India: Selection System vs. Election System in running of Gurdwaras:
Management of Gurdwaras Election must give way to Selection .
The outcome of the Gurdwara Reform Movement (1920-25) has been a greater disservice to the Sikh community than is generally realized. While getting rid of the mahants was a positive development, the consequential arrangements introduced a destructive element of “Election System” into the Sikh system of governance.
The Sikh method, via the Sarbat Khalsa model, is selection. British introduced the election system, as the primary method of political representation, for various reasons. As we will see, the system of elections with respect to Gurdwaras has done incalculable harm to the Sikh community.
Cancerous Effects of the Election System: The Election System, as practiced in many Gurdwaras, is a cancerous disease that has been afflicting the Sikh-psyche for over 75 years. It is sacrilegious, and against the basic tenets of Sikhi. Only a handful of resourceful individuals “occupy” the position due to influence and personal contacts, while many other members of the Sangat never get the opportunity to serve, regardless of merit. Election system encourages one group to humiliate and hurt the other, in order to win. Therefore, genuine selfless Sewadars feel threatened and discouraged. Discontentment and rivalry grow, resulting in a lack of co-operation, and the election system inevitably and operationally divides the community. It is difficult to `locate’ a Gurdwara where skirmishes, quarrels, or violent acts have not occurred. The individual Sikhs, in the Management Committees, are not to shoulder the blame, in totality, because the faulty and corrupt Election System forces them to act as they do.
The following are three commonly experienced scenarios :
(i) When two selfless Sikhs contest an election, we lose one sincere Sewadar, who may, later, form a faction, and might create obstacles, in the functioning of the Committee;
(ii) One selfless Sikh prefers to withdraw;
(iii) Both politically-inclined individuals “battle-it-out”; the sanctity and decorum of Gurdwara cannot be maintained.
The un-Sikh manner, by which elections are contested, has brought bad name to the Sikhs and the institution of Gurdwara. In Sikh history, there are no examples elections up until the Gurdwara Reform Movement, which idealistically sought to regain control of Gurdwaras in hands of Sikhs. Selective systems have been the representative mode of Sikh governance, with its primary identification being the unanimous decision making by the Sangat. One example of this is the title of Nawab that was bequeathed to Sardar Kapur Singh by the Sangat.
Elections have polluted the pious atmosphere and management of Gurdwaras. The election system by itself is not in consonance with the tenets of Sikhi wherein humility, self-sacrifice, service and unanimity hold place of primacy. Election system, by virtue of its nature, is a method of silencing the voice of one party by the dominant party or the silencing of the minority by the majority. The latter is known by political theorists as the tyranny of the majority, which is representative of democratic systems of governance. Therefore, the Sarbat Khalsa concept of unanimous decision making is never allowed to fruition; rather we are stuck with the colonized system of elections coerced upon us by the British.
The Gurdwara elections, being accompanied by factionalism and corruption have become reprehensible. As a result of having an elective system, different internal groups and parties form to compete with one another in the elections. It is upsetting to see how opposing parties within the Gurdwara easily turn to violence and intimidation in many cases, which has led to the police entering the Gurdwara with their shoes on to stop violent clashes between the community leaders. There seems to be an irony that a place for prayer, reflection and worship can become the centre for court battles, mass brawls and divisions due to the election system.
One of the central problems with elections is that they are not based on the concept of Sewa, but on who can get the most people on their side. This results in elections being won by arm twisting, blackmailing, buying people out, spreading false rumors, and generally all the things anti-Gurmat. It divides the community. It divides families. Friends get divided, and peoples’ loyalties get questioned. Most of all, the process can be long, and it breaks peoples’ “Sharda”.
Manipulation: The election to any Gurdwara body is no different from the election to an assembly or Parliament. The same kind of partisan atmosphere is generated and the same tactics of bribery, corruption, manipulation, etc are used. The outcome too is, therefore, about the same. Those who get elected are keen to feather their own nests rather than render any service. And yet when it comes to the management of Gurdwaras, nothing could be more injurious to their survival as an institution than the election of these people to positions of power and patronage.
Sikh Ethos: If we, the Sikhs have to survive as a community, perhaps the most important thing that we have to do is revert back to the Selection System, for the management of Gurdwaras, which is in consonance with our tradition and our ethos of service, self-reliance, humility, and unanimity. Our Tenth Guru disbanded the system of masands. If, instead of hereditary masands, we have the elected category now, that cannot invalidate the categorical disapproval expressed by him who, when faced with corruption and mismanagement, acted in a decisive and progressive manner.
Participatory Sangat: Once the management of Gurdwaras becomes the responsibility of the local Gurdwara participatory Sangat, then step by step the situation will start changing. But the process must be given a chance. Selection, rather than election, needs to be the primary mechanism by which Gurdwara services are distributed to members of the Sangat. This would ensure that the Sangat present at a particular meeting (convened for the purpose) will agree on particular persons by Selection and a consensus evolved in their favor. Such persons need to be selected through “parchi system” or any other selection method, and not elected by the casting of votes. They need not have a specified term. As long as they perform, they are retained. Once they become unacceptable, they go. The whole idea is to project and prefer those who are service-minded and not power-hungry.
The historic precedent of Sarbat Khalsa exemplifies what has been stated above. By resorting to election and all that goes with it, we have turned our back upon the Sikh tradition and value system. Only when people are selected for their capability, actual or potential, and commitment to serve the cause of Gurdwara management that the atmosphere will begin to change. That this will take time is obvious and does not have to be labored.
Politics: Once the new system is introduced those people who are keen to exercise political power will be discouraged from opting for Gurdwara management. This is precisely what should happen. Such people, it need not be added, have no role in Gurdwara affairs. In plain words, once the system of election is given up, the character of Gurdwara management will undergo a change within a few years.
Over the years it has become abundantly clear that the existing system, if it continues to be followed, will completely destroy the inner ethos of Sikhi. It is our recommendation that those who manage the Gurdwaras at present through Election System must agree to lay off and seek other channels of self-promotion rather than continue to play a role in the Gurdwaras. In any case, if they do not withdraw voluntarily, they will have to be driven out.
Management of Gurdwaras must be thus through Selection,
Sewa is Guru’s gift, and it must be cherished, in that spirit: it cannot, and must not, be snatched, with the use of muscle-power or money-power. Neither should it be received as a result of a contest, where mudslinging and humiliation are rampant. One is sure to feel elated at having become the recipient of the Guru’s Grace, when one gets selected by Guru Granth Sahib / the Guru-Roop Sadh Sangat to assume the responsibility for various activities, at the Gurdwara Sahib.
The Selection System is a blessing, especially to those who are shy, by nature, and therefore reluctant to offer their candidature for any Sewa. Several other serious volunteers remain hesitant when it comes to canvassing for themselves.
Now, all such Sewadars shall be encouraged to contribute, even without being office bearers, because the selected office bearers would not be ‘bossing around’ over the Sangat, and over the employed Sewadars. The Panth and the Community shall reap tremendous benefits from the service and keen interest of such Sewadars.
From various angles, the Selection System has been seen as better serving than the Election System for the Sikh community. It is purely religious, because Sewa is awarded, on a platter, by Guru Granth Sahib / the Sangat. Conflicts, divisions, humiliation, and violence are avoided. Due decorum of the Guru’s sancrity is maintained. Sincere Sewadars are encouraged to come forward, and all such aspirants shall strive to elevate their character, in order to be selected by Guru Granth Sahib / the Sangat. As a result thereof amity, goodwill, harmony, and peace shall prevail, and the Guru’s blessings shall be available, in abundance.
Panch-Parvaan is GURU’S Hukam: A viable alternative is thus the Selection System which has been successfully, adopted by many Gurdwara Sahibs, in one way or the other. The advantageous salient features of the Selection System are:
No competition / contest shall be encouraged.
Create an environment of mutual respect and cooperation among members.
Provide Sangat with more opportunity to serve without joining the groups.
Encourage participation of our younger generations.
Save substantial resources of Gurdwara Sahib.
Avoid discontinuity in implementing ongoing projects.
Prevent community humiliation in the media. Strive to avoid court litigation.
Create an exemplary model for other Gurdwaras.
The key to unity and peace is achieved through Selection.
Methods of Selection System in Gurdwara Sahibs Consistent with Sikh traditions, the function of the Gurdwaras should be in the hands of suitable sewadars or volunteers committed enough to seek to render selfless service. Their appointment can be by common local consensus. The method of casting parchis (or casting lots) has been historically used and is in line with Gurmat. Thus, only by common consensus, will sewadars be chosen, signifying the Guru’s hukam or divine will. They will assume charge of the dispensations of a particular Gurdwara. The standard of Gurdwara service will be uniform and unadulterated, everywhere. The sole motivation of individuals will be service and service alone, for the Guru.
The Parchi system for Committee selection: A number of Gurdwaras use the traditional Sikh method of selecting a management committee called the ‘Parchi system’. The ‘Parchī system’ requires the names of Sikh Sangat members or the names of nominated candidates to be written down on a ‘parchi’ (slip) and put in a box which is placed in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib; then either an elderly person, respected member of the community, a person perceived to be neutral, but more often a child, is invited to draw slips corresponding to the number of candidates eligible for the management committee.
At another Gurdwara Sahib, the Parchhi system is used as follows: Basically there is a constitution, which has a 25 member Committee, with the Top 11 positions reserved for Amritdharis only. Each position has criteria of skills, and only those who fit these skills applied. All the applications are scrutinized. Then all the names are collated, and the names for each position are put into a small black bag in front of the sangat. Then a child from the sangat is selected, and the child pulls out one name in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the sangat. Whoever`s name come out do the seva for the next term. It is simple, and who gets sewa is purely Guru Ji’s Will / Hukam. No one complains and the Gurdwara committees are selected in about 15 minutes, with no sangat fighting or unnecessary election expense. The Committees thus selected will always be people who loved the Gurdwara and were active and willing sewadars.
Another thought of Selection is based upon reasoning as follows: Students are selected for admission in colleges on the basis of written tests and interviews. Similar is the case for job seekers, who are selected on the basis of their qualifications and work experience. Gurdwara committee members should be selected after some sort of testing like Gurbani Grammar, Gurbani music, administration skills, environment protection awareness, comparative religions studies, knowledge of history etc.
The principles and practices of the Gurdwara Management are to be those espoused by Sikh faith and Gurmat tradition. The institution of Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones) is to be revived in order to provide the guidelines for day to day functions of the Gurdwara. The Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones) are to be selected and appointed by Saadh Sangat or membership of the Gudwara Sahib, and will be the Supreme Council. The Supreme Council will ask for the names of sewadars from the Saadh Sangat for selection of the Parbandhak Committee. The Supreme Council will ask the Saadh Sangat for nominations. Finally, I will like to conclude by saying that there are two types of people in this world. One who watch things happen, and one who make things happen. Let’s be the latter. Rather than watching wrong happening in our Gurdwaras. Let’s do what we can to bring change for the better, in the hope that our next generation will witness more Gurmat in our Gurdwaras through Selection system.