AKĀLĪ SAHĀYAK BUREAU, lit. a bureau to help (sahāyak, from Skt. sahāya, one who lends one company or support) the Akālīs, then engaged in a bitter struggle for the reformation of the management of their places of worship, was a small office set up at Amritsar in 1923 by the Indian National Congress to assist the Akālīs with their public relations work. This Akālī struggle, aiming at ousting the priestly order who had come into control of Sikh shrines introducing therein conservative rituals and forms of worship rejected in Sikhism, came into conflict with the British authority who buttressed the entrenched clergy, and ran a course parallel to the Congress movement for the nation's freedom. The Akālīs' heroic deeds of sacrifice and disciplined suffering won them appreciation of Congress hierarchy as well as of the people in common. When under pressure mounted by the Akālīs, the British district magistrate of Amritsar was forced to return to the Golden Temple authorities keys of the toshākhānā, the Temple treasury, seized from them, the Congress applauded the incident as a victory for the nationalist cause. Mahātmā Gāndhī in fact sent a wire to Sardār Khaṛak Siṅgh, president of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee which read as follows : "First decisive battle for India's freedom won congratulations - M. K. Gandhi. "
The wholesale massacre of Akālī reformists (20 February 1921) at Nankāṇā Sāhib, birthplace of Gurū Nānak, shook the entire nation and Congress leaders such as Mahātmā Gāndhī, Shaukat 'Alī and Muhammad 'Alī travelled to Nankāṇā Sāhib to pay homage to the martyrs. The patient suffering of Akālī volunteers in the Gurū kā Bāgh campaign (1922) when they faced police brutalities calmly and stoically won them countrywide sympathy and admiration and the British scholar and missionary, C. F. Andrews, wrote a very touching account of the trial the Akālīs went through day after day.
At a special meeting held on 17 September 1922, the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress adopted a resolution condemning the police highhandedness. It also appointed a sub-committee to conduct enquiry into the Gurū kā Bāgh affair. When the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal which were directing and guiding the Akālī campaigns (morchās) were banned by the British government in India, the Indian National Congress at a meeting in December 1923 declared the outlawing of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal as "a direct challenge to the right of the free association of all Indians and a blow aimed at all movements for freedom. "
The Akālī and Congress movements had thus become intervolved and both served to feed the nationalist sentiment in the country. The Akālī Sahāyak Bureau was designed to serve as a vehicle for publicizing Akālī activity and to serve as a link between the Congress and the Akālīs. A. T. Giḍwānī, Principal of Gujarāt Vidyāpīṭh, was placed in charge of the Bureau. After Giḍwānī's arrest by the British, Mr. Shuklā of the United Provinces took over charge, but he was soon replaced by K. M. Panikkar who had returned from Oxford with a first class degree in history-the first Indian ever to achieve the distinction, and who had left his academic position as head of the Department of History at Alīgaṛh Muslim University to take to politics and journalism. Panikkar was for this position the personal choice of Mahātmā Gāndhī who, though impressed by the successes Akālīs achieved through their adherence to passive resistance, was not clear about their ultimate objective. This was especially so in the case of Jaito Morchā. Panikkar sent reports which only deepened Mahātmā Gāndhī's sense of ambivalence. Panikkar warned Gāndhī about the organization of Akālī jathās which roamed the countryside as a strong force and which for Panikkar were reminiscent of Sikh jathās or bands of the second half of the eighteenth century and which were, according to him, tamed by Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, only to reemerge after his death. He stressed that these jathās with their military structure and discipline and their spirit of militancy constituted a menace to other communities in the Punjab. Having served for a while in the Sikh state of Paṭiālā and edited Sikhs' English newspaper, The Hindustan Times, he was fairly well acquainted with the Sikhs.
After the Sikh Gurdwaras Act was placed on the statute book in 1925, the Akālī agitation ceased. And so the Akālī Sahāyak Bureau became redundant.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)