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A Sikh Perspective on Politics

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Religion and politics are face to face like two shores of a river. The river is able to traverse its long path without any disruption only when both of the shores remain intact. The moment that the river under pressure breaks away from either of the two shores, it would no longer remain a river, it would become an unstoppable flood of intemperance. The far-reaching overflowing energy would, instead of assist, destroy people’s homes and cause further destruction.

This is why the Guru gave Sikhs Miri (religion/saint) and Piri (politics/warrior). There needs to be a balance of devotion and power, they need to flow together. The Sikhs have a physical as well as an internal cognisance of this philosophy.

Politics with spirituality
The central point for Sikhs is the Akal Thakat, which is situated directly opposite the entrance of the Darbar Sahib (Holy Sanctuary of the Golden Temple). The Akal Thakat is where all the political decisions are made on behalf of the Sikh community and the Darbar Sahib is where the spiritual teachings are all given. The idea is that no political decisions should be made without spiritual consciousness. How will the points decided upon in the Akal Thakat affect people emotionally and will they be elevated spiritually from them?

Politics and greed
Generally, Sikhs are encouraged to be politically active and the gurdwaras tend to run on an election system that involves voting. There are committees that overlook the running of the gurdwaras and in India each area has a team that is governed by a central body called the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee). They are supposed to supervise and guide the committees in the running of religious establishments, faith schools and the gurdwaras by assisting them with any issues that they may have arising from their place of worship. Although the above-mentioned ideology is the theory for politics in the community, the SGPC is reputed to have several members who may not always choose to act with integrity and they have become quite notorious regarding money matters. There are constantly references in the Indian news to the way in which these people choose to use, or misuse, the power they have.

Unfortunately with politics it remains true that no matter how many great procedures and theories are put in place to help people make informed decisions for the wellbeing of others in their community, there will always be a few who will bend the rules to suit themselves, exploit others and act selfishly to the detriment of other people.

They are deluded who forget Him; the Lord makes them do so. Afflicted with duality their misdeeds are a reflection of their ego. Those forgotten and misled by the Master are ill-fated. Their lot is known only by Him who has created this cosmos. Your command is too tall to carry, the Guru-conscious only have met. So says Nanak, what can the poor mortal do when you yourself delude and forget.

(SGGS p. 440-442)

Guru Nanak and politics Politics and the Sikh path are therefore not entirely separable. The scriptures of Guru Nanak did not hide anything from the public, in fact the age of Guru Nanak was politically and culturally the most critical in Indian history. It included the collapse of Afghan rule, the invasions and occupation of India by Babur and the clash of uncompromising fanatical forces. There is a whole extract in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib where Guru Nanak reveals the religious bigotry of the conquerors. Guru Nanak not only lamented and vividly portrayed the cynicism and pessimism of the religious leaders, but it was something he felt destined and bound to change. He was impelled to condemn the wrongdoings and re-inspire the people with more realistic, revolutionary ideals and concepts. In the face of intense religious and cultural divisions, he established fellowship, community cohesion and spiritual understanding between diverse religious ideologies and cultures.

Guru Nanak never feared the consequences of revealing and living the truth. In his compositions he revealed the lives of blood-thirsty rulers and priests, exposed the corruption and moral degradation and awakened the consciousness of people to stand firm against injustice.

The age is like a drawn sword and the rulers are butchers and truth and justice have taken wings.
( SGGS p. 145)

The age is like a street dog that lives on the blood and bones of the exploited ones. The kings live in vice and sin and instead of protecting the people they have brought pestilence in the country and the fence is swallowing the garden.
(Bhai Gurdas Var 1, 30)

The kings are bloodthirsty tigers and the ministers are like bloodhounds. They torture and insult the conscience of humanity. The officials bleed the innocent people with their claws of avarice and greed. Ministers, like dogs, drink their blood.
(SGGS p. 1288)

Evil men pose as virtuous and the noble and wise are ignored. The blind man is considered a good judge and followed: such is the ignorance that prevails. Those that are intellectually and morally awake are considered useless while those who are morally and spiritually dead are considered living and great.
(SGGS p. 229)

In this age of darkness, men have become as dogs, they eat the ill-gotten gains and bark out their lies. Giving no thought to righteousness they have no honour in life.
(SGGS p. 1242)

‘Guru Nanak has composed a piece on each invasion of his time, the one above became the voice of the Sikh conscience and for centuries inspired the passion for freedom and justice. It makes clear that when mighty powers overrun small nations and establish their dictatorship with military superiority, the wise and enlightened men on earth should not be dumb witness to such tyranny. They should inspire the weaker and smaller nations with courage and hope and stand by them in their fight and struggle for freedom and equality.’ (Tirlochan Singh, The message of Guru Nanak)