The SIKH POLITY (The Eight Pillars of the Sikh Polity)

The order of Khalsa is, in a way, spiritual democratic republicanism. The Sikh polity revolves around eight main basic points. These eight points are the hub of the order of Khalsa. These can be further grouped as: (a) Sanction : 1. Guru Granth Sahib 2. Khalsa 3. Gurmatta, (b) Hierarchy: 4. Akal Takht Sahib, 5. Punj Piaray, 6. Sarbat Khalsa, 7. Sikh Panth 8. Sangat.

Guru Granth Sahib is the basic source and the first sanction of the Sikh polity. The first lessons of Sikh polity were given by Guru Nanak Sahib himself. He presented the concept of an ideal state (A.G. pp. 145, 350, 354, 360, 596, 992, 1228 etc.). Besides this five more Gurus also explained the Sikh polity in the pages of Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikh history elucidates some of the points of the Sikh polity. The events from the lives of Guru Sahib unveil some of the basic points of the Sikh polity.

"Khalsa" is the second source of the Sikh polity. Khalsa is an Arabic/Persian term. during the medieval period this term was used to define the lands directly owned and administered by the sovereign himself. There was no middle agency between the sovereign and the Khalsa (land). When Guru Gobind Singh Sahib revealed Khalsa of Vaheguru (not Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh), on March 30, 1699, he told that Khalsa had been revealed as per the command of the Almighty; and it was the "army of the Almighty." Hence; Khalsa is directly associated with the Almighty. The grant of sovereignty for the Khalsa is sue generis. No one can have any political or spiritual authority over Khalsa. It is God-granted sovereignty of transcendental and temporal domains. The Khalsa, on the other hand, can not subjugate any other Khalsa. Being a Khalsa (sovereign) means having and granting (the other Khalsas too) sovereignty. It is, in this sense, a real stateless society.

Gurmatta is the third source of Sikh polity. There is no extreme democracy in Sikhism. It is not the rule of the majority. It is not the will of particular groups at the cost of the other groups or minorities. It is administration by consensus. Gurmatta (the Sikh consensus) is no majority decision. It is "collective judgement". It has to be acceptable to everyone, thus, bearing no possibility of grudge or grievance.

Total equality, including the equality of sexes, is the basis of "Khalsa" and Gurmatta. The institution of Langar (the sacred Sikh kitchen) is a very significant part of this concept of equality. Everyone is expected to rise above the inequalities (superiority and inferiority both), implied by one's caste, family name, status, office and grade etc. before joining the Langar. This aspect of Sikhs' socio-political philosophy is very important to Sikh polity.

From an administrative and functional view point, the Order of Khalsa presupposes a "welfare state"; a truly welfare state. It is neither a Utopian Communist system, nor it is a phoney Hindu system of a welfare state which is more of beggary than welfare and is full of disgust for poorer sections of society. Sikh system is based on the fundamental principles of Sikhism: Kirat Karna (honest earning), vand chhakaa (sharing with others), Nam Japna (meditating). The welfare of society on dignity of labour, pride in honest work and sharing one's earning (Daswandh i.e. tithe), and not through imposed welfare taxes or forced Communist collectivisation. In Sikhism, it is all voluntary, done with pride and dignity. Daswandh is the sacred duty of a Sikh. It has been practiced by Sikhs for the past five centuries. A Sikh who does not contribute his Daswandh, is a debtor of the Panth.

The Sikh polity is founded, mainly on the basis of these fundamental principles. Its hierarchic patterns can be explained in five main points:- Akal Takht Sahib, Punj Piaray, Sarbat Khalsa, Sikh Panth and the Sangat.

(A) Akal Takht Sahib (The Throne of the Almighty):- Akal Takht Sahib is at the top of the hierarchic order of the Sikh polity. Akal Takht Sahib is the final authority of the Sikh nation. (Since October 12, 1920, the designation "Jathedar" has come to be associated with Akal Takht Sahib, where as there is no such a status within the system of the Sikh polity. There has never been anything like Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib). The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib is not any authority. He is, in fact, a speaker, a spokesman.

The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib is not the Zill-e-Ilahi (shadow of God on earth) as the Mogul kings of the Indian sub-continent believed themselves to be. He is not like a Hindu Maharaja, who is a "Divine Incarnation" (as explained by Krishna in Bhagwad Gita, IV, 8 and by Manu in Manu Samriti, VII,3). His position may, partly (but cautiously), be compared to the system of constitutional monarchy of the Great Britain. On spiritual horizon, he is still different from the Roman Catholic Pope as Pontiff, because the Sikh polity believes in democracy even in religious functioning (though it bars treatment of the basic fundamentals of Sikhism even by the "Sarbat Khalsa"). Moreover, unlike Catholic Pope, the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib can not issue any edicts of his own, nor his designation is for life (it is subject to the will of the Sarbat Khalsa).

The institution of monarchy is still alien to the Sikh fundamentals. Some writers have made attempts to mutilate the Sikh polity by saying that the Sikh Gurus did approve monarchy. They based their analysis on some hymns of Guru Nanak Sahib: that only a capable should rule (A.G. pp. 596, 992) and that an essential trait of a king is to receive reverence and homage (A.G., p. 354). These writers have made literal translation of the said verses. Guru Nanak Sahib used these terms as contextual and not conceptual references. In fact, Guru Sahib's usage of the sultan refers to administrator in general and not the monarch.

Secondly, some writers believe that (Maharaja) Ranjit Singh's rule was the culmination of the Sikh polity. In fact, the reality is the otherwise. Ranjit Singh's rule was a personal kingdom and it was clearly in disregard of the clear injunctions of Guru Sahib. Ranjit Singh's pattern (as a king) was rather Hindu polity and not the Sikh polity. It was the desire of a strong man, (Maharaja) Ranjit Singh, who imposed it (the Hindu polity) upon an unwilling nation to revert it to the pale Hinduism.

(B) Punj Piaray (the Five Beloved Ones):- Punj Piaray come next in the hierarchy of the Sikh polity. Punj Piaray is the Sikh pattern of collegial leadership. This leadership means that all the national matters are accomplished by all the members directly and all these members are subject to the same set of rules. Whereas the Sikh religious order maintains the leadership of "Five" and this number can not be decreased or increased; the political domain can have any number of the members of the collegial leadership.

This collegial leadership of Punj Piaray is totally different from the (late) Soviet Presidium because Punj Piaray are fully accountable to the Sarbat Khalsa. Whenever they lose the faith of Sarbat Khalsa, they lose the authority immediately. Their actions,then, are rejected ipso facto.

The Sikh hierarchic order considers the caretakers of all the Khalsa Thrones as the members of this collegial leadership. It includes the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, who, as a tradition, presides over the proceedings of this collegial leadership by virtue of its Sewa (service) of the Throne of the Almighty. However, all the members are subject to the same rules and limitations. They can never assume the role of a "fascist" or a dictatorial authority.

(C) Sarbat Khalsa (the Sikh Commonwealth):- The third pillar of the Sikh polity is "Sarbat Khalsa." Its underlying principle is federal republicanism. It is complete egalitarian democracy. Sarbat Khalsa is the "Parliament of the Sikh nation". It is not a congregation of all the Sikh masses (as it has been proclaimed by some sections of the Sikhs since 1986). A congregation of all the Sikhs is not feasible. The Sarbat Khalsa is representative assembly of the whole of the Sikh nation. This Congress includes the representatives from all the sections of the Sikh Commonwealth. Some writers have confused Sarbat Khalsa with the Sikh congregations of the eighteenth century. These congregations were not the Sarbat Khalsa gatherings but these coincided with the meetings of the Sarbat Khalsa. Malcolm had written, in 1812, that the Sarbat Khalsa meetings were "an assembly of the chiefs and the representatives of the Sikh nation." (Malcolm: The Sketch of the Sikhs, p. 96). In the assembly of the Sarbat Khalsa every one has an equal say. Everyone is free to express one's opinions. The final resolve is reached through Gurmatta (the Sikh consensus). Once Gurmatta is made, the entire Sikh nation is required to obey it.

The Sikh commonwealth, the Sarbat Khalsa, is the collective leadership of the Sikh nation. It has collective responsibility and it is collectively answerable to the Sikh Panth (the Sikh nation). Any anti-national act attributed to any one of the members of this assembly, can lead to impeachment by Akal Takht Sahib, through Punj Piaray or by Sarbat Khalsa itself. Even Sangat may, at any time or any where, make a Gurmatta against any one of the members of the Sarbat Khalsa or the Punj Piaray, and recommend it to Akal Takht Sahib for consideration. The final sanction lies with the Sarbat Khalsa. The verdict is released by the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, in the name of Punj Piaray, on the behalf of the Sarbat Khalsa, through a "Hukamnama" (proclamation) to the Sikh nation. While appeals may be made by anyone, no member of the Sikh nation can defy this Hukamnama, the final injunction, once it has been issued by Akal Takht Sahib.

Sarbat Khalsa is not a standing committee or a permanent college. Its members must enjoy the complete trust of the section they represent.

(D) The Sikh Panth:- The next important pillar of the Sikh polity is the Sikh Panth as a whole. The Sarbat Khalsa is selected by the Sikh Panth, from amongst its functionaries, leaders, generals, intellectuals etc. The members of the Sarbat Khalsa continue till they have the approval of the Sikh Panth. Once in every year (Akal Takht Revelation Day June 15 or Revelation of Khalsa Day March 30 or any other date), the members of the Sarbat Khalsa should be elected or re-confirmed.

(E) Sangat (congregation):- Sangat or (local) congregation, constitutes a powerful pillar of the Order of Khalsa. It is practically impossible to gather the Sikh nation at one place at any time. The Sangat of different places (villages, towns, wards) performs this role. Sangat may choose even national subjects for its agenda but their resolve shall be considered as recommendation and the final resolve shall be made by the Sarbat Khalsa. If necessary, the care-taker of Akal Takht Sahib may call a special "referendum consensus" of the Sikh nation on a particular national issue.

The Sangat shall choose a Khalsa Panchayat from amongst them. In the case of an emergency, this Panchayat can take emergency decisions, subject to ratification by Sangat. These emergency decisions should, in no way, contradict the national consensus.

This is the hierarchy of the Sikh polity which makes the Order of Khalsa as the most democratic, republican and judicious political system in the society. It is on this account that the Order of Khalsa is called "spiritual democratic republicanism."

-Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer

For more information about AKAL TAKHT SAHIB, please read: Akal Takht Sahib (English) by Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, published by National Book Depot Delhi, 1995 edition OR AKAL TAKHT SAHIB (FALSFA TE TWARIKH) in Punjabi, published in 2000 and distributed by Singh Brothers Amritsar.

© Copyright Dilgeer 2002 All Rights Reserved