In Bhagwant Mann ‘drunk’ row, hangover of SGPC’s Akali Dal links

THE SGPC finds itself in a fresh bind on its ties with the Akali Dal, this time over the honour bestowed on Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann on Baisakhi. With the Akali Dal claiming Mann was “under the influence of alcohol” at the April 14 event held at Takht Damdama Sahib Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has said it had nothing to do with the accusation.

SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said it was not a matter for the Committee to take action on, and was an issue between a person and his god. He also asserted that the SGPC did not toe the Akali Dal’s line and was an independent body.

The moderation of the SGPC’s stand appears to bear the stamp of the changed political equations in the state. The Mann-led state government will decide when elections to the Committee, which are due, are held.

Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal first made the accusation against the CM, and was quickly supported by the SGPC. However, it was put in a spot when one of its members, Baldev Singh, who was part of the Mann event, denied that the CM was drunk and said he was just tired that day.

The Opposition has regularly attacked Mann on his drinking habit.

Later, asked what action the SGPC would take regarding Mann, Dhami said: “What can we do or say further on it? The Almighty will punish any violation of the religious code of conduct.”

But he also attacked Baldev, who was elected to the SGPC on Akali Dal ticket, of playing politics.

Asked about Badal’s claims, Baldev told The Indian Express: “I honoured CM Mann along with SGPC officials. I would have known if he was drunk. I would have stopped him right there. But no such thing happened. He might have been just tired.”

The SGPC, which came into existence a month before the Akali Dal was formed in 1920, has for most part of its existence been associated with the Akali Dal, including guiding its policies.

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While the SGPC had a strained relationship with the previous Congress government too, including over the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, it had avoided any personal attack on party CMs Amarinder Singh and Charanjit Singh Channi. In fact, Congress rebels often accused Amarinder in particular of being soft on the Akali Dal and Badal family.

The SGPC relations with the AAP government soured within the first month of the new government. On March 17, a case was registered against the Badal family-owned Punjabi channel PTC’s managing director and others making serious charges, leading to an outcry and calls for the SGPC to snap its ties with the channel. PTC has a monopoly over the live telecast of Gurbani from the Golden Temple.

Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, who has earlier been accused of sheltering the Badal family on various issues, finally asked the SGPC to make its own arrangements for live telecast of the Gurbani before June 6.

CM Mann was quick to jump in and offered that the state government would bear all the expenses for the telecast. The SGPC shot back that Mann was interfering in religious matters, and asked him to instead coordinate with the Centre to get obstacles removed for the Committee to start its own channel as soon as possible. However, it was hard pressed to defend why it had given exclusive rights to PTC on Gurbani all this while.

Calling the case against PTC a “calculated conspiracy”, Dhami said: “We have already formed a committee to look for alternatives.”

However, the PTC row only reinforces the belief that has been building up that the SGPC leadership, especially after the late Avtar Singh Makkar became its president in 2004, has surrendered to the Akali Dal leadership, or specifically to the Badal family.

Once earlier, during his previous stint as CM (2002-07), Amarinder had made a bid to remove Akali Dal leaders from control of the elected house of the SGPC. The Congress high command and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are believed to have checked Amarinder at the time.

It is the first time since then that the SGPC is facing an aggressive state government. Asked about this, Dhami said: “What can I say what the government wants to do? We work for the welfare of society. We are not into politics, we are an independent body. Allegations that we follow the politics or orders of the Akali Dal are wrong. We will continue to do good work irrespective of which party is running the state.”

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