The thinking Sikhs have long been exercised about the issue of the bachittar natak granth or, the lately christened, dasam granth. If the controversy is mindlessly pursued, it has the potential of splitting the Sikh nation. Those who believe it to be a fake granth and a pretender guru propped up for the purpose of causing division also believe that it can perform that task only as long as its contents, authorship, origin and purpose remain obscure. They seek well publicised discussion on these aspects so that the individual Sikhs can make up their own minds. Those who genuinely believe it to be written by the incomparable Tenth Guru, want no such debate except among those who affirm its genuineness.
Some concerned Sikhs from Germany, including Nirmal Singh Hanspal, Ranjit Singh, Malkit Singh and Gurdip Singh Pardesi, decided to facilitate and host the discussion. They invited the Singhnaad Radio from England to give the event a wide publicity. Arrangements for recording and relaying the discussion live were made. They requested the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to send a team of believers for the discussion. The SGPC deputed Principal Waryam Singh, Professor Amarjit Singh, Dr. Inderjit Singh Gogoaani and two others on the condition that Professor Darshan Singh will also participate from the opposite side. This was unbecoming and inconvenient because Darshan Singh is a busy man and because a party to the controversy cannot dictate who will represent the other side. This was accepted and arranged with much difficulty. Of the five designated to represent the naysayers only three, Professor Gurdarshan Singh, Sardar Dalbir Singh and Gurtej Singh, could make it to Germany. The SGPC team had reached on March 3, 2017, the others arrived on March 6. Darshan Singh joined them on the afternoon of March 8.
On March 7, a day before the event, the two teams met for lunch at Hanspal’s place where the SGPC scholars were staying. When Gurdarshan Singh and Gurtej Singh reached, Dalbir Singh was already engaged in a discussion. The newcomers also joined in. The discussion reached a stage at which the SGPC scholars were seen to be only concerned about the fate of ‘amrit banis’ to the exclusion of the rest of the book. The other side tried to narrow the discussion further by pointing out that earlier the SGPC and the important officials of Darbar Sahib and the Akal Takhat had given a considered opinion about the charitro pakhyan chapter of the book. They held it was not written by Guru Gobind Singh. The Punjabi University, guided by the opinion of five respectable scholars (Dr. Taran Singh, Dr. Prem Parkash Singh, Prof. Gulwant Singh, Dr. Jeet Singh Seetal and Bhai Randhir Singh), had also published the so called dasam granth leaving out charitro pakhyan chapter of about 900 pages. The other side did not own up the opinion of its own organisation or those of the University. All three of the scholars asserted that it was a letter written by a mere deputy secretary of one of the committees and advised Gurtej Singh not to insist on that as insistence would reflect poorly on him. This was wrong but was tacitly accepted as no acrimony was to be encouraged. Then Gurtej Singh, sensing the potential of the moment, proposed that both sides could agree to disagree on the aspect of ‘amrit banis’.
To remove the bitterness from the public discourse, both sides could continue to propagate and pursue their declared views on the subject of ‘amrit banis’ and to marshal arguments for and against it in the nature of genuine discourse, while leaving it to the individual Sikhs to make up their minds. It would mean that eventually, both sides would pursue their beliefs without being considered ‘the other’ by either side. This was a dream come true for some people who do not believe pahul to be a ritual but a commitment, the efficacy of which did not depend upon what was recited on the occasion of administering it. They had history to support them. All those others who took the entire volume to be spiritually enlightening could continue to read it – at their own peril.
All three SGPC scholars readily agreed to the proposal. Gurtej Singh was pleasantly surprised though he expected this from all genuine scholars concerned with the fate of Sikhs. He repeated the suggestion thrice, in differently worded phrases, to make sure nothing was left ambiguous. All three scholars gave their consent freely each time. They even went to the extent of asking Gurdarshan Singh and Dalbir Singh whether they agreed with the proposal. This was significant and more than half the job was done. Had the SGPC scholars stuck to their well thought out opinion, they could have earned the gratitude of the entire Sikh people. They could have participated in giving a brand new and most pleasant turn to the long-raging controversy.
Something, not clearly known to others, happened between the after lunch discussion and the late evening of March 7. All that is known is that the SGPC scholars made several calls to their friends in India and abroad before they announced their decision not to participate in the debate to be held the next day. The reasons they gave were found to be untenable in a face to face discussion on the well publicised Canadian Sikh radio four days later.
Everything else is well known about the event in Germany but the above aspect would have remained hidden from the public view if I had not been asked specifically to write on the subject. All I say in the end is that, we all missed a great opportunity to afford some relief to the greatly tormented Sikh people.
Gurtej Singh is a National Sikh Professor and former I.A.S. officer, resides in Chandigarh.
23 Oct 2021
24 Oct 2021