haryana based Sikh shirnes be managed by the Amritsar-based SGPC so as to maintain peace and harmony," Singh said.

"The management of Haryana based Gurdwaras will be in the hands of Amritsar-based SGPC which was looking after in the past and nobody would interfere in the previous management", he directed.

What is the issue?

The Haryana assembly had on June 11 passed a bill under which a new committee would be set up to manage gurdwaras (Sikh shrines) in Haryana. The Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill, 2014, got the assent of the Haryana governor June 14 for the newly set-up ad hoc committee of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC) and elected state Sikh leader Jagdish Singh Jhinda as its first president.

The Akali Dal and the SGPC are locked in a bitter controversy with the Hooda government over the creation of the HSGPC. They have both strongly opposed the creation of the new panel for Haryana Sikh shrines. SAD has warned the Congress against a conspiracy to weaken the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), known as the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, by trying to create a separate Sikh body to take control of gurdwaras in Haryana.

Why are SGPC against it?

The SGPC controls majority of the gurdwaras in Punjab, including the holiest of all Sikh shrines, and 72 in Haryana which accounts for a revenue of Rs 950 crore annually. If the HSGPC starts functioning, then SGPC will lose control over Sikh shrines in Haryana and it will have to face an annual loss of Rs 100 crore to its coffers that it gets from the 25 big Sikh shrines in Haryana.

Why is the Hooda government supporting it?

To garner support from a section of Sikh leaders from the State which has been demanding a separate Sikh body for shrines in Haryana, Hooda Government had raised this issue in 2009 assembly polls. Now, that the elections are on the verge, the state Government wants to lure the Sikh vote-bank by fulfilling its promise.

On July 16, the Akal Takht had excommunicated Haryana Sikh Leaders including Finance Minister Harmohinder Singh Chatha, Jagdish Singh Jhinda and Didar Singh Nalwi from Sikh Panth (community) on charges of defying the directive of the Akal Takht and forming separate Haryana Sikh Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee.

The Haryana Assembly had at its session in Amritsar on July 11 passed the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Bill 2014 to which Governor Jagan Nath Pahadia gave his assent on July 14 despite opposition from SGPC leaders from Punjab.

Haryana government refused to pay heed to even Centre's directive to revoke the law that Punjab has termed "unconstitutional" and "illegal". 

The Hooda Government, which is facing an anti-incumbency sentiment in the state, is now banking upon 47 lakh Sikh voters in Haryana to come back to power for the third time. Hooda's five-year term as Chief Minister has been mired in controversies and land scams.

Hooda is facing credibility crisis as Congress under his leadership bagged only one out of 10 seats in Haryana in the Lok Sabha polls as against 9 seats it had won in 2009 general elections. With his appeasement politics, the Congress strongman wants to improve his image.

BJP is in a catch 22 situation:

This entire development has put the Narendra Modi Government in a bind that was initially trying not to budge into this matter. But after Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal threatened to resign HSGPC Bill comes into effect the Centre was forced to intervene. The Government appointed BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh, Kaptan Singh Solanki, as Haryana's new Governor.

"Under the circumstances, if the central government says something, I think it is my personal opinion that it must be obeyed," Solanki had said after his appointment as state's 16th Governor.

Hence, it is clear that the Centre wants to resolve the issue. But it will be interesting to see how because the BJP for the first time is fancying a chance to come to power on its own in Haryana and it would certainly not want to hurt 47 lakh Sikh voters ahead of assembly polls. The Modi government now has just one option that is to take the Presidential Reference route in which the President refers it to the Supreme Court asking it for advice on the issue.

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