HUKAM SIṄGH, SARDĀR (1895-1983), politician, parliamentarian and jurist, famous for his ready repartee, was born at Montgomery (Sahīwāl) on 30 August 1895, the son of Shām Siṅgh, a businessman of moderate means. Hukam Siṅgh had his preliminary acquaintance with Punjabi letters at the local gurdwārā and matriculated in 1913 from Government High School, Montgomery, under its headmaster, Bāwā Dasaundhā Siṅgh, father of the famous Akālī leader and teacher of English literature, Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh, who had influential contacts in the Akālī party. He graduated from Khālsā College, Amritsar, in 1917. At the Khālsā College he distinguished himself as a member of the College Hockey XI. He was a contemporary of the legendary hockey player Lālī or LāI Siṅgh who died prematurely falling a victim to hockey rivalry. Hukam Siṅgh used to say that had Lāl Siṅgh lived, no one would possibly have heard of the second maestro, Dhiān Chand.
Graduating college, Hukam Siṅgh took up government service and became an inspector in the Co-operative Department, but resigned to resume his studies. He passed his LL.B. exanmination in 1921 from Law College, Lahore, and set up practice as a lawyer at Montgomery, where he established himself securely in the profession as well as in the civic life of the town. A devout Sikh, he also took part in the Gurdwārā Reform or Akālī movement. When Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee was declared unlawful and most of its leaders arrested in October 1923, the Sikhs formed another Parbandhak Committee. Sardār Hukam Siṅgh was a member of this Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and was one among those who were arrested on 7 January 1924 and sentenced to two years imprisonment. He was elected a member of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee at the first elections held under the Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, and continued to be elected successively for many years. He took part in the anti-Simon Commission agitation in 1928 and was injured and arrested during police baton charge on a procession in the streets of Montgomery.
Montgomery, town as well as the district, fell in the predominantly Muslim majority region of the Punjab, and Sikhs and Hindus faced a grave threat to their lives at the hands of Muslim fanatics especially during the riots that broke out following the declaration of partition of the country in August 1947. Most of them including Hukam Siṅgh's own family took refuge in the walled compound of Gurdwārā Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā of which he himself was the president. He went about the town evacuating people from their houses, burying the dead and evacuating the dying to hospital at grave personal risk. He was at the top of the rioters' hit list when, during the night of 19-20 August 1947, a European army officer of the Boundary Force evacuated him, penniless and disguised in khaki uniform, to Fīrozpur cantonment. After about ten days he came to know that his family too had arrived safely at Jalandhar. He traced his family in a refugee camp where he rejoined it after several days filled with tension and anxiety. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, a vastly influential Sikh leader in those days, introduced him to the Mahārājā of Kapūrthalā for a position in the state judiciary. But an unfortunate faux pas occurred. Sardār Hukam Siṅgh arrived at the Kapūrthalā palace in his white toga. To say the least, the Mahārājā was not at all pleased to see him so dressed. The prime minister of the state smoothed over matters saying that Sardār Hukam Siṅgh had arrived as a refugee and could be forgiven the lapse. Sardār Hukam Siṅgh was appointed a judge of the Kapūrthalā High Court.
Consequent upon Partītion, some seats in the Constituent Assembly of India had become vacant. On a Motion from Giānī Gurmukh Siṅgh Musāfir, the Assembly, on 27 January 1948, approved to elect two Sikh and two Hindu members from the East Punjab. By a stroke of luck and again with the help of Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, Hukam Siṅgh was elected a member (30 April 1948) . He actively participated in the Constituent Assembly's debates, and only a year after his entry was nominated on the panel of its chairmen. He continued to be on the panel till his election as deputy speaker in March 1956. He had been elected to the Lok Sabhā, the lower house of Parliament, in 1952 elections held under the new constitution and was re-elected in 1957 and again in 1962 in which year he was elected speaker of this house. He did not contest the 1967 elections and was instead appointed governor of Rājasthān at which position he remained till June 1972.
Although in March 1948 the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal had directed all Akālī legislators to join Congress legislature party en bloc, Hukam Siṅgh, who had been elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1948, continued to function in opposition. He stubbornly fought for the protection of the rights of the minorities and, failing to get protection for the Sikhs as a religious minority, he refused to put his signatures as a member to the new constitution. On his election to Parliament in 1952, he was secretary of the National Democratic Front of which Dr Shyāmā Prasād Mookerjee was the president, but later he joined and remained in the Congress party. On the question of Punjabi Sūbā, he favoured the re-organization of the state on linguistic rather than on religious basis. He was the chief architect of the regional Formula which, however, did not work. The Akālīs' agitation for Punjabi Sūbā continued despite the failure of the strategy of fasts resorted to by their leaders during 1960-61. In 1965, when Sant Fateh Siṅgh announced his resolve to go on an indefinite fast for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state, the central government still seemed unyielding. But the Sant's gesture in postponing his fast in consideration of hostilities having broken out against Pakistan and his appeal to the Sikhs whole-heartedly to support India's war effort appeared to have touched the hearts of many people, including Lāl Bahādur Shāstrī, who had by then taken over as the Prime Minister of India. He ordered the appointment of a parliamentary committee with Sardār Hukam Siṅgh, then Speaker of the Lok Sabhā, as Chairman to consider the question of Punjabi Sūbā, i.e. a Punjabi-speaking state. It was a miracle how Hukam Siṅgh was able to secure from elements as diverse as the parliamentary committee a unanimous report. The committee gave its verdict in favour of a Punjabi State saying that the State of Punjab be reorganized on a linguistic basis.
After his retirement from the office of governor of Rājasthān as well as from active politics in June 1972, Hukam Siṅgh settled down in Delhi. In March 1973, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee formed Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā Shatābadī (centenary) Committee to celebrate the centenary of the Siṅgh Sabhā movement launched in 1873. Hukam Siṅgh was nominated its president with Giānī Gurdit Siṅgh as its secretary. Even after the celebrations, this committee continued to function as a permanent non-political body under the name of Kendarī Siṅgh Sabhā for research and preaching of the Sikh tenets. Hukam Siṅgh remained active as its president till his death which occurred in Delhi on 27 May 1983.
Hukam Siṅgh also made considerable contribution for the cause of Sikh education. At Montgomery he was the manager of the local Khālsā High School. In 1928 when the annual session of the Sikh Educational Conference was held at Montgomery, he was the secretary of its reception committee. Hukam Siṅgh presided over the 40th and the 46th sessions of the Conference. He. was also patron of the Montgomery Educational Trust established at Jalandhar. He was a member of the Punjabi University Commission. The University conferred on him, in 1967, the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) . The launching by him of the Spokesman, English weekly from Delhi in 1951, served to supply a serious deficiency in Sikh journalism. He was the author of two books, in English -- The Sikh Cause and The Problem of the Sikhs, in addition to a travelogue on his visit to Russia.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)