Bibi Jagir Kaur : Meteoric rise to ignominy

History doesn’t give chances too often. Rarer still, come opportunities to rectify mistakes. This is a lesson Bibi Jagir Kaur, President of the Shriomani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, failed to learn. Akrita Reyar and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty trace how a widow from a remote village of Punjab got the chance to lead one of the most dynamic and prosperous communities of India and her ultimate tryst with infamy.

By Akrita Reyar | Last Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 15:52 PM IST

History doesn’t give chances too often. Rarer still, come opportunities to rectify mistakes. This is a lesson Bibi Jagir Kaur, President of the Shriomani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, failed to learn. Akrita Reyar and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty trace how a widow from a remote village of Punjab got the chance to lead one of the most dynamic and prosperous communities of India and her ultimate tryst with infamy. Born on Oct 15, 1954 into an ordinary agricultural family of Punjab, it was a normal life of a young rural girl for Jagir Kaur. And as is the usual practice, her family provided her education enough to become a school-teacher. But Jagir Kaur had dreams. Dreams she thought she could never realise till… an arranged marriage fell in her lap as an opportunity. Married into the Lubana (priest) community, her in-laws were the custodians of the Baba Prem Singh Muralewale Dera (Deras in Punjab are local religious seats of saints). When the time came, her husband Charanjit Singh took over the reigns. Charanjit Singh’s predecessor followed the tradition of “miri” and “piri” as established by Guru Hargobind Sahib ji, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs. This meant the simultaneous practice of politics and religion. Charanajit’s father, Bawa Harnam Singh, represented Kapurthala in Punjab Assembly in 1954, 57 and 69. His elder brother, Sant Prem Singh, after whom the Dera is named, was an SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee – the Sikh parliament) member from 1926-50. When Charanjit Singh passed away in 1982, it was time for the mathematics teacher to do the calculations. And she ensured she got her sums right. Bibi Jagir Kaur, instead of Charanjit Singh’s brother Bawa Varinder Singh, was appointed the next guardian. Jagir Kaur, then only 28, became Bibi Jagir Kaur. From here, there was no looking back for her. Adopting populist measures like visiting families of victims of police excesses during militancy years, she soon managed a large following. She also came in touch with Simranjit Singh Mann, whose father was a close associate of Baba Prem Singh. She deftly used the opportunity as a stepping stone into politics. Her alliance with Mann, however, didn’t last long. But Bibi had tasted power. There was no way that she was leaving the big league now. Prakash Singh Badal of Shriomani Akali Dal, in whose government her father-in-law had served as a cabinet minister, noticed her leadership qualities and took her in his party’s fold. He wanted to use Bibi to humble his long-term political adversary in Kapurthala, Sukhjinder Singh. Bibi stood for SGPC elections from Bholath, Singh’s stronghold. And won. Next, she stood in Assembly elections against Sukhpal Singh, Sukhjinder Singh’s son in 1997. And won again. Bibi’s years with Badal and her successive gains made her his trusted aide. Both complimented each other, Bibi was for Badal a loyalist, whom he could use with dexterity in the complicated chess game of Punjab politics. Bibi, in return, garnered more and more power. In 1999, it was time for the big game - the presidency of SGPC, the most powerful post of the Sikh community. Badal put up the candidature of Bibi Jagir Kaur against the heavyweight Gurcharan Singh Tohra. He had been the SGPC chief for a record 25 years. It was a clash of titans. The astute and ambitious Bibi against the seasoned Tohra. Badal played Chanakya again. A no-confidence motion was proposed against Tohra. Tohra gave in. He resigned before the motion could be tabled and the SGPC top post presented itself to Bibi on a platter. Bibi Jagir Kaur left a mark in Sikh history when she became the President of the SGPC on March 16, 1999. She had become the first woman Chief of this coveted and powerful body. The same year the Khalsa Panth celebrated 300 years of birth. It was an all time high. But power corrupts. The fall was soon to follow. Bibi got involved in three controversies one after the other. First there was an allegation of financial discrepancy of Rs 2 lakh. Then, raged the controversy over the Sikh calendar. She wanted the community to adopt the Nanakshahi calendar based on the solar system instead of the Bikrami calendar (based on the lunar system) that was being followed so far. This move, that she thought would give her a stamp of a revolutionary, backfired. The proposal was unpopular with large sections of the community. But the more heinous crime was yet to come. When her daughter Harpreet Kaur, 19, married the man of her choice. Bibi is alleged to have poisoned her pregnant daughter to death. It is time for the election of the SGPC president again. This time round, she is unlikely to get a chance. Never in the history of any religious community has a woman been elevated to its highest seat. Never, perhaps, has such a post been disgraced so much either. It was an opportunity for Bibi Jagir Kaur to set an example, not only for Sikhs, but the entire mankind. And she has lost it. But obscurity, which she so resented, will never be her destiny.