HARCHAND SIṄGH LAUṄGOVĀL, SANT (1932-1985), a holy man of shy habits who became in the course of years a vital political figure in the annals of modern Sikhism. He was born on 2 January 1932, the son of Mansā Siṅgh and Karam Kaur, a couple of modest means living in Gidaṛiāṇī, a village then in the princely state of Paṭiālā but now a part of Saṅgrūr district in the Punjab. At the age of five, Harchand Siṅgh started attending the local gurdwārā school, but soon transferred himself to the seminary at Maujo close by. There, under the tutelage of Sant Jodh Siṅgh he studied Sikh theology and Sikh texts and practised Sikh music. Although his active participation in political matters was to commence much later, the seed had been sown by his religious mentor Sant Jodh Siṅgh, who as a member of the Akālī Dal took interest in current Sikh affairs.
Leaving Maujo at the age of 21, Harchand Siṅgh served as a granthī, scripture-reader and custodian at the village gurdwārā at Kīroṅ Kalāṅ, moving the following year to Lauṅgovāl, a small town 16 km southwest of Saṅgrūr. There he rasied a gurdwārā in memory of the celebrated eighteenth-century Sikh scholarly personage and martyr, Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, who was a native of Kaimbovāl village, then a ruined mound. In 1962, Harchand Siṅgh was named Jathedār or head of the shrine at Damdamā Sāhib (Talvaṇḍī Sābo) but he carried to the new station the word "Lauṅgovāl" which had got permanently suffixed to his name. In June 1964 he led out a jathā or band of Akālī volunteers to Pāoṇṭā Sāhib, in Himāchal Pradesh. This was the beginning of a dramatic political career. In 1965, he became the president of the Akālī Jathā of Saṅgrūr district and a member of the working committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. In the mid-term poll held in 1969, he was elected, as a nominee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, to the Punjab Legislative Assembly, defeating the Congress heavyweight, Bābū Brish Bhān, who had been chief minister of Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union. In the 1977 general elections in the country he was given the Akālī nomination for Parliament from a constituency in the Punjab, but he declined the offer which enhanced his political reputation and stature. In 1975 when he was the acting president of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, he was called upon to run the agitation against the national emergency clamped down upon the country by the prime minister Indirā Gāndhī in 1975 extinguishing all civil liberties. As the emergency was lifted in 1977, Harchand Siṅgh retired from active politics, but was recalled in 1980, this time to take up the reins of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal as its president.
His presidentship of the party was a period of extreme turmoil and trial for the Sikhs. The worst came when the army was ordered by the prime minister into the Golden Temple premises and the holy shrines suffered attack and desecration. The assassination of prime minister Indirā Gāndhī by two of her Sikh security staff on 31 October 1984 brought in its wake heavy reprisals for the Sikhs. However, the general elections of January 1985 saw the Sikhs busily involved in electioneering. Sikhs who had been in an angry mood and had felt totally disenchanted since the army's attack on their sacred shrines were drawn into the political arena once again. Then followed the signing of an accord between the new prime minister of India, Rājīv Gāndhī, and the president of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, Sant Harchand Siṅgh Lauṅgovāl. But before the process had come full circle, the Sant was shot by an unidentified young man presumed to be an extremist Sikh youth. This happened on 20 August 1985 at the gurdwārā in Sherpur, not far from Lauṅgovāl.
Surjīt Siṅgh Gāndhī