Recent accusations and counter-accusations between Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) President, S.Avtar Singh Makkar and the ousted Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, Dr Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia has showcased the one-upmanship between both men and once again highlighted the prevailing malaise within the Sikh Panth and its institutions.

S. Makkar as Chancellor of the University hailed the very same Dr Ahluwalia as a great academic when appointing him the University’s first Vice Chancellor, despite his previous unhealthy record. In the late nineties, Dr Ahluwalia was the choice of the current Chief Minister of Punjab to take on the position of Vice Chancellor at the famous Punjabi University, but was forced to relieve this post after repeated moral accusations and unworthy behaviour led to a court case against him. His way of functioning has clearly been questioned but despite that and his discredited Panthic credentials, it would appear the same vehicle has been influential in selecting Dr Ahluwalia to run the affairs of the first Sikh University.

Dr Ahluwalia is no doubt an Academic in his own right and has a standing in Punjabi literary circles as a scholar, but being chosen to run the affairs of Sikh institutions was a flawed move. His close proximity to circles of power and his known negative leanings towards Sikh issues make him the clear wrong choice to lead an institution which is projected as the first place of higher learning to upgrade the values and principles of the Sikh Panth in an academic way. This university was first named as the Guru Granth Sahib World Sikh University, but later the word Sikh was taken out without citing any credible reason. The great step of launching the University was taken by the foremost Sikh organisation (SGPC) and was welcomed by the Panth, even though not everyone was in agreement with the dropping of the word Sikh and the appointment of Dr Ahluwalia as vice chancellor.

Only last year when the first academic session of the University began with much Government and SGPC-sponsored propaganda, not many were elated. Within a few months, the way the University was being run became a subject of public debate and in Sikh circles in particular. Although the University had been projected as the academic base from which the Sikh way of life would be furthered, it was all too like other institutions where the main impetus is on pushing text-book culture. It was failing to stand up as an institution that would inspire unique ways of imparting learning abilities and creating a space where knowledge can be gradually acquired to shape the Sikh way of life in a learned manner.

Dr Ahluwalia began his tenure as an authoritarian rather than keeping in line with the behaviour of an academic, but he was fully supported by the Government and the SGPC with much fanfare and this led to the humiliation of many persons who thought there queries would be welcomed. Students who had enrolled thinking this to be a noble place being run by a respected name with a bigger goal to impart human values with religious leanings were repeatedly let down. As a result, this humiliation provoked many and ultimately an otherwise everyday Sikh, feeling greatly let down and humiliated, took the extreme step of shooting Dr Ahluwalia in the head on University premises. Luckily, Dr Ahluwalia survived. After a period of treatment and recouperation, he returned to run the affairs of the University. In his absence, another academic, Dr Gurnek Singh was appointed as Vice Chancellor and excelled in the role, showing how a Sikh institution can be run. But as is predominant in Sikh affairs, people of real value don’t last long. Dr Ahluwalia’s return reignited the failures of the University for lacking high intentions and a goal to forward the Sikh way of life in an academic manner.

Since the suspension of Dr Ahluwalia, negative stories about the institution are published daily in newspapers. The SGPC constituted an inquiry committee into the working of the University under Dr Ahluwalia, who in turn levelled serious allegations against the SGPC President in his own defence concerning the rampant nepotism and general corruption he says he was forced to work with.

Many groups with religious and social leanings are running educational institutions but there way of running things have seldom been put under such strain, such as the Arya Samaj group who control hundreds of institutes in various corners of India. Sadly most of the institutions run under the patronage of various Sikh organisations are repeatedly in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Even the Akal Academies, the other big group amongst Sikhs who run many educational institutions face serious debate about the way they operate.

The new budget of the SGPC has put aside one million pounds for running educational institutions under its command, but made no recourse for Sikhs to debate the running of these places and the people put up to run them. The Panth needs a healthy education base and Sikh institutions that are run with Sikh donations need to operate with greater care so as to broaden the learned base of coming generations. Education has been effectively used by other religions to strengthen their theology base and impart the values of its founders, which should be the aim for the SGPC here. Institutes like Georgetown University in Washington D.C. have set an example by making a name for themselves and in the same way the Jewish people have a separate group within themselves to run educational facilities. Sikh organisations need to study these so as to improve the separate department that exists in the SGPC for these purposes, but most importantly to negate the power of the SGPC President who has ultimate control. Moreover, the persons we Sikhs choose to run our SGPC are not overly concerned with education and that needs to be changed before we can establish a single institute of repute like Georgetown University. Deeper thought must be made if we are to safeguard the Sikh institutions from coming up in the news for all the wrong reasons.