As we celebrate the New Year and Guru Gobind Singh ji’s Parkaash Gurpurab (birthday), we also reflect on the state of the Panth. Despite the continual challenges to Sikh ideology and identity, the Sikhs are a successful and progressive people when measured against a number of criteria. As noted by Western observers like J D Cunningham in the middle of the 19th century, the underlying reasons for Sikh success as a distinct people take us back to the revolutionary thought of Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539).
The Khalsa Panth emerged as a theo-political nation under the guidance of Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Earlier, Sikh temporal goal had been envisioned by Guru Arjan as halemi raj, a regime in which no-one oppressed another. Today, such a goal is denied by those who regard Sikhi as just another religion concerned with devotional rituals and observances only. Such thought is also behind the opposition to Sikh count and monitoring as a distinct qaum, an ethnic category in the UK Census forms.
Having set up the main institutions of Sikhi, the political aim was made clear by the Gurus. In due course, the slogan of the Khalsa Panth was Degh Tegh Fateh (literally: cauldron, sword and victory). That refers to a just regime protected by the victorious sword of the Khalsa in which all are looked after and all share their earnings so that no-one goes hungry.
Banda Singh Bahadur, and later, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia included this slogan in their seals: Deg-o-Tegh-o-Fateh Nasrat-i-bedirang, Yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind or “Cauldron (charity), Sword, Victory and Unhesitating Patronage are obtained from Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh.” To interpret Banda Singh Bahadur’s Khalsa mission entrusted by Guru Gobind Singh in any other way than to establish a people’s Khalsa halemi raj in the name of the One Jote-Jugat Guru Nanak-Gobind Singh would be to miss the point. Degh Tegh Fateh became part of the national anthem in all Sikh states until 1948. Sikhs will support and be loyal to any just regime in which all are looked after without discrimination. It is hardly surprising that Sikhs have become hardworking and loyal citizens of the diaspora countries they have made their home while preserving their own theo-political identity.
Today, the main challenge to Sikh ideology is from the bipran-thought bent on returning the niara Khalsa Panth to the old ways against which the Guru repeatedly warned us. There is almost a concerted effort to show that Sikhi is rooted in Hindu Vedic ideology. We had at least one example of this in official communications in 2017.
Before his demise, in addition to the institutions set up by previous Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh gave the Khalsa the code of theo-temporal discipline and established collective decision-making processes as guided by Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sikh unity and community cohesion depend on the observance of these processes.
In year 2018, British Sikhs should continue to build on past successes. There are two Sikh MPs. An important milestone achievement would be a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census, already supported by over 140 fair-minded MPs.