OFFER OF SIKH STATE RECALLED BY MAHĀRĀJĀ YĀDAVINDER SIṄGH, It was raining heavily and my garden was enveloped in mist. We were having the first real monsoon downpour of the season. The beautiful dahlias, some of them 10 inches or more in diameter, were sadly drooping. The gladioli were not looking too happy, either. This was all too much for them. As a gardener, I felt the grief of the flowers which I had taken so much trouble to raise so that they could add colour and beauty to the naturally beautiful surroundings and brighten up life, for we live in times which are colourless and drab far away from the softness of nature. I turned to deal with the quite formidable pile of letters on my desk. In one of these I had been asked to write something on the various discussions. I was a party to with the leaders of the political parties of India and the then Government of India, on behalf of the Indian States, during the period when negotiations were going on in Delhi for transfer of power and for the establishment of our Independence. According to the writer of this letter, many of the events connected with the Indian States and the Sikhs may never see the light of day.
One could say a great deal about what took place during those days. How everyone was going about contacting every other person thinking that he was the only one who knew the correct answer and the solution. That was the popular mental make-up. There was excitement that India would be free; yet there were long-drawn faces of people who thought that freedom would affect them vitally and they would lose what they possessed. On the other hand, there was a feeling of helplessness in the minds of some who knew that a change was coming and that they could not do much to continue with their old mode of life.
Of the part of India which was going to be very vitally affected were the Indian States. One of the questions in regard to the transfer of power was the inter-relationship between what was then called British India and the Indian States. Foreign affairs, defence and communications were all that the States were called upon to accede to when the transfer of power took place. This led to certain beliefs that the Indian States would exist as semi-independent units. The British Parliament later, in a way, confirmed it by an Act releasing the Indian States from the treaties which bound them to the British Crown; the question of the new relationship was to be thought of later.
It was interesting that during those days the idea of a Rājasthān representing a confederation of Indian States was also actively in the minds of some people. This meant that India would have been further divided, and there were also endeavours, so far as I could make out, on the part of our then rulers tactfully to try and get the scheme through. Many advisers and those who had a great deal to do with Indian States developed an idea which in the circumstances then prevailing and in retrospect could be called reactionary. The Federal Act of 1935 had envisaged the federation of Indian States with the British Indian provinces, but it had been wrecked on the ground that the Indian States could not take a final decision about the matter unless they knew what the final picture of emerging India was going to be.
One school in the Chamber of Princes now took up the same attitude and wanted to repeat the same performance. I remember one occasion when at a very crucial stage I found myself alone, with the exception of some of the more prominent ministers, who were also in the negotiating committee set up by the Chamber of Princes. The position that I took up was that so far as the option to be exercised by the Indian States was concerned, the picture was already complete. The support of these ministers gave me hope of preventing a breakdown of the negotiations. We pulled through. The "completed picture" theory was chiefly sponsored by His Highness the Nawāb Sāhib of Bhopāl, the then Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes.
The Political Department did not at all approve of my attitude. It is a long story how I came to be disliked, in a way, by some of the Political Department officials. In those days I had very little contact with the leaders of nationalist India. Placed as I was in the position of Pro-Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, I had made up my mind to do something and go ahead in support of our national aspirations whether the others joined me or not.
Things developed and attitudes changed in a dramatic way. Hoping to sweep the Chamber of Princes, the Chancellor resigned and I became Chancellor. The late Mahārājā Sārdūl Siṅghjī of Bikāner, a very good friend of mine and a very loyal supporter, was to be tackled first. I telephoned to him at his house in New Delhi at about 8.30 in the morning and was told that His Highness was having his bath. Bath or no bath I had to contact him immediately as practically a "parting-of-ways" talk was to take place between the Political Adviser, Sir Conrad Corfield, and myself at 10.30 that morning. I arrived at Bīkāner House, barged through the rooms and doors (the servants and His Highness' staff must have thought me crazy) and knocked at the door of the personal apartment of His Highness. The door was opened and the attendant informed me that His Highness would be out in half an hour's time.
No, that was impossible. I took the liberty of walking past him to the bathroom door, and of knocking again. "Kauṇ Hai?" asked His Highness. "It's me Dādā." "What the so-and-so are you doing here?" I was asked. "Something very urgent; put on a gown and please come out or else I shall come in, "was my reply. I was called in. He was having a shave. I started off immediately and said "I want you to join me and set to work in getting as many of the States as possible to opt for India. Pakistan is being carved out, as you know, and we do not want a Rājasthān as envisaged by some. It would be suicidal for the country."
We discussed all the details and the modus operandi. His Highness completely supported me. Sardār K.M. Pannikar was then the prime minister in Bīkāner and Sardār Hardit Siṅgh Malik in Paṭiālā, and they were most helpful. We all worked as a team and the Chamber of Princes eventually adopted my point of view. One obstacle was thus over which was threatening India's aspirations towards Independence, as had been done once 12 or 13 years previously.
I had been reported upon by some, whose names I would not like to mention, to the Political Department as one thoroughly undesirable from their point of view and one who was anti-British. Anyhow, this did not worry me. My only object then was to get a majority in favour of my viewpoint, which fortunately, I was successful in obtaining. Later, complete confidence was expressed by the Standing Committee of the Chamber of Princes and those gathered at and attending the General Conference. We proceeded rapidly from then onwards.
After this event I had been asked by Lord Mountbatten, who was then the Viceroy, to have dinner with him. He said he would also get Mr Jinnāh and Mr Liāqat 'Alī to talk over matters. The dinner was to be private. Lord Mountbatten very kindly sent me his aeroplane to Ambālā. I was up in Chail then. I motored down. We got into the plane, and just as we were trying to fly out, one of the wheels came off. We had an excellent pilot, and he just pulled up in time; otherwise, we would have gone headlong into a deep ditch at the end of the runway. That would not at all have been comfortable. Anyhow, we got out.
I was then told that it would take a couple of hours for a new wheel to be flown in from Delhi. My driver had taken my car away, but the Air Force very kindly assisted me by giving me a car to get to Delhi. For once the railway crossing on the Delhi road from Ambālā proved helpful, for my own car had been held up there. I jumped into my car and motored down as fast as I could, reaching Viceregal House only 15 minutes late. Mr Jinnāh was there and so were Liāqat 'Alī and Begum Liāqat 'Alī. Everyone was rather surprised at my comparatively punctual arrival. Lord Mountbatten had been informed of the mishap and they were planning to have dinner and keep some for me.
We had a drink and went in to dine. The talk started, and offers were made by Mr Jinnāh for practically everything under the sun if I would agree to his plan. There were two aspects. One was based on the idea of a Rājasthān and the other one for a separate Sikh State — Punjab minus one or two districts in the south. I had prolonged talks with Master Tārā Siṅgh, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh and other Sikh leaders and all the negotiations on behalf of the Sikhs were within my knowledge. Indeed, in some ways I had quite a deal to do with them. I told Mr Jinnāh that I could not accept either of his two proposals, and told him a lot of what was in my mind. Liaqāt 'Alī and Begum Liāqat 'Alī were most charming to me and went out of their way to offer, on behalf of the Muslim League, everything conceivable. I was to be the Head of this new Sikh State. The Sikhs would have their own army and so on.
All these things sounded most attractive, but I could not accept them as being practical, and neither could I, in the mood that I was in, change my convictions. The talks lasted till well past midnight. Lord Mountbatten was a patient listener, only occasionally putting in a word or two. He eventually said that perhaps Mr Jinnāh and I could meet again soon at some convenient date.
Two days later, I was asked by Mr Jinnāh to have tea with him. I accepted and went and had tea at his residence in New Delhi. He was living in a house in Aurangzeb road. Miss Jinnāh, his sister, was present and she gave us some very excellent tea. After about half an hour Mr Liaqāt 'Alī entered, and discussions began again very much on the same lines as those we had del two nights earlier. We again parted unchanged in our own points of view. My going to Mr Jinnāh eventually became known to a number of people in Delhi and the Sikhs thought it was all wrong and that Mr Jinnāh should now come and see me. This, I thought, was rather odd. But sentiments were quite high those days, so I invited Mr Jinnāh to have tea with me at the Imperial Hotel, where I was staying.
Delhi is a place where news travels fast, and quite a large crowd of Sikhs gathered outside the Hotel. I was a bit worried when I heard of this gathering. So I asked a few friends to talk to them and to request them that there should be no slogans and that they should be polite to the leader of the Muslim League. The answer was that they only wanted to see Mr Jinnāh coming to have tea with me. Mr Jinnāh arrived punctually at 4.30 p.m. and the Sikhs gave a loud "Sat Srī Akāl." I met him at the steps and we walked into the hotel, the crowd quietly disappeared. Everyone was apparently happy. At tea there was no further progress in our talks, although as before we covered a lot of ground. So we parted; I was next to meet Mr Jinnāh some months later at a social gathering. After that he became Governor-General, and we never met again.
When I became Chancellor, I discovered that I was minus my Secretary, Mr Maqbool Mahmūd. He had gone down to Trivandrum, ostensibly to meet C.P. Ramāswāmy Iyer who, although a very good friend of mine, viewed matters quite differently. I telephoned and tried to get Maqbool back with some important documents which he had in his possession. He made excuses, and, I believe, later on he went to Bhopāl. I was not sorry. I relieved him of his post as Secretary to the Chancellor.
How peculiar it is that my late father and His late Highness Mahārājā Gaṅgā Siṅgh of Bikāner and a few others had brought the Chamber of Princes into being in 1917. Exactly 30 years later, I had to wind it up, and in the process hand over what always belonged to Indian India to a real Indian India, with the willing consent of all of the patriotic rulers in the hope that India will live united for ever.
With the passing away of Lt-General Mahārājā Sir Yādavinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā, the last symbol of Sikh sovereignty had vanished, as it were, a whole era of history stood annulled. A towering representative of what used to be the princely India, Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh who combined the aura and manner of a bygone age with the values and aspirations of a fast-changing world had departed. Few Indian rulers had been brought up in greater splendour than he; fewer adjusted themselves with equal dignity to the ambience of free and socialistic India. He was uncommonly handsome person and most gentlemanly in manner. 6'4" tall, with his imposing turban and commanding bearing, he must have caused traffic jams in many of the world capitals. He was a great traveller. His multifarious genius would take a whole book fully to illustrate it. There were so many different sides to it — his administration, his statesmanship, diplomacy, politics, agriculture, horticulture, sport and painting. He acted with courage and far-sightedness at the time of transfer of power to India, and provided timely leadership to his brother-princes. His talents were freely utilized in Independent India and he served the country in many different capacities after ceasing to reign in Paṭiālā. He led Indian delegations to the Food and Agriculture Organization meetings and served as the country's representative at UNO and UNESCO. He was President of the Indian Council of Sports and was Indian Ambassador, first, at Rome and, then, at the Hague. To the Indian Army, to farmers and to the Sikhs the world over Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh was a source of continuing inspiration. For Sikhs, especially, his personality was an inestimable boon. He was a role model for them.
Between the Government of India and the Sikhs he was a kind of bridge and assumed on several occasions the delicate task of resolving situations of tension. For instance, from his hands Sant Fateh Siṅgh, the Akālī leader, drank the glass of juice to break his fast unto death undertaken to press home to the Government the Sikhs' demand for a Punjabi-speaking state. Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh was chairman of the Commission appointed by the Punjab Government preparatory to the establishment of the Punjabi University at Patiālā. As President both of Gurū Nānak Foundation and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh Foundation, he led Sikh celebrations for the 500th Birth anniversary of Gurū Nānak and the 300th Birth anniversary of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. He was proud of his Sikh inheritance and valued more than anything else Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's pronouncements of blessing for the Paṭiālā family : "Your house is mine own."
The world will scarcely see again a man of Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh's stature, personal charm and propriety of manner. For, where and when will occur the same peculiar mixture of circumstances that milieu of martial heritage, refinements of courtly culture, rigour of personal discipline cultivated under an alert and sagacious father such as Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh was, natural gifts of intelligence and judgement and an enthralling personal presence, and Punjabi joie de vivre and good sense? The Mahārājā had friends and admirers the world over. To many the sudden and untimely death of this gentle and gifted prince of the blood came as a personal shock.
At the Hague, the Mahārājā was working on a book of memoirs which, unfortunately, was left unfinished. He gave several sittings, speaking into a tape-recorder and answering questions put by a Dutch writer. From the tape, a script was made. A few fragments from that unpublished manuscript are being reproduced here.
Speaks the Mahārājā :
We Sikhs do not recognize caste. Yet, if I must mention mine. I come of the Sidhū sub-caste of the Jaṭṭs. Our word for sub-caste is got or gotra. We are possibly the largest number among Sikhs—must be about a million; maybe, even more — I am not sure. But I must first describe to you the origin of Sikhism which is my religion. We came into existence in 1469 when our First Master, Gurū Nānak, came on to this earth. In Gurū Nānak's simple, but dynamic teaching a new world religion took its birth — the religion of Sikhs. The word "Sikh" derives from the Sanskrit shishya, a learner or disciple. Gurū Nānak preached the message of unity of God and brotherhood of man. He rejected caste and image-worship. He expressed himself against formalism and superstition.
It is Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who gave the finishing touch to the work started by Gurū Nānak. He created the martial order of the Khālsā. He gave us this form — unshorn hair and beard. But this was one continuous teaching, one ministry from Gurū Nānak to the tenth Gurū. If Gurū Gobind Siṅgh made us warriors, he was no less emphatic in impressing the principles of compassion, charity and faith.
That is how Sikh religion began in the hands of Gurū Nānak; how it turned into a nation in the hands of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and during more-than-a-half-century of fierce persecution after his death eventually succeeded establishing political sovereignty in the Punjab.
Now our Gurū is Gurū Granth Sāhib. When our Gurū Dasmesh Pādshāh, our Tenth Master, died, he said, "I am going." He died in Nāndeḍ in Hyderābād (now in Mahārāshṭra) and he knew, of course, that he was going to die having been stabbed by a Pāṭhān. Then he passed the Gurūship to the Holy Word as enshrined in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The Gurū Granth Sāhib was compiled by Gurū Arjan, the Fifth Gurū. It was finalized by the Tenth Gurū at Damdamā Sāhib which was in Paṭiālā State. Gurū Rām Dās, the Fourth Gurū, had the holy tank dug at Amritsar. His successor Gurū Arjan invited the Muslim Sūfī, Miāṅ Mīr, to lay the foundation of Harimandar, the Golden Temple of modern times.
Why? Because of the liberal tradition which is at the very root of Sikhism. Even our Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, contains hymns written by Muslim saints such as Shaikh Farīd and Hindu bhaktas such as Nāmdev. Their words, as recorded in our Book, are as sacred to the Sikhs as the words of the Gurūs.
Close to Anandpur is Kīratpur. Kīratpur is also sacred to the Sikhs. The town was founded by Gurū Hargobind, the Sixth Gurū. This was in the seventeenth century. The Gurū lived here for several years. Now the Sikhs carry to Kīratpur the ashes of their dead collected on the third day of cremation. There they are thrown into the river Sutlej flowing close by. We have a 10-day mourning. During this period the whole of the Gurū Granth Sāhib is read through from beginning to end. This is, as you might know, a large volume — 1430 pages. An akhaṇḍ pāṭh or continuous reading is completed within 48 hours. In this uninterrupted reading a relay of granthīs, or readers, take their turns on it. As the custom prescribes, there must not be a moment's gap in the reading nor a word missed or mispronounced.
During the days of mourning, friends and relations come to condole. The head of the bereaved family receives them. All sit on the ground on durries or carpets, covered with white sheets. When my father died, I and my brothers sat and received mourners. My wife received the ladies.
On the 10th day is held the prayer-service in front of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Sacred hymns are recited and the concluding portions of the Gurū Granth Sāhib read out. The blessing of Akālpurakh, the Timeless One, is sought for the departed soul. To revert to your old question about what happens after death. Sikhism believes in transmigration. One is reborn according to one's deeds. But this cycle of birth and death can be annulled if one would understand God's Will; if one would identify oneself with it; if one would secure the Gurū's grace.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh used to write letters to Sikh communities or their readers in different parts of the country. My ancestors received one such letter. It is written in old Punjabi characters. It is signed by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh with the point of his arrow. That letter had come down to me the Gurū's Hukamnāmā which is preserved with all the reverence due to it.
Q. "Hukamnāmā" is a Persian word.
Ans. Yes, it means an order. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had written to my ancestors that they should come prepared. We have a sentiment in my family and a tradition. When a lady direct in my family is expecting, we get and put Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's sword under her pillow. The child born is meant to start off his life on earth with the blessings of the Gurū. These are sentiments. We carry on with them. When I was born it must have happened that way; when my sons were born, when my daughters were born, it did happen like that. The Gurū's sword under her pillow — this gives a sort of sustenance to the woman; tremendous sustenance, if you believe in it, if you believe in this power. Even on the birth of my grandchildren in direct line, it was like that. On both occasions we placed the sacred sword under my daughter-in-law's head.
Q. Your daughter's children?
Ans. No; it does not go to the daughter. Daughters, when married, are governed by the customs and traditions of their own families. These customs, these practices have their sentimental value. These are matters of faith.
Baisākhī, the first day of the Indian month of Baisākh. In that year of 1699, Baisākhī fell on March 30. The Sikhs take Baisākhī, as the New Year and the Birthday of the Khālsā. We exchange greeting cards on that occasion — a typical western custom. My battalions, the Sikh battalions in the Indian Army, always send me greeting cards on Baisākhī.
Q. I must really say that Sikhs are the most outstanding people in India, and there is no comparison between the others and the Sikhs.
We are the least polluted religion. Older a religion farther it is from its source. Sikhism is a young religion that way — youngest, in fact, of the major religions of the world, Pollution is, of course, coming in. But how much? It is, as I said, a young religion; the latest religion, now 500 years old, it has its distinctive history which gives the Sikhs some of their peculiar characteristics.
Sikh women enjoy complete equality with men. Literacy among Sikh women is perhaps the highest in Indian communities. They are progressively going into the professions, especially medicine and teaching — even law. Sikh women can lead and conduct prayers and services in the Gurdwārās. In soldierly families, as husbands are out fighting, women hold the fort in their absence. They look after the household, the children and the farms. History tells of many brave Sikh women who fought in battles. My great-great-great grand aunt actually led our armies to defend Paṭiālā. She was Bībī Sāhib Kaur. She was the sister of Mahārājā Sāhib Siṅgh. She fought the Marāṭhās who had come up north and wanted to conquer the Punjab. When the Sikh troops discovered that their Mahārāṇī was herself fighting by their side, they threw everything into the action and repulsed the Marāṭhās. That was the first reverse the advancing Marāṭhās suffered. It happened just outside Paṭiālā, very near my own farm Bahādurgaṛh—which is about 5 miles from the walls of Paṭiālā.
The English and the French first came as traders, so did the Portuguese. Also the Dutch. It is from Sūrat where the Dutch started off.
We were up north. The English took time reaching the Punjab. They came conquering the country by bits and parts. Eventually they set up their military cantonment at Ludhiāṇā, on the left bank of the Sutlej. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh then ruled the Punjab across the river. My great-great-great-grandfather, Mahārājā Sāhib Siṅgh ruled in Paṭiālā.
The foundation of Sikh sovereignty in the Punjab was laid by Bandā Siṅgh. He received the rites of the Khālsā at the hands of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh before the latter died. Accompanied by a few of the Sikhs, Bandā Siṅgh came to the Punjab. He started conquering territory. He sacked Sirhind where two minor sons of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had been bricked up alive in masonry under the order of the Mughal governor. Bandā Siṅgh showed Sikhs the way to power. He himself was captured and executed in Delhi with great torture. After him the Sikhs rose wherever they could in the Punjab. That is the time when four nations were contending for power. They were the Mughals, the Afghāns, the Marāṭhās and the Sikhs. The Sikhs triumphed in the Punjab. They also suffered much persecution. But they ultimately succeeded in establishing their sway. Twelve Sikh Sardārs ruled the Punjab, each in his own area. These were the twelve misls or chiefships. One of the important misls was the Phūlkīāṅ — i.e. my ancestors. '
After Raṇjīt Siṅgh, the Lahore State began to decline. The English machinations came into full play. Sikh started fighting Sikh. That must happen. As we say, when the Sikhs have none to fight they must fight among themselves. Thanks to the Lord, Mother Jītojī — Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's wife — had mixed sweet pātāshās with amrit being churned with a steel khaṇḍā. Otherwise, I do not know what the Sikhs would have done to themselves.
The British, however, recognized the Sikhs' spirit of courage and gallantry. Some kind of a mutual respect developed. The Sikhs took enthusiastically to western education introduced by the British. Likewise, they fully utilized the new facilities for farming created by the British. The latter had laid out a network of canals in the Punjab. This brought new prosperity to the province — and to the Sikhs. The Sikhs became one of the most progressive communities in India. They also became politically very alive. They were in the forefront in India's fight for freedom. The first Swadeshī (native) movement in the country was started by the Sikh by the Kūkā sect, to be more precise. swadeshī was a word made very meaningful by Gāndhījī. It meant use of indigenous things, things made in India, and boycott of foreign things, things made in England. Before Gāndhījī, Kūkās had done the same thing. They did not use mill-made cloth imported from England. They wore homespun khaddar instead. They shunned English law courts, English schools, and so on. They would not make use of he post offices set up by the British. They had their own relay system to carry mail from one place to another. The Sikhs organized a ghadr (rebellion) group in San Francisco in 1913. Bābā Sohan Siṅgh, a Sikh peasant from Bhaknā, in Amritsar district, was the president. Then Akālī and Bābār Akālīs spearheaded campaigns against the British. Sikhs were the backbone of the Indian National Congress in the Punjab. The Indian National Army founded by General Mohan Siṅgh during Word War II was mostly Sikh.
Q. If the British had been defeated, you would have treated them fairly.
Ans. True, that would be in character with Sikh tradition—Indian tradition, if you go, for instance, to Paṭiālā, right on the Fīrozpur side, you will see plenty of these monuments. Somebody's monument is there, somebody's here; then there are a couple of monuments of the war. If you go over the bridge on the right hand side you will see Ferozeshāh; and then you go 4 or 5 miles on the left, Mudkī and other places, all marked.
Communal rioting started in Hazārā district of North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan) and it gradually came down to Rāwalpindī Jehlum, to Lahore, to Amritsar and eventually to Paṭiālā. I passed through all that.
Q. What was the reason?
Ans. It was not the hatred between the Sikhs and the Muslims or between the Hindus and the Muslims. They had traditionally lived in comfort and peace, especially in Paṭiālā. It was a different story when the politicians took over-politicians of the communal brand. The Muslim League, determined on creating a separate country for Muslims, started it. And the trouble spread all over. Thousands upon thousands were butchered — Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. When I heard of the mass killing of Hindus and Sikhs in Muslim dominated north-west districts, I said over the radio that the people thus threatened were welcome to Patiālā. I made the announcement myself. I had said that I would look after them. They poured in an endless stream. Soon we had over 800,000 refugees in camps in the city of Paṭiālā and its suburbs.
Q. How long did they stay there?
Ans. There was such a clamour among Hindus and Sikhs of the North-West to reach Paṭiālā—to escape horror and torture. They came in swarms. They came jam-packed in trains, huddled on train-roof, standing on footboards, clutching at the handlebars. They had lost everything they possessed. Some arrived forcibly shaven; some without their wives, their daughters — a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale. The word "refugee" suddenly acquired such reality—such poignancy. They had lost everything; they felt relieved to reach Paṭiālā — at least safety. Each day we received 10-15-20 thousand people. How they were fed, I don't know. We did our best as a Government — as individuals. For me, it was my personal concern, my personal responsibility. We did all we could to feed these vast columns of uprooted humanity, to give people work to do, to rehabilitate them.
Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh