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A pluralistic scripture Deccan Herald  » Full Story BY KULDIP NAYAR appeared on 1 September 2004

LIKE Muslims and Christians, Sikhs are ahle kitab, possessing the book. Theirs is Guru Granth Sahib which celebrates its 400th anniversary on September 1.

Unfortunately, Shiromani Akali Dal, the organisers, does not have good credentials. Guru Granth Sahib is a pluralistic scripture while the Akali Dal is primarily communal and fundamentalist. For it to monopolise the celebrations is a travesty of justice because its leadership oozes parochialism. Not only that, it has not allowed the universal message of the book to reach the four comers of the earth because it has bottled it up in gurudwaras, where they feel secure against any liberal challenge.

Guru Granth Sahib transcends creed and caste, cant and convention. It does not belong to the Sikhs alone. It consecrates the sayings of 11 Hindu bhakats and as many bard poets and seven Muslims, along with the teachings of six Sikh gurus. No other religion has included in its holy book the sayings of others, however revered.

Although it is a sacred book of the Sikhs, it belongs to the entire humanity and carries a message of brotherhood and sanj (togetherness). The Akali Dal has exploited the book for their political gains and not let the world know the reservoir of spiritualism it contains. Its message of peace is all the more needed today when violence dominates the society.

Every man should command respect in the moment when he bows before his God. We may believe that his view of the divine lacks valuable, even essential, elements. His forms of worship may appear strange to us, sometimes offensive. But in the moment of prayer, every man is at his best. The Guru Granth Sahib is an approach to such understanding. The book answers great questions raised in every human mind by the mystery of life- It helps us bear our sorrows. It tells man how to live and give assurance in the presence of death. It gives us strength in suffering.

Another aspect of this problem is the wide gap which can open between the original teaching of a religion's founder and what that faith has become after centuries of being worked over and interpreted by the founder's followers. Within each religion, there gradually grows up a widespread of variations.

The Sikhs have kept traditions intact but the politics of Akali Dal to their exasperation has endeavoured to distance the religion from the teachings of the founder. Guru Nanak Dev, and the last preceptor, Guru Gobind Singh. Efforts have been made to argue that Lord Rama mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib is different from the one whom the Hindus worship. The intention is to draw a cleavage between the Hindus and the Sikhs for political ends.

The present Akali leadership is most to blame for polarising the Punjabis. It brings in the panth even in elections to panchayats because it believes it can bamboozle the Sikh masses in the name of religion. In this way, the Akalis act against the letter and spirit of Guru Granth Sahib which breathes secularism and which knows no difference between the low and the high, the rich and the poor.

Good old Akali leaders like Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh preferred India to Pakistan at the time of partition in August 1947. In contrast, the present lot of Akali leadership has the distinction of burning the Indian Constitution which includes special provisions for the protection of the minorities.

Incidentally, Sikh representatives in the Constituent Assembly did not sign the Constitution when all members of different religions did. That lacuna still stares the nation in the face. The community's signature should be obtained despite the Akali's negative role. It looks odd when the country's prime minister is a Sikh.

When the purpose of the Akah Dal is to polarise the society, it is difficult to imagine that it will try to bury the hatchet on the Constitution. The fact is that the Akali leadership does not stop thinking beyond controlling the gurudwaras which give them patronage and funds. The Akali Dal did not condemn the terrorists in the 1980s, nor did it do anything to stall them. Except for Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal and a few like him, the Akalis connived at the lawlessness. The government unthinkingly attacked the Vatican of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple to stop terrorism. It should have gone into what led to the situation. New Delhi is still too immersed in political conveniences to assuage the hurt of Sikhs.

In a leading book on the world's great religions, Sikhism is described as "a militant faith." But this is an over reaction to what happened in Punjab when politics went haywire. Still, this impression has given a bad name to the community. Some of its members have been killed in America for being mistaken as the followers of Osama-bin Laden. Religious tradition necessitates the Sikhs to wear beard and turban. But America does not appreciate this. The Sikhs also face problems in France where a head cover has been banned.

But for the Akalis' parochial approach, Punjab would not have been divided and re-divided. At one stage the demand for Punjabi suba (state) was a linguistic one. But the Akalis came out in their true colours when all that they wanted was a state which would have Sikhs in a majority. In the process, the suba was reduced to subi. Even the reduced state of Punjab does not have Sikhs in a majority because the migration of labour from other states has reduced the Punjabi speaking population to 47 per cent.

The Akali party has learnt no lesson from the mistakes it has committed in Punjab. It still plays with the sentiments of the Sikhs masses. It hardly did anything for them when it was in power. Corruption and communalism had become its hallmark. Unfortunately, the Congress government has done no better.

The basic thing that the Akalis do not appreciate is that democracy presupposes the separation of religion from politics. The idea behind it is that pluralism suffers if particular-ism is fed. The Akali Dal, like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, continues to harm Punjab's secular ethos,the Punjabiyat.

The Akali leadership does not seem to understand the letter and the spirit of the scripture. This is the time to tell the world the catholicity of the Guru Granth Sahib's teachings. Instead, the top Akali leaders have made the occasion a party affair. At one time, it did not want to invite the prime minister to the celebrations because he belonged to the Congress party. The only way out is for the community to assert itself to separate the celebrations from the Akali Dal. Guru Granth Sahib's message is for all. The Akalis are coming in the way of spreading it, thanks to their politics.

Guru Granth Sahib explores the spirit of different religions, how they mould men's lives in various parts of the world and how they try to impress their image on the history of our times.The religion is a living element in today's culture, not a museum piece. The youthfulness of Sikhism, its vigour and vitality, should help the community disseminate the message of peace and unity. The Akalis fail to understand even the basic truth.