In many Gurdwaré in the UK the answer is simple: the pradhan. If the Gurdwara is of the dera type the baba will be the top man.
Most places of worship are charities and therefore come under the Charities Commission. That means that they need a constitution and that constitution determines which decisions are taken by whom. The fact that many of the bigger charities are now also limited companies does not affect this.
The charity/limited company cannot pay out any dividends, if a profit is made it has to be spend on the charitable purpose for which the charity is set up. Charities do not have to be in any way democratic. Charities are not clubs that you join, and where by their nature the members are in charge.
The Charity I work with is one of the limited company/charity combinations, and is run by a council. It does specify in the constitution that people from faith communities, from the further education sector and from government agencies are to be members of the council. None of these are elected.
This leaves open the possibility for dera type Gurdwaré to have all trustees and whatever executive there is appointed by the baba. Because of the lack of democratic tradition amongst our sangats many people prefer this, just like many people prefer the ‘all powerful pradhan’ model, over a truly Sikh model based on Guru Granth – Guru Panth.
Just like it is possible to run a charity without any say by the receivers of the good works, it is also possible to have a membership that votes in a committee which is the ruling body of the organisation, with the Trustees having to make sure that the charity sticks to the purpose it was set up for.
The elections held in for instance the Hounslow & Southall Singh Sabhas are closer to Guru’s model of Guru Granth – Guru Panth than the pradhan or baba model. I would like to abolish party lists, and prefer the Irish voting system where you can indicate your first, second, third etc preference, but any type of democracy is preferable over dictatorship.
It is legal to build into your constitution a reference to the Guru Granth as the ‘Pope’ of the Sikhs, and to how the Gurdwara Sangat must act under its guidance. It can also include Panj Piaré as mediators in conflicts.
Our problem is that most of our sangat comes from Panjab which has not known any democracy for at least a thousand years. Therefore neither the members of the Gurdwaré nor the elected prabandhaks are familiar with behaving in a democratic way. Our Gurus were true democrats who saw all as their equals, I found only one person sharing that view in the four years that I lived in Panjab. More on this subject next week.