CHANDIGARH, India; The Government is likely to announce elections to the central board of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) during the next few weeks in continuation of its political initiatives in Punjab.

The move is part of a plan to involve the militants, particularly of the Damdami Taksal, in the political process, as was done in Assam three years ago. The dissolution of the Vidhan Sabha a few days ago is also seen in the same light by the political observers. However, the law and order situation in the State in the coming weeks will have a bearing on the timing of the political moves.

The last board of the SGPC was constituted in April- May, 1979, and its five year term expired in May, 1984. The Union Government has been dilly dallying holding of elections on the plea that the prevailing situation in the State was not conducive.

In fact, more than one writ petition has been filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court urging the Government to announce the SGPC elections. In reply to these writ petitions (which are still pending), the Union government stated that “it was alive to the need to holding elections as early as possible”. The petitioners had stated that since elections to the State Assembly could be organized in 1985 there was no reason to delay the SGPC elections.

Under the provisions of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, holding of elections to the central board was the responsibility of the GOL. The board has a composition of 140 elected members, 15 coopted and five “ministers” —— head priests of the Akal Takht, Darbar Sahib, Takht Kesgarh Sahib, Takht Patna Sahib and Takht Hazur Sahib. The Act provides that not more than five coopted members will be from Punjab. The elections can be held with a 30day notice. The strength of the central board now stands depleted following the death of a few of its members,

It is expected that if elections to the board are held now, the militants will manage to win a large number of seats. Since the militants already control most of the important Gurdwara in Punjab their majority in the central board of the SGPC will instill in them an added measure of responsibility. The Akal Takht Jathedar, Mr. Jasbir Singh Rode, has already underlined the need for restoring. The sanctity of the Golden Temple.

The Government has already ordered the release of some persons who are known to be the “think tanks” of different militant outfits. Among these are Mr. Mohkam Singh, who besides being an activist of the Dam Dami Taksal, acted as the spokesman of the “Panthic Committee” before his arrest two years ago.

Another person whose release has been ordered is Mr. Surat Singh Khalsa, who was close to

Baba Joginder Singh, father of the late Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Some other persons released owe allegiance to different groups of the All India Sikh Students Federation. A few more releases, besides majority of the Jodhpur detainees, are likely in a week or two.

Highly placed sources indicated that the government is determined not to allow incidents of violence to upset the process of gradual de-escalation begun by it. The Government, contrary to reports in the media, did not expect the Akal Takht Jathedar to issue any “hukamnama” against the killings or formally announce any ceasefire from the side of the militants, sources said.

However, the Government is closely watching the reaction of two militant outfits —— the “Panthic Committee” and the “Babbar Khalsa”, who have maintained a studied silence over the releases so far. In fact some observers feel that the decision of the Jathedar not to have the “Sarbat Khalsa” at the Akal Takht on Baisakhi and instead have another function at Takht Dam Dama Sahib, could scuttle the unity moves between. Different outfits begun by the Jathedar.

Article extracted from this publication >> April 8, 1988