A list of the 100 most powerful Sikhs was published over the weekend by the UK-based Sikh Directory. The list has mostly gone unnoticed, but was met with both scepticism and intrigue in equal measures by community activists and members of the Sikh/Punjabi press. The Times of India deemed it as “the world’s first comprehensive ranking of the most powerful, influential and contemporary Sikhs” whilst Sikh Siyasat  reported a Dal Khalsa spokesperson saying it sounded “like a joke”. In contrast a Facebook friend was a lot less civil in their summarising! The shoddy wording is annoying (does contemporary mean they have to be living, or that they have a Facebook page?) and i’m even more frustrated that there seems to be no hint of how the list was compiled, but regardless the list has provided an excellent opportunity to think about who or what we might class as powerful Sikhs, and whether those featured on this occasion come anywhere close to reflecting that.

Lists are wonderful, or so i’ve been told. A colleague asked me a few weeks ago why the Naujawani.com Facebook fan page had not shared a status making use of a list to attract more likes or why we hadn’t authored any articles counting down the top 5, 7 or 10 reasons blah blah blah… I genuinely don’t know what he suggested there as I switched off at the thought of authoring an article simply to garner attention. I don’t decry anybody for creating top 10/25/100 lists; compiled well and with a clearly defined purpose they can be informative, entertaining, and even an instigator for healthy debate, but creating one without publishing criteria or simply for marketing purposes is nothing more than a cheap gimmick.

It’s difficult not to see this 100 Powerful Sikhs list in that light. Just what is a ‘powerful Sikh’? A cursory look at the names who made it onto the list might suggest that according to the compiler it is a person who is financially wealthy, has political connections and happens to be a Sikh. If that really is the criteria which I strongly hope not, it isn’t in-keeping with Sikh ideals, and raises the question of what kind of criteria was set.

The name at the top of the list (Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) seems to have evoked the most column inches, but it is those further down and those omitted altogether which tell a much more interesting story. There was no place for Balwant singh Rajoana or Jagtar Singh Hawara, both of whom have stirred hundreds of thousands from slumber to the streets and all while incarcerated – if that is not powerful what is? Prominent personalities like SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar (responsible for all historical Sikh places and Gurdware) and Canadian MPP Jagmeet Singh also didn’t make the cut. On the other side of the coin, to mention any individual whose inclusion is somewhat questionable would be unfair, mostly because there are so many that it might be deemed personal to single a few out!

This list purported to identify the most powerful, influential and contemporary Sikhs, but I think it did something slightly different: it listed a number of people who exert authority in their respective fields who also happen to be Sikh. The difference is significant. One imagines a powerful Sikh, when depicted thus, to be active in the Sikh World. A person who owns numerous businesses and employs thousands is a powerful person in their own right, but surely they are a powerful business person and not a powerful Sikh. Would a similar business person who happened to be Catholic be termed a powerful Christian to be included on a list alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope?

Hierarchical lists which look to classify people are at best instigators for conversation about the contribution and success of those included and excluded. They have little importance in the real world beyond helping to shift a few newspapers and magazines. This list is probably the first of a few that will now be published and probably isn’t the last that leaves me confused.