Chief Minister, Government of Punjab, Chandigarh
1 August 2014
Dear Chief MinisterShamsher Singh Babra
Joining in 1943, you and I are alumni of Sikh National College, Lahore. I authored “Unblossomed Bud” portraying the 1938-1947 saga of intellectual rebels. You released that book at Punjab Bhavan, Chandigarh, in 1999 in the presence of some of your surviving professors and college mates.
During the violent prelude to Partition in 1947, many Sikh students became immersed in survival activities and forged an association with the Majha Jathedars, Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh. The Akali thesis of devolution of power to the states and to the regions was intellectually exciting. Working closely with Giani Kartar Singh, I briefly became President of his wing of the All India Sikh Students Federation in 1949, following a split in the Akali Dal.
In the early fifties Giani Kartar Singh identified you as a perspective Akali candidate for the Punjab Assembly. Steadily you advanced to become Chief Minister of Punjab in 1972. You picked the intellectually inquisitive S. Balwant Singh as your Finance Minister, who also served as your personal adviser on critical policy issues. Your team had an exciting start. Balwant Singh visited Washington; I was then a Division Chief in the World Bank. He held penetrating discussions with Bank economists, offered a ranking position to an intellectually sharp Sikh economist (the offer was regretted), met with a cross section of the Punjabis, and recorded a talk broadcast by the Voice of America.
You have come a long way since then. You have chiseled political tools to gain and maintain power, have won successive victories at the polls, and now hold a sway over the Government, the Akali Dal, the SGPC and the Akal Takht. This is an achievement which no other Sikh politician has ever enjoyed.
Your sovereignty over these fulcrums of power should have further elevated you into becoming a statesman. Instead, you seem to have reverted into the shallows of day to day politics by projecting yourself as the standard bearer of the opposition to the Haryana Sikh Grudwara Committee (HSGC). You have declared it as a fight between the “Congress and the Panth”.
Your stand has reversed the Akali doctrine, redefined the concept of Panth, and whitewashed history. I wish to recapitulate the following points which impinge on your declaration:
i) The ideology that Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh had successfully propagated was the devolution of power from the Centre to the States and to the Regions. Punjabi Subha, the present Punjab which you have inherited, was a product of that ideology. Going by the established principles, you should have been the one to spearhead the demand for the establishment of independent Gurdwara Committees in every State or quasi state of India. Your nominees probably would have won Gurdwara elections in all such States including Haryana, as you have done in Delhi.
ii) Your position that the ‘fight’ is between the Panth and the Congress is untenable. The concept of Panth stands for “the totality of the Sikh system” (Encyclopaedia of Sikhism). Your revisionist definition projecting the Panth and the Akali Dal as synonymous is flawed; it is base. Panth is inclusive, Akali Dal is exclusive. Panth includes Sikhs of all political and non-political beliefs; Akali Dal is just a segment of it, possibly a minority segment.
iii) Congress governments at the Centre have looked favorably at you. I wish to recall one episode. After assuming the office of Chief Minister, Captain Amrinder Singh had initiated a number of corruption cases against you. On a visit home to Chandigarh, I routinely called on the then Finance Minister of India. He wished it to be conveyed to Captain to proceed gently.
iv) During the militancy in Punjab, the Congress run Government of India took precautions to safeguard Akali stalwarts including you, Barnala and Balwant Singh. You were detained in protective custody in Delhi. Barnala accepted Governorship. Balwant Singh was offered an Ambassadorship. Unfortunately, he declined to move out of Punjab and paid with his life.
v) Historically, Akalis and Congress as well as Akalis and BJP have played a shifty game. It is a process apt to continue.
vi) Akalis have been part and parcel of some Congress governments. Two Akali leaders, S. Baldev Singh and S. Swarn Singh held choice portfolios. At times, breakaway factions of Akali Party have governed Punjab with Congress support.
vii) Akalis are currently in coalition with the BJP. Akalis have also been in violent confrontation with the right wing Hindu partisans in Punjab who or their successors are now in BJP.
It is only an ideology, if nurtured and protected, that has a lasting legacy to it. Serious introspection by you and the fulcrums of your present power – the Akali Dal, the SGPC, the Akal Takht – is needed. An open debate on pertinent issues, cutting across party lines, free of dogmatic regimentation, may go a long way to rejuvenate the Sikh Value System.
Wishing you well,
Shamsher Singh Babra
The author is Ex-Policy Advisor The World Bank