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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Sant Nirankaris

Time of origin: approximately 1930

This is an offshoot of Nirankari movement to which so many mainstream Sikhs today are so hostile. In the 1930’s, one Boota Singh (1883-1944) broke away from the main Nirankari movement. The reasons as to why exactly he decided to part from the Nirankaris were not doctrinal, but based purely upon personal and dietary reasons. Boota Singh became fond of drinking alcohol, which was not approved of by the parent body of Nirankaris.

Boota Singh Nirankari
Founder of the Sant Nirankari movement

In 1944, Boota Singh passed away and was succeeded by Avtar Singh, who upon arriving in Delhi, established the 'Sant Nirankari' movement as it is known today. Prior to the partition of India and Pakistan, the Sant Nirankari movement did not gather much of a following. Being from West Punjab themselves, the Sant Nirankaris preyed upon those distressed Sikhs and Hindus flooding in from west into India and Delhi. As such, their numbers increased due to the misfortune of those who had lost their livelihood and were seeking hope.

Avtar Singh Nirankari

Disciple and eventual successor to Boota Singh

Upto the 1970’s, the Sant Nirankaris installed Adi Guru Durbar in their temples and termed themselves as ‘Sikh’. Dr Gopal Singh writes:

‘Upto recently (according to their own memorandum to the Delhi Education Act 73), they [Sant Nirankaris] claimed to be part of the Sikh Community.’
‘History Of The Sikhs’, Dr. Gopal Singh, Pa.605

In time during the pontiff of Gurbachan Singh, who succeeded Avtar Singh, the Adi Guru Durbar was removed from their temples. This action was the result of criticism Gurbachan Singh was receiving from mainstream Sikhism. Mainstream Sikhs were unhappy that Gurbachan Singh was presenting himself as a self-styled Sikh Guru. To add to this, Gurbachan Singh wrote a text named ‘Avtar Bani’ in which he made many ridiculous claims. One claim was that his wife Buda was ‘Jagat Mata’ (mother of the world), his daughter-in-law was ‘Raj Mata’ (queen mother) and he himself was the Avtar of the Formless Almighty.

Avtar Singh (left) and the youthful Gurbachan Singh (right)

To further fuel the tension between Gurbachan Singh and the mainstream S.G.P.C., A.K.J., ‘Dam Dami Taksal’, etc. Sikhs, the Congress Party headed by Mrs Indira Gandhi stepped in. After the 1977 state elections in Punjab, Indira Gandhi’s Congress representative, Jail Singh (known as ‘Jaila’) lost out to Prakash Singh Badal, head of the Akali Dal. Badal led a fragile coalition, composed of his Akali Dal and the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, a right wing Hindu party.

Indra Gandhi

Gurbachan Singh (seated left) with Indra Gandhi (right on the microphone)

Blaming the S.G.P.C. Akalis for her loss in 1977, Indra Gandhi desired revenge on them. She wished to retake Punjab from the S.G.P.C. Akalis and advised by Jail Singh, her eldest son, Sanjay Gandhi set about trying to perform this task.

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