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The Sikh Theory of Dual Sovereignty. 

 

The three paramount aims of Nanakianism, ab initio, are:

1.) The reorientation of the individual from a base creature- a creature of the senses- to a spiritually attuned and intuitive being.

2.) The consecutive reorientation, and arraignment, of societal atrophy vis-a-vis equality and universalism.

3.) The establishment of a corporate base from whence the downtrodden and oppressed can be made to realize their status as founts of all civic authority and be steeled to resist both socio-political and politico-religious tyranny. 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the initiator of the ethos, openly decried the incumbent powers of his time who continually eschewed the fundamental rights of their subjects. A witness to both Brahminical (Caste) and Shariat (Islamic) totalitarianism, the Guru sundered his acolytes from traditional Indic spirituality which emphasized a quietist attitude towards life and mandated the spiritual seeker to retreat from societal concerns. (1) Via the Guru’s perception, both ruler and the ruled were equally culpable in the atrophy of the socio-political paradigm,

‘The emperors be insatiable beasts, their viziers be the curs. The Age is a knife, the kings be the butchers. In such darkness, the moon of morality is nowhere visible.’ (2)

‘…the subjects, blind, and devoid of knowledge divine pay bribes to satisfy their overlords’ avarice.’ (3) 

His was a faith which challenged the individual to offer their head, figuratively and literally, in pursuit of societal betterment and resistance in face of authoritarian oppression. (4) Rejecting the Semitic theory of man’s inherent imperfectness, in toto, the Guru bowed to his acolyte Angad and nominated him as his successor. The ideology of Nanakianism, thus, was identified as being paramount than the corporeal body. Angad who imbued it in full was transformed into Nanak II whilst his predecessor discarded his own mortal coil for the heavenly realms having laid the edifice of a Sui generis faith and nation. It was, essentially, the continuation of a revolution which in time would herald the raising of a corporate entity dedicated to challenging the might of all absolutist states and their pretensions of being the sole focal points of all dedication and loyalty.

The arraignment and subsequent execution of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Nanak V, at the hands of the theocratic Islamic Mughal state- far from altering the complexion of the Sikh faith as most modern historians contend- acted as a catalyst for Nanakianism’s rapid evolution. Acknowledging that the times were not conducive for dialogue Guru Arjan advised his successor to arm himself, and after investing himself with sovereign regalia, to raise an army and construct a seat of power. It was in the latter vein that Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji ascended the steps of the newly constructed Akal-Takhat in 1606 A.D. and, after having been coronated  Guru, promulgated the principle of Miri-cum-Piri or dual sovereignty. Nanak Ihad mandated his acolytes to accept the worldly life in full and the responsibilities it entailed. Nanak VI not only renewed this mandate but explicated it in full through the concepts of Miri and Piri. This principle of dual sovereignty, fundamentally speaking, posited that the individual was the fount of all political authority and that he/she must owe their allegiance to truth and morality (5) rather than any political state. The state, as Schulse, contends cannot lay claim to absolutism and divine perfectness without forfeiting it’s right to rule as the very notion of it’s perfectness is imperfect. (6) Such a state would necessarily lay claim to the right to govern not only the bodies but also the minds of it’s subjects exclusively which is a hazardous and Orwellian notion in all respects. The unfolding of Sikh history from the 17th century onwards, then, must be analyzed in the light of the Miri-Piri doctrine in order to grasp the antagonism which the faith-cum-nation has continually displayed towards historic and post-modernist states. 

The salient facets of Miri-Piri, generically, stipulate that:

1.) The State is self-limited and cannot lay claim to absolute perfectness irrespective of it’s governing model.

2.) The government of any State is Primus inter paras rather than potentate as the subjects of a state are the focal points of all civic authority and not the government itself. (7) 

3.) Truth and morality outweigh political prerogative(s). 

4.) The State is an expression of power, it’s government the tool to exercise this power. The individual, essentially, is the fount from whence this power originates.      

Vis-a-vis the Khalsa, the collective body of the Sikhs, the doctrine is more explicit:

1.) The demarcation between State and Faith must be reflected in the set-up of any political entity qua the Sikhs; faith -in this case- means righteousness and when the State digresses from it the Sikhs are to initiate dialog with the powers that be or ,failing that, resort to the sword. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Nanak X, aptly sums up this principle in his Zafarnamah:

‘When all forms of tolerance and mediation are breached, it is righteous to resort to the sword (force)…’ (8) 

2.) The Sikhs, as per their own metalegal charter, must be dealt with impersonally i.e. through the aegis of impersonal law rather than arbitrary self-will. (9)

3.) The State must generically realize that it is a tool and governance is a privilege. The government is Primus inter paras and it should realize that in due course it’s perceptions will clash with those of other civil groups. It cannot lay claim to absolutism, perfectness and/or an individual’s pristine loyalty. (10) 

4.) The Khalsa- corporate collective of the Sikh nation- being a body of the pristine, has been bequeathed the sovereignty of both the spiritual and temporal realms. When dealing with it, the State cannot atomize it into singular figures vis-a-vis political policy.  (11) 

Following protracted discussions with Bahadur Shah, the fanatical Aurangzeb’s successor, Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated the occultist Madho Dass into the Khalsa and re-named him Banda Singh BahadurBahadur, now reformed from his ascetic ways, was dispatched to the Punjab as Commander-In-Chief of the Khalsa forces; his mandate, if put simply, was to avenge the atrocities committed on the Guru’s Sikhs and pave the way for Halemi-Raaj or a just State. Parleys with Bahadur Shah had been blocked by the latter himself who was unwilling to efface his predecessor’s bigoted Shariat policies leading to the realization of the Guru’s above mentioned maxim. (12)

Banda Singh and the Khalsa vanguard broke the Mughals’, otherwise, tenacious grip on the Punjab through a protracted guerrilla war in which they were supported by the Punjabi peasantry. In 1710 A.D. a coalition of the Khalsa and the peasantry succeeded in annihilating the Mughal bastion of Sirhind and over-running it. Declaring the commencement of Sikh reign, as a result, the Khalsa minted coins with the herald:

‘Triumphant, the Khalsa asserts it’s sovereignty in both the worlds seen and unseen.’ (13)

Weathering a century long persecution, the Sikhs stuck to their guns until they ultimately  succeeded in establishing the Halemi-Raaj envisioned by their Gurus. During the darker days of their existence they were offered many respites by their persecutors. The Afghani hordes, lead by Ahmad Shah Durrani, offered them a treaty on condition of them accepting vassalage. Taking affront, the Khalsa blatantly refused and continued it’s crusade against the foreign aggressors. Ratan Singh Bhangu describes the prevailing  Sikh spirit thus:

‘…the Khalsa, then, replied: “who has ever bestowed political power for the asking?” There is no meeting ground between the Turks and the Singhs…’ (14)

Vassalage was never-and never will be- the Khalsa ideal; full sovereignty is the Khalsa’s aim for the implementation of Halemi-Raaj. The question which naturally emerges, here, is that how does the principle of Miri-Piri correspond with current political setups? Let us analyze the four current political state setups viz the welfare state, the communist state, the modern democratic state and the theocratic state to answer this query.

The welfare state, as described by S. Kapur Singh, consists of four elements namely:

1.) Ubiquitous responsibility for providing equal opportunity to all constituents irrespective of prior/present situation(s). (15)

2.) Ubiquitous responsibility for providing equal financial security for the aged, infirm etc. 

3.) Ubiquitous responsibility for implementing and collating taxes in order to reduce the margin between the “haves” and “have not’s.” 

4.) Ubiquitous responsibility for utilizing all available resources.  

Welfare, as a political principle, however is a welfare state’s main leverage in imposing upon the individual. When one of the aforementioned elements are accepted, the others naturally follow. (16) This model of state, then, posits a quid pro quo formulation where slavery is the price of security. (17) Once this formulation is placed in the hands of the power-hungry, the subjects are logically rendered apolitical. Welfarism, as a political philosophy, is best summarized by Aristotle in his description of tyranny:

‘the humility of the subjects; the disunity of subjects, and consecutively, the inability of the subjects to unite…’ (18) 

Nanakianism, though emphasizing universal welfare, differs radically from the current mode of Welfare i.e. the welfare state. True welfare, on an universal scale, cannot be imposed externally but only achieved via the internal transformation of an individual; (19) for this particular reason, Miri-Piri does not correspond with the welfare state. 

The communist state, seemingly flawless in theory, posits the supremacy of the state vis-a-vis the individual and the latter’s loyalty. Speaking historically, communist states have continually followed a generic trend:

1.) The notions of equality and fairness are translated into the daily economic life of the proletariat.  

2.) Complications arise and a governing group arises which captures power.

3.) Eventually falling to corruption, the communist government assumes the mantle of the state and vice versa.

4.) The state-cum-government being the sole master of all economy, all dissent is brutally suppressed. Akin to any other political model, the individual is sacrificed for the good of the government. (20)   

Owing to it’s swift and logical devolution towards totalitarianism, communism by no means can coexist with Miri-Piri. 

The modern democratic state, laudable for it’s constitutional principles, is anathema to Miri-Piri as it represents a centralized form of political supremacy i.e. a ‘one man, one vote’ (21) system of governance. Though paying lip service to the rights of minorities, the modern democratic state annuls their very existence by cutting down on their representation vis-a-vis political administration. The recent history of the Sikhs, in independent India, reflects the inherent failings of modern democracy in toto. Outnumbered, the minority is often forcefully subsumed by a bellicose majority with democratic institutions often acting as legal ratifiers of the latter course of action. 

Owing to it’s basis in the Sikh faith, it is often assumed (mistakenly) that Miri-Piri envisions a theocratic state along the lines of the Islamic caliphate etc. The theocratic state, or political theophany, promulgates the unity of religion as being a prerequisite for the unity and continuity of the state. This unity is achieved on the basis of the motto, cuius regis eius religio or let my ruler’s faith be my faith. (22) Simultaneously, theocracy also emphasizes the salvation of the subject’s soul as it is believed that the true purpose of all political activity is to be found in the next world and not this one. (23) Nanakianism perceives this world as being real thus opposing the very basis of theocracy. Secondly, it does not permit the implementation of cuius regis eius religio as it believes in the freedom of conscience out of which arises an individual’s civic power. The relentless rebellion which the Sikh launched against the Indo-Islamic/Hindu polity, thus, was essentially an attempt at effacing political theophany and undoing the tyranny of the theocratic state.

Miri-Piri, if it is to be summarized appositely, emphasizes the socio-spiritual freedom of the individual which is constantly in danger of being suppressed by the state. The Sikh aphorism, baagi or badshahrebel or ruler is essentially the faith’s answer to all such states who coerce the individual into a subtle slavery of sorts vis-a-vis the continuation of power and the extinction of all non-conformity. A proud people, the Sikhs have rarely tolerated state encroachment on their rights. The maxim Raaj Karega Khalsa not only sums up their principle of dual sovereignty but also acknowledges the prime role which polity plays in the day-to-day life of individuals. As such, any atrophy in the political paradigm can only be arraigned if the individual recognizes his true worth; this is why, then, the Sikhs have continually been a thorn in the sides of all powers who have ever had the misfortune to cross swords with them. 

Sources:

(1) Sri Gur Panth Prakash, vol. i, S. Gurtej Singh (2015); pg. xx-xxi. 

(2) ASGGS, referenced in Political Attitude of Guru Nanak, Balwant Singh Dhillon; quoted in Journal of Sikh Studies. 

(3) ASGGS; quoted by Macauliffe, vol. i, pg. 232. 

(4) Martyrdom in Sikhism, Institute of Sikh Studies (2004); edited by Dr. Kharak Singh, pg. 61-paper presented by Brig-Gen. (retd) Hardit Singh. 

(5) Singh K; Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. Article accessed from Sikhsiyasat.net.  

(6) Deutsches Staatstecht, vol. i, sec 16; referenced by Singh K in Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. 

(7) Ibid. 

(8) ZafarnamahSri Dasam Granth Sahib. 

(9) See Singh K; Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. 

(10) Ibid. 

(11) Ibid. 

(12) Habib I; Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikhs of the Khalsa: Reports from Bahadur Shah’s Court, 1707-1710.’ 

(13) Though different historians provide different transliterations, the essence is virtually the same- the Khalsa rules supreme in both the spiritual and temporal realms as represented by the cauldron (charity/spiritualism) and temporality as represented by the sword. 

(14) Sri Gur Panth Prakash, vol. ii, transliterated by Gurtej Singh, pg. 921. 

(15) Singh K; Sikhism for the Modern Man, pg. 74-75.

(16) Ibid. 

(17) Ibid, pg. 76. 

(18) Accessed from http://www2.idehist.uu.se/distans/ilmh/Ren/flor-mach-aristotle-tyrant.htm

(19) Sikhism for the Modern Man, pg. 75-76. 

(20) Ibid. 

(21) Ibid, pg. 78. 

(22) Ibid. 

(23) Ibid. 

Accessed from: https://tisarpanthdotcom.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/of-miri-and-piri/

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