Explained: The Tug of War Over Gurbani Broadcasts in Punjab

by Parminder Singh Sodhi

The government of Punjab has recently announced plans to make the broadcast of Gurbani from Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar free for all. To achieve this, the government intends to introduce a new section to the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, following a proposal in the state assembly. This announcement has stirred up political and religious discussions in the state, given the broadcasting rights of Gurbani currently rest with the PTC network, owned by the influential Badal family.

The practice of broadcasting Gurbani from Harmandir Sahib, a holy place for Sikhs globally, has been ongoing since 1998. Morning and evening recitals are aired, offering spiritual sustenance to Sikhs worldwide. Since 2007, the rights to these broadcasts have been held by the PTC network, which pays the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)—the entity administering Harmandir Sahib—an annual fee of ₹2 crores.

In addition to these recitals, the PTC network covers all gatherings and programs of SGPC across India and broadcasts them globally. A separate weekly program is also aired focusing on the SGPC’s events. The PTC network claims it spends around ₹10 to 12 crore on coverage and telecasts.

The Mann government’s proposal could significantly alter the Punjab political landscape, potentially diluting the Panthic aura of the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal, dominated by the Badals. This move could be seen as a strategic decision to wrest control of a key cultural asset from political rivals.

However, the government asserts that broadcast rights should not be awarded via a tender process. Instead, it advocates that any channel interested in broadcasting Gurbani should have the freedom to do so. This move is positioned as democratizing access to Gurbani.

Predictably, the proposal has not gone unchallenged. The SGPC alleges that the government is interfering in religious matters. Moreover, the opposition argues that the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, is a central government act that cannot be amended by the state.

Furthermore, the Congress, the main opposition party in Punjab, presents a divided front. Navjot Singh Sidhu, a party leader, applauds the state government’s move. On the other hand, influential Congress MLA from Punjab, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, questions Mann’s decision.

With the SGPC and the PTC Network’s contract for the telecast of Gurbani set to expire in July 2023, the way forward is still unclear. The state government is adamant about making Gurbani broadcasts free for all. In the face of diverse and vehement opinions, it remains to be seen how this conflict over Gurbani’s broadcast rights will unfold and the subsequent impact on Punjab’s socio-political landscape.

Parminder Singh Sodhi

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