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In blow to Badal family, Punjab cabinet approves free telecast of Gurbani from Golden Temple

Golden Temple, Amritsar. (Photo: Yash Sachdeva/Twitter)

In what further loosens the alleged grip of Badal family and their Shiromani Akali Dal over Gurudwara management, Punjab cabinet today approved the proposal to amend the 1925 Sikh Gurdwara Act to ensure “free telecast rights” of Gurbani from the Golden Temple.

The 2023 Sikh Gurdwara (Amendment) Act to be tabled in Vidhan Sabha on Tuesday has led to a major uproar across the state with AAP government led by CM Bhagwant Mann facing severe backlash from Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and opposition primarily from Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

For over two decades, now a private news-cum-entertainment channel, PTC network has held the broadcasting rights of Gurbani which takes place at Golden Temple. According to a NDTV report the network reportedly pays the SGPC ₹2 crores annually.

SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has stakes in PTC has for years faced and refuted allegations of monopolising the Gurbani telecast. According to an official statement issued by CM Mann, the amendment will eventually lead to elimination of the control the ‘modern day masands’ over telecast of the sacred Gurbani. Mann added that the cabinet had approved the insertion of Section 125 A in the Sikh Gurdwara Act and hence the government will be casting duty on the SGPC to ensure “free to air” live telecast of the holy Gurbani from the Golden Temple.

“We feel that every Sikh should have the free access right to hear Gurbani and it cannot be used as means to provide financial profits to a single institution or individual. The amendment is the way to ensure this”, said Mann.

The amendment comes at a time when the contract for Gurbani telecast is ending next month and the SGPC is in the process of renewing it.

The issue snowballed into a major tussle last month, as the CM offered to pay all expenses for Gurbani telecast across the channels free of cost. Ignoring the offer, SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami announced to call tenders to allot telecast rights. Opposing the move, the SGPC said the state government has no right to make any amendment in the Act.

SGPC chief Harjinder Singh Dhami tweeted in Punjabi, “Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann ji, don’t try to complicate religious affairs of the Sikhs. The governments have no right to interfere in Sikh affairs.” “You are talking about adding a new section to the Sikh Gurdwara Act by amending it. But it can only be done by the Centre and that too on the recommendation of the SGPC, a body elected by the Sikhs,” he added. Maryada (Sikh code of conduct) is paramount in the telecast of Gurbani, the SGPC chief said.

Mann refuted the claim saying that the act was well in his ambit as it was a state and not central act.

Meanwhile SAD has also taken strong exception to the government’s move. “Amending the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 is unconstitutional as it has been enacted by Parliament,” said SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema, alleging that the government was interfering in Sikhs’ religious matters. “The decision taken on the directions of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal will not be tolerated by the Sikhs,” he added.

The amendment meanwhile has yet again highlighted the divided house of Congress and increased appreciation for AAP by senior leader Navjot Singh Sidhu. Lauding the CM’s move, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu tweeted: “Sarb Sanjhi Gurbaani… means for one and all with no discrimination …this was a cherished desires of millions of Sikhs across the globe, including me… commendable effort @BhagwantMann …Kudos.”

Meanwhile another senior Congress leader Sukhpal Khaira lashed out at CM Mann and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. “What a sad day for Sikhs as a government of @BhagwantMann consisting of no Amritdhari Sikh (Baptized) and run from Delhi by leaders like @ArvindKejriwal who himself claims to be an ardent follower of RSS ideology will now decide the fate of a martial community of Sikhs and their religious affairs (Sikh Gurudwara Act 1925) that our forefathers achieved after immense bloodshed and glorious sacrifices! I hope sense prevails on this breed of fake revolutionaries,” Khaira tweeted.

It should be noted that Gurbani means Guru’s (teacher’s) word, which often is a sung message. Gurbani is the sacred literature of Sikhism. It refers to a collection of several compositions by Sikh Gurus as well as various writers of Guru Granth Sahib. It is enshrined as hymns in the Holy Scripture.