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1984 1984 - What The Past Teaches Us?

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Jun 11, 2010.

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  1. Admin Singh

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    1984 - What The Past Teaches Us
    by I.J. SINGH


    The past speaks eloquently because it reveals what we have become - and then it directs what we are and where we are headed. History teaches us; it is a prologue to the future.

    I know these are critical days in our sometimes fragile sense of self. June 1984 is a constant thorn in our sides and a reminder of how far we seem to have fallen from where we think we were not so long ago. It is a double whammy not only for what happened then, but also because the attack on the Harmandar at Amritsar by the Indian army was timed for the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the Fifth Sikh Master.

    Let me unearth a couple of nuggets from our contentious history and draw some lessons from them.

    At the end of Guru Nanak's days when he transformed a Sikh, Bhai Lehna, into Guru Angad to lead the Sikhs, he purposefully dismissed the claims of his own two sons to the title and to the position of the Guru that they thought was their birthright. "From father to son..." isn't always the way it is or needs to be? It may be the way of the world but not of the House of Guru Nanak.

    We all know this. We also know that such battles of succession are common enough in most families anywhere in the world. It does not have to be Guruship or a kingdom that's at stake; it may be something trivial - even a broken down shack mortgaged to the hilt.

    From Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469, to Guru Gobind Singh, whose life here on earth ended in 1708, Sikhs celebrate ten Gurus in human form. Except for three instances, every Guru's life was marked by family discord and divisions at the time of succession to the title.

    Out of these three, one time was at the end of the life of Guru Gobind Singh. He named no successor in human form and decreed that the Sikhs as a collective (panth) will inherit the authority over temporal issues of the community as long as they wielded it with cognizance of the spiritual authority vested in the Guru Granth. This left no room for pretenders.

    It was also a time of much strife and warfare when Sikh survival hung in the balance - not a time for easy pickings. Some pretenders appeared on the scene but not immediately in those troublesome days; they tried to set themselves up as Gurus much later, and then it was largely too late.

    Look at the contrast: When the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, ascended to the Guruship there were as many as 22 pretenders to the title; one even tried to shoot the Guru.

    The other two times that no pretender appeared on the scene are, to my mind, most instructive of human character.

    One was the time immediately after Guru Arjan was martyred. Again, it was a time of much ferment, turmoil and uncertainty. Guru Arjan, along with his associates, had been inhumanly tortured. How Guru Arjan was martyred and how he faced death were no secret. It even moved non-Sikhs to tears and anger; a Muslim saint, Mia(n) Meer, was so moved that he offered to intercede on the Guru's behalf - an offer that was appreciated but not accepted by the Guru. The Guru's equanimity and demeanor remained such that it melted even the stone-hearted.

    That's not the time when pretenders would come out of the woodwork. And none did.

    Guru Hargobind became the sixth Guru and there were absolutely no claimants from his family or elsewhere for the honor.

    Mind you, when Arjan became Guru, there were plenty of rival claimants, including Arjan's brothers, who wanted the office and divided the community in internecine divisions. Some even set up fairly powerful rival movements. But all this happened when things were peaceful and copacetic, before Guru Arjan was arrested and tortured to death. The important thing is that these ambitious claimants promptly disappeared when the hard times came and political power laid siege to Sikhism.

    The second time when succession to Guruship was not contested was similar. When Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Master, was executed on the orders of Aurungzeb, the Mughal Emperor of the day, Guru Gobind Singh was immediately nominated to the Guruship. There is no historical evidence indicating any significant conflict in the matter. The schismatic movements that started in and before the time of Guru Arjan had largely gone underground. The times were dangerous and they were in hiding. There were no rivals.

    The reason is simple. Again, the times promised very rough seas ahead. Remember that when the young sons of Guru Gobind Singh were walled up alive, the crime was so heinous that a Muslim nobleman, the Nawab of Malerkotla, was moved to intercede on their behalf. (His intercession failed.)

    Pretenders are there for the good times, not when there are stormy skies ahead, not when a leader demonstrates by personal example how to put one's head on the line for a principle.

    Pretenders to a throne need calm seas and peaceful times to enjoy the rewards. They are risk-averse. They want the respect, adoration and rewards of Guruship without the hard times, sacrifice and danger. That's why when times were peaceful, the process of succession from the 6th to the 9th Gurus speaks of a bucket-full of pretenders, with 22 claimants from the 8th to the ninth; but from the 5th to the 6th and from the 9th to the 10th Gurus, the road promised nothing but potholes. It drove away the comfort-seeking ambitious office-seekers and the matter of succession was never challenged.

    Pretenders come out of the woodwork only when the living is easy. Not that they feel no pain or never think of the road they have taken or the implications of the compromises that they make in life, but demands of self-preservation and dreams of glory trump everything else and all principles.

    Also, don't forget then even in their most compromising mode, they may do some good at times.

    Perhaps this explains why in and around 1984, sant-babas were relatively rare in Punjab when times were dangerous. Now that there is relative calm, the countryside is littered with them, each plying his own trade - a shop for profit.

    As difficult as some of these contentious times were, such as the decade of the 1980's, they remind us of the adage that nothing unites a people as a common enemy. The adage in the days of a world divided between the Communists and the Capitalist democratic societies was that a Martian invasion of the world would unite the enemy camps in a trice.

    That's how I look at the two ends of the spectrum post-1984 - ranging from those who compromise to those who don't. From Bhindranwale and those who continue to be inspired by him, to those at the other end of the spectrum - some like Manmohan Singh, who compromise their soul but not without doing considerable visible and measurable good. When the going seems good, many more come out to walk with us; when it is not, one can count on one's fingers who will take that chance.

    And that's life.

    This little sermonette is going to be deliberately short. There are many views of 1984; each is incomplete. There were those who fought the good fight and died for it, and those who took the easier road to live for another day.



    June 10, 2010
     

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