Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the Akal Takht need to be free?

A:
  1. Sikhi is the only major faith in the world without a sovereign governance structure. Over the last 90 years we have normalized the fact that the Akal Takht Sahib is under the legal control of the SGPC, which itself is under the direct purview of first British and now Indian laws. The Akal Takht Sahib was built by Guru Hargobind Sahib based on principles laid down by Guru Nanak Sahib. The Guru Sahibs blessed us with our own well developed, carefully thought out governance structure. For the sovereign, Guru-created, Divine-inspired governance model of the Sikh Qaum to now be under the direct control of an outside government is an unacceptable situation. Without this sovereign governance structure our Qaum has been unable to fulfill its true purpose or live up to its full potential.

  2. Sikhs can have a transformative impact on the world. Guru Nanak Sahib created this Qaum with the revolutionary ideal that full human dignity and equality can be realized through Gurbani-inspired selfless humanitarian and political Seva (Degh Tegh Fateh dictum). The Qaum has been able to have an impact far bigger than our tiny numbers and minimal resources would suggest. The Sikh Qaum defeated three tyrannical empires (Mughal Empire, Duranni’s Afghani Empire and Nadir Shah’s Persian Empire) in the 18th century while actively freeing and defending civilians from death, slavery and exploitation. In the early 20th century the Sikh Qaum was the main force in the anti-colonial struggle, freeing South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) from British control. Today, without a democratic, deliberative governance structure where our resources and institutions are under our control, we are unable to serve ourselves, let alone others. We need not go into the laundry list of current Panthic problems and issues, and while a Free Akal Takht will not solve these issues overnight, it will allow us to develop system whereby we can start to tackle the problems plaguing our Qaum and then finally get back to our true purpose as a people.

Why is the Free Akal Takht initiative not partnering with the SGPC?

A:
  1. The SGPC is a creation of the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, as such it falls under the authority of the Government of India. Reform of the SGPC is impossible without those changes being introduced and passed in the Parliament of India. This is unacceptable. What was once supposed to be a simple Gurduara management committee to ensure that historic Gurduaras were being run in accordance with Gurmat Maryada and without financial mismanagement, has become the de facto leadership of the entire Sikh nation. In 2015 the Chief Administrator in Punjab was assigned to control Sikh affairs, further rendering the Sikh Qaum powerless and at the mercy of the Indian State, which is able to deliberate and ultimately decide on Sikh issues unilaterally.

  2. The SGPC was created to manage historical Gurduaras in Punjab. However, the Akal Takht Sahib is not a Gurduara but a unique institution created by Guru Hargobind Sahib ji, based on the principles of Guru Nanak Sahib ji, and with the blessings and inspiration of the Divine Creator, Vahiguru. It is where the Guru's 'Miri' (temporal) powers are exercised from. It is an integral part of Sikh governance structures and it is contrary to Gurmat history and principles for it to be under the authority of another body, such as the SGPC.

  3. The Akal Takht Sahib was created by Guru Hargobind Sahib as the seat of the Guru's authority. It was treated as such until the dissolution of the Sarbat Khalsa by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1805. The SGPC's role within the Sikh governance model has never been formally thought out, especially in regards to the role of Jathedars, Sarbat Khalsa, the Takhts, etc. This has led to confusing circumstances. For example, the Jathedars of Takhts are barely mentioned in both the Sikh Rehit Maryada and the Sikh Gurdwara Act, and yet they have played an increasingly prominent role in the community. There are no clear divisions of responsibility or frameworks of governance to determine who has authority over whom, creating conflict between Jathedars themselves, between the Jathedars and the SGPC and between these groups and state and party officials.

  4. While the early sevadars of the SGPC were brave GurSikhs who fought courageously against British colonialism to free Gurduaras, within a generation the institution had become corrupt. By the mid-1960's the SGPC was already a shadow of what it had once been. Using Westminster-style elections to govern a Panthic organization was a disastrous mistake and one that has led to increasingly outrageous anti-Gurmat behaviour. Elections for the SGPC have become sad and embarrassing spectacles with alcohol, drugs and money openly been used to win votes for what is ostensibly the supreme Panthic body of the Sikh Qaum.

  5. The SGPC has authority over the states that were a part of pre-1968 Punjab (i.e. present day India Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana). It has no authority over historical Gurduaras or institutions outside of that region. It is made up of representatives who are elected based on ridings in those three states only, with token representation from some other areas. However, Sikhi is and always has been a global faith, with a vast and widespread diaspora. Not only are Sikhs in other countries left disenfranchised but even Sikhs in other parts of India have no say in the way the SGPC is run. It is a fundamental flaw for a legislative body with such a narrow geographical mandate to have so much power over the entire Sikh Qaum. The concerns and opinions of millions of Sikhs are not being heard.

  6. The SGPC's electoral model has led to political parties taking an inordinate amount of control of Panthic Institutions. The Akali Dal party, once created to give voice to Sikh concerns in the colonial era, now runs Panthic institutions as a political prize, with the President of the SAD having more power than any individual should ever have in a Sikh governance model. In fundamental ways, the leadership of the Akali Dal has more power over the Akal Takht Sahib than Maharaja Ranjit Singh had over the Panth in the early 19th century.

Why is the Free Akal Takht initiative not working in partnership with existing political parties in India?

A:
  1. This movement is not just a Punjab issue. It is a Sikh issue, impacting the lives of 30 million Sikhs worldwide. As such, winning an election for control of Punjab will not solve the problem of how the Sikh Qaum is currently governed. It will not solve the issue of how the Akal Takht Sahib is being denigrated and the Sarbat Khalsa governance structure is not being allowed to function as it was designed to. Sikhs in the diaspora sometimes forget that Punjab is a multi-ethnic state with a very large Hindu population and significant Muslim and Christian communities. The state of the Akal Takht Sahib and the reform of Sikh institutions is not a priority for many of the residents of Punjab, and therefore no credible political party would focus their attention solely on Sikh religious issues. That is not to say that Sikhs should not involve themselves in Punjab politics and in fact, many serious issues that affect all Punjabis (female foeticide, farmer suicide, environmental pollution, groundwater depletion, drug use, alcohol abuse, unemployment, water rights, lack of infrastructure, lack of investment and systemic corruption) desperately need to be addressed. Sikhs have an essential role to play in this conversation and Sikh values need to be brought to the table to help save a dying Punjab. However, Punjab and Sikh issues need to stop being conflated as all Sikhs are not Punjabi and all Punjabis are not Sikhs.

  2. Electoral politics in India are an incredibly corrupt affair. Political parties are well established machines with huge networks of patronage that ensure they remain in power. The Shiromani Akali Dal is a sophisticated entity and its current leader himself is a political genius, having first been elected Chief Minister of Punjab over forty five years ago. Streams of Akalis within Shiromani Akali Dal, other separate Akali Dals, and Panthic-minded GurSikhs have struggled to win even a handful of seats in the SGPC, let alone win a majority in the Punjab legislature, for decades now. Winning elections is a complicated business and diaspora Sikhs often do not understand the motivations and concerns of Punjabis on the ground. Expending the Sangat's energy to win an election in Punjab would do little to actually free Akal Takht Sahib.

Why Free Akal Takht? Why not Free Punjab?

A:
  1. Political sovereignty is an important issue to many Sikhs. The nature of that sovereignty and how it will manifest itself is less clear and there is nothing resembling consensus in the Qaum over this issue. The Akal Takht Sahib must be sovereign and free regardless of the nature of the government that surrounds it. Punjab is undoubtedly the heart of the Sikh Qaum, but it is not home to all Sikhs, nor are all Sikhs of Punjabi ethnic origin. The Akal Takht Sahib is the Sikh Qaum’s internal governance authority and therefore must work for and represent all Sikhs. Punjab has very serious issues that need to be addressed. However, so do many other countries in the world where Sikhs live. There are significant Sikh populations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, China (Hong Kong) and other countries with systemic corruption, human rights abuses and dictatorial governments. Before Sikhs can figure out how to bring Guru Nanak Sahib’s values into whatever society they live in, we need to first have a sovereign system to govern ourselves

  2. The longest lasting sovereign Sikh state was the Lahore Darbar (Sarkar-e-Khalsa) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However, Ranjit Singh’s kingdom did not function as many Sikhs today may imagine it to have. It was a multi-ethnic and diverse state. There were Muslims, Hindus and Christians in prominent positions of authority; the Prime Minister was a Muslim and the head of the army was a Brahmin. It was not a state run exclusively by Sikhs and nor was it governed by Sikh institutions. So, even though Sikhs had a state that stretched from Afghanistan to Nepal, Sikhs still needed their own internal governance structure as a community. The Sikh Qaum did not equal the Sikh state. While Ranjit Singh did limit fundamental aspects of Sikh governance (e.g. his cessation of the Sarbat Khalsa), the Akal Takht Sahib was still free and had authority even over him, the emperor of one of Asia’s most powerful states, as he was still a member of the Qaum. Ranjit Singh did not have control over the commands issued by the Akal Takht Sahib, the leadership structure of the Akal Takht Sahib or the internal policies of the Sikh Qaum. The point being that even if there was a Free Punjab, a sovereign Akal Takht Sahib would still be necessary.

  3. Sovereignty may not be limited to one geographic area. In fact, historically, there were multiple Sikh states in existence at the same time. While Ranjit Singh’s Lahore Darbar was most powerful, Kapurthala, Patiala, Nabha and Jind were also Sikh states. The Akal Takht Sahib had authority over the Sikhs living in all of these different states. The Eternal Throne where the Guru is seated cannot be limited in its scope, power or range. It is the Takht of the Infinite and Divine Creator after all. In the future there may be several sovereign Sikh states. How would the Akal Takht Sahib be run in that scenario? We need to create institutions based on principles that will last for centuries, not ones that will quickly become obsolete. The Akal Takht Sahib needs to be free of any state, even a Sikh one. Guru Granth Sahib ji teaches us that everything made will one day be destroyed. Empires that were once vast and powerful are but a memory today, but the Takht of Guru Nanak Sahib is eternal and can never be destroyed.

  4. It is when we are free, and under our own sovereign governance, that the Panth has had the biggest impact. The Sikhs of the early 1900's first freed their Gurdwaras and then were able to direct their energy to freeing all of South Asia from colonial rule. So, in a sense, we don't need to free Punjab to free the Akal Takht. We need a Free Akal Takht to save Punjab.

Who is Free Akal Takht Team?

A:

The Free Akal Takht sevadars are a global team of Sikhs from various walks of life. We are not tied to any political party or school of thought and try to operate with the mentality that we are answerable to Guru Hargobind Sahib for our actions and behaviour. It is our sincere goal to collaborate with Sikhs globally to develop an open and transparent process for self-governance. The team is constantly growing and we are eager to expand with interested and committed individuals and groups. For more information on the team, please see: http://www.freeakaltakht.org/team

How are you going to make this happen?

A:

We envision a three phase campaign:

  1. Phase 1: Preparation – In which we outline the processes, systems, and relationships between the Akal Takht Sahib, the Sarbat Khalsa, Panj Piare, Jathedars, and how they relate to 30 million Sikhs in dozens of countries. Our primary inspiration for this framework is Guru Granth Sahib ji, Sikh history and Gurmat principles. Using these as our guidelines we endeavour to collaborate with Sikhs globally in order to create a draft that the Sikh Qaum can rally around.

  2. Phase 2: In which we campaign to free the Akal Takht Sahib. The methodology of this process will be generated by an open and transparent dialogue by Sikhs around the world. We are not seeking to lead a movement but to help develop one and then be a part of it. Where the movement takes the Sikh Qaum is up to the Qaum itself. What we will try and ensure is that wherever the movement goes, we all try and remain true to Gurmat principles, as we in our very limited thinking, understand it.

  3. Phase 3: Implementation: In which once freed, the developed framework will be deployed at the Akal Takht Sahib. At this stage as before, we will continue to engage with the entire Sikh community, transparently, and work towards ensuring that the systems and framework developed by the community at large is utilized and not undermined.

Is this even possible?

A:
  1. How long this may take is unknown to all but the Guru. Whether it is possible or not, however, is not open to debate. A united Sikh Qaum has been capable of amazing feats. Within two generations of the massive genocide that followed Baba Banda Singh ‘Bahadur’'s free Sikh state, the Sikh Qaum had freed all of Punjab, and that was after suffering through two Ghallughara and a level of oppression and persecution we have never known, before or after.

  2. This is possible, but only with the Guru leading us. We need to look to Guru Granth Sahib ji as the source of our inspiration and strength. We need to go back to Sikh history and see how our Guru Sahibs developed systems of governance that were well thought out with checks and balances and which allowed for both a strong central authority but also grassroots decision making.     

At the same time, faith is not enough. We need skills, knowledge and specialization. We need to work with people who understand governance and can use all of their skills to develop Phase 1, put Phase 2 into place and make Phase 3 a reality. Given the resources our community currently has, the intelligence and calibre of Sikhs around the world, the advent of technologies that allow for global collaboration and organization, and the sheer political will of the Sikh community, this is truly the best time in history to make this happen. This is the first time in the post-Guru era that we have tried as a Qaum to build a global governance structure that is egalitarian, democratic and sovereign. It will not be easy, but with Guru's grace, nothing is impossible. We need to have the fearless spirit and faith and love in Guru Sahib that allowed Mata Bhag Kaur to lead forty soldiers into battle against a huge Mughal army. The spirit that inspired Bhai Bachhitar Singh to fight a raging elephant head on. Let us pray to Guru Hargobind Sahib ji to bless us and give us the ability to work fearlessly, tirelessly and with full faith in Guru Sahib.

 

How are we going to engage 30 million Sikhs globally?

A:

The Free Akal Takht team is committed to bringing together and engaging with all segments of the Sikh Qaum. We will do this by:

  1. Holding meetings, which are currently taking place and will continue to do so around the world. Sevadars of the Free Akal Takht Movement have been traveling the globe, engaging with local Sikh communities, groups and organizations. These meetings will continue, but in addition, online tools are being developed to allow for collaboration across the whole community.

  2. Engaging with all Sikhs. We seek to access all spaces where Sikhs are discussing these issues, irrespective of geography, language and affiliation. Using Guru Nanak Sahib as an inspiration, we seek to unite, not divide. If you are one of 30 million Sikhs as per the Sikh Rehit Maryada's definition, you will have a say in this process. Your voice will be heard. We will do this together. This movement belongs to us all.

  3. Creating regional advisors who will be established as point-persons for individuals to contact if they would like to be involved and to provide their thoughts on the process as it unfolds. This will be occurring in the very near future.