REGIONAL FORMULA, one of the several schemes devised to solve the language problem in the Punjab without recasting the state on linguistic lines, was announced by the Indian government in March 1956 following a series of parleys between the Akālī Dal leaders and the Central Government. It provided for amalgamation of the part B State of Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU for short) with the Punjab and the division of the entire area into two regions, Hindi and Punjabi, each with a separate regional council comprising legislators representing the respective zones in the legislature of the integrated Punjab. The Formula, reluctantly conceded and half-heartedly implemented, remained in force, rather ineffectively, for a decade until replaced by the division of the State into Haryāṇā and Punjab on 1 November 1966.
The leaders of Sikh opinion had thought that their interests, religious and cultural as well as social and economic, would be safer in a secular India rather than in Pakistan reared on theocratic policies. Barely 13% of the population in the pre-partition Punjab, they would be more compactly concentrated in the new province of East Punjab and better able to protect their identity. Such was their confidence in the Indian National Congress, the ruling party in India, that the Working Committee of Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, the principal political party of the Sikhs which had won 23 of the 33 seats reserved for the Sikhs in pre-partition Punjab assembly, advised, on 17 March 1948, all members of the Panthic Assembly Party, both at the Centre and in the East Punjab, unconditionally to join Congress legislature parties forthwith. But the Sikhs were soon dismayed to discover that although their population percentage had increased from 13 to 35 in the Indian Punjab, they still remained a minority. The Constituent Assembly's Advisory Committee on Minorities and Fundamental Rights had, in its report of 8 August 1947, recommended reservation of seats in the legislatures for "certain specific minorities” which included Muslims, Scheduled Classes and Christians but not Sikhs. These recommendations were adopted with certain modifications by the Constituent Assembly on 27 August 1947 and included in the Draft Constitution. Again, the Sikh minority was not mentioned as such by the Constituent Assembly. A sub-committee with Vallabhbhāī Patel as chairman, appointed on 24 February 1948 to examine the question of safeguards for the Sikhs, did not meet till 23 November 1948, and when it did meet, it rejected their demand for special reservation of seats in provincial and central legislatures. The Advisory Committee upheld the view of this sub-committee and recommended at a meeting held on 11 May 1949 that "statutory reservation of seats for religious minorities should be abolished." The second major cause for Sikh apprehension was the opposition of the majority community to the introduction of Punjabi as medium of instruction in schools and its adoption as official language in the Punjab. While Dr Gopī Chand Bhārgava, the first Chief Minister of the East Punjab, formally announced in June 1948 to make both Hindi and Punjabi as media of instruction, the Hindu-dominated municipal committee of Jalandhar passed a resolution making Hindi as the sole medium of instruction for schools within its jurisdiction. The Senate of the Puñjāb University, meeting on 9 June 1949, similarly turned down by majority vote a proposal to adopt Punjabi as the medium of instruction, although the Sikh members were agreeable, as a concession to Hindu sentiment, to let it be written in Devanāgarī characters besides its own script, Gurmukhī. The superior tone put on by some of the language papers controlled by the majority community only helped increase the feeling of alienation among the Sikhs. At the time of the 1951 census Hindus launched an open campaign to have Hindus, even those living in Punjabi-speaking districts of East Punjab, record Hindi as their mother tongue. The Sikhs on the other hand, considered Punjabi language as one of the basic element of their distinctive culture; attempts to suppress it were interpreted by them as a threat to their culture. Thus a purely language question developed into a political controversy dividing the Punjabis on communal lines.
Master Tārā Siṅgh, the Sikh leader, had all along had his reservations about the 17 March 1948 resolution of the Akālī Dal about unconditional amalgamation of the Akālī Dal with the Congress party. At the second annual conference of the Sikh Students' Federation held at Ludhiāṇā on 24-25 April 1948, he during his presidential address joined issue with those who advocated alignment with the Congress and insisted that the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal should retain an autonomous political entity and its authority to take political decisions on behalf of the Panth. Continuing his efforts to reactivate the Akālī Dal and mobilize public opinion, he held a Gurmat Mahā Samāgam, mass religious camp, at Amritsar on 11 June 1948. Early in 1949, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal decided to convene a conference at Delhi on 20 February 1949 in order to convey the Sikhs' grievances and apprehensions to the Indian Government. The announcement was not looked upon with favour by the government. Baldev Siṅgh, the Sikh cabinet minister at the Centre, was charged by the Home Minister, Sardār Paṭel, to bring Master Tārā Siṅgh round to calling off the convention. Baldev Siṅgh's message on this account was considered and rejected by the working committee of the Akālī Dal on 10 February, though it agreed to give the conclave the character of a shāhīdī dīvān or meeting to recall the martyrs and not a political conference, and also decided to change its venue from Rām Līlā Grounds, a popular rallying point in Delhi, to Gurdwārā Rikābgañj in New Delhi. The government, however, was not conciliated. Master Tārā Siṅgh and a few members of the working committee were arrested at Narelā railway station on 19 February 1949 as they were travelling from Amritsar to attend the dīvān at Delhi. The meeting, however, did take place as scheduled. Master Tārā Siṅgh's presidential address was read in absentia.
In October 1949, the Punjab Government announced what came to be known as the Sachchar Formula (after Bhīm Saiṇ Sachar, the then premier of the province) to solve the language controversy. While recognizing both Hindi and Punjabi as regional languages of the Punjab, it was decided to divide the State, for the purpose of medium of instruction in schools up to the secondary stage, into two zones. Hindi zone was to comprise Rohtak, Guṛgāoṅ, Karnāl and Kāṅgṛā districts, part of Hissār district lying south of the River Ghaggar, and Jagādhrī and Naraiṇgaṛh tahsīls (sub-divisions) of Ambālā district. Shimlā and Ambālā tahsīl of Ambālā district were declared bilingual areas, and the rest of the state was to form the Punjabi zone. Punjabi was to be the medium of instruction in schools in the Punjabi zone, but Hindi was to be taught there as a compulsory subject from the last class of the primary level (i.e. 4th class) upwards up to matriculation for boys and middle standard for girls. Similarly, Hindi was to be the medium in the Hindi zone with provision for compulsory teaching of Punjabi from fourth class upwards. However; where parents or guardians of pupils wanted to educate them in a medium other than the Zonal language, arrangements were to be made accordingly, without questioning the declaration of the parents/guardians, provided not fewer than 40 pupils in a school and 10 in a class were covered with the option. Even then the regional language was to be taught from the fourth class in the case of boys' schools and the sixth class in the case of girls' schools. In unaided recognized schools, the medium was to be determined by the management concerned, but it was obligatory for them to provide for the teaching of Punjabi or Hindi, as the case may be, as a second language.
The Sachchar Formula was not a satisfactory solution of the language problem mainly because of the option given to parents/ guardians and to the managements of privately run schools. Hindus had generally turned their backs on Punjabi and opted for Hindi as the medium of instruction for their children. If anything, the Formula helped spread the communal virus among the younger generation. Almost all Sikh students at the school stage studied Punjabi while all Hindu students opted for Hindi. Master Tārā Siṅgh, after his release from jail, declared on 10 October 1949 that Gurmukhī represented a distinct culture. Hukam Siṅgh, then President of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, said at a press conference at Bombay on 1 January 1950 that the division of the Punjab on the basis of language and culture was an essential requirement and that the demand was a democratic one. Those who called it communal betrayed their own narrowmindedness. He repeated this demand during his presidential address at the Akālī conference at Ludhiāṇā on 26 February 1950. The stand of the Punjabi Hindus regarding the registration of mother tongue during 1951 census only strengthened the Akālīs' demand for a Punjabi-speaking state, Punjabi Sūbā in popular terminology.
Meanwhile, demands for readjustment of State boundaries on a linguistic basis had arisen in other parts of India as well. The Government of India announced the appointment of the States Reorganization Commission on 22 December 1953 to "investigate the conditions of the problem, the historical background, the existing situation, and the bearing of all relevant important factors thereon. They will be free to consider any proposal relating to such reorganisation. The Government expect that the Commission would, in the first instance, not go into the details, but make recommendations in regard to the broad principles which would govern solutions to this problem, and if they so choose, the broad lines on which particular States should be reorganised, and submit interim reports for the consideration of the Government. "The appointment of the Commission was welcomed by the Sikhs, as it gave them an opportunity to place their case for the Punjabi Sūbā before it, but its recommendations released in October 1955 disappointed them. The Commission not only rejected the demand for the reorganization of the Punjab on the basis of spoken language, a principle it had followed elsewhere in the country, but it approved the formation of a Mahā Punjab, as desired by the protagonists of Mahā Punjab movement launched by the majority community to counter the Akālīs' demand for Punjabi Sūbā. They wanted a bigger Punjab with the merger of Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union and Himachal Pradesh with the (Indian) Punjab. The Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, which had already, on 10 May 1955, started a morchā or agitation to press their demand for a Punjabi Sūbā, denounced the Commission's report at a broad based congress held at Amritsar on 16 October 1955. To bring home to Government, the Sikhs' sense of injury, an Akālī delegation led by Master Tārā Siṅgh met Prime Minister Nehrū twice — on 24 October and again on 23 November 1955, but further parleys were precluded as at the end of December a general session of the Indian National Congress was announced to be held at Amritsar on 11-12 February 1956. It was on 28 January 1956 for the first time that it was reported in the press that the parleys between the Akālī delegation and the Central Government for the settlement of the Punjab problem had broken down. The Akālī delegation had not been given that impression during earlier meetings. In an impromptu, but dramatic, gesture, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal called a parallel conference on the same dates in the same town. The massive show of Sikh strength put up by the Akālī Dal led the Government to resume the dialogue. The negotiators at last devised a compromise solution which came to be known as the Regional Formula. Punjab, with PEPSU (but not Himāchal Pradesh) amalgamated with it, was to be divided into two regions, Punjabi-speaking and Hindi-speaking, each having its Regional Committee consisting of its own share of the state legislators, but not including the chief minister. The state would continue to have one governor, one council of ministers, one legislative body and one high court, but "legislation relating to specified matters will be referred to the Regional Committees. In respect of specified matters proposals may also be made by the Regional Committees to the State Government for legislation or with regard to the question of general policy not involving any financial commitment other than expenditure of a routine and incidental character. The advice tendered by the Regional Committees will normally be accepted by the Government and the state legislature. In case of a difference of opinion, reference will be made to the Governor whose decision will be final and binding." Fourteen subjects, other than law and order, finance and taxation, were entrusted to the Regional Committees; the President of India was to constitute Regional Committees and make provision in the rules of business and rules of procedure to give effect to the working of the Committees. Provision was made also for the demarcation of the two regions, and it was declared that "the State will be bilingual, recognising both Punjabi (in Gurmukhī script) and Hindi (in Devanāgāri script) as the official languages of the State." The Formula was incorporated in the States Reorganisation Act, 1956.
The Regional Formula was discussed and accepted by the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal in its general body meeting held at Amritsar on 11 March 1956. The protagonists of Hindi, on the other hand, assailed it as being harmful to their interest and even launched a fierce agitation to have it annulled. Although the Congress government of the Punjab successfully suppressed the agitation, the bitterness it added to the already raging language controversy further widened the communal gulf. The Regional Scheme suffered into the bargain. In any case the success or failure of the scheme depended not so much on its substance as on its implementation. Even Hukam Siṅgh, who was considered by many as its main architect, wrote in his paper, The Spokesman, dated 30 April 1956, "These Regional Committees... have a limited sphere of subjects wherein they can give advice. There would be the Governor to intervene when there is conflict. It is yet to be seen how the scheme is implemented." Indeed, the Regional Formula was never seriously put into effect by Government. No Regional Committee was constituted till November 1957, and when they were constituted, the speaker of the Vidhan Sabhā (legislative assembly of the state) ruled on a suggestion from the Chief Minister, that their status was no better than that of other special committees of the House. The Chairmen of the Regional Committees were refused any establishment or staff, which led the Chairman of the Punjabi Regional Committee to resign in disgust. The Chief Minister, Partāp Siṅgh Kāiroṅ, who had never been enthusiastic about the entry of the Akālīs into the Congress, declared on 30 December 1957 that Hindi should be the main language of the Punjab and India. "In the Punjab," he said, "Punjabi comes after Hindi." The language settlement was not only not implemented, but it was made the subject of review by the so-called Two-man Goodwill Committee. This committee recommended fundamental changes in the language settlement. The Government, persisting in its dilatory tactics, appointed another 26 member committee to examine the proposals which had already been rejected by the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Chief Khālsā Dīwān. They also boycotted the 26-member committee.
One consequence of the acceptance of the Regional Formula by the Akālīs was that several of their leaders joined the Congress party, as the Working Committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal had resolved on 30 September 1956 "that (i) the Akālī Dal would not have any separate political programme of its own, (ii) the Dal would (henceforth) concentrate on the protection and promotion of religious, educational, cultural, social and economic interests of the Panth, and would guard against any violation and infringement of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution that adversely hit the Sikhs..." ‘Master Tārā Siṅgh, however, had wanted the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal to maintain its separate political identity, although he had not opposed the above resolution in the interests of Panthic unity. But the way the Government proceeded to torpedo the Regional Formula soon disillusioned him and he renewed his demand for a Punjabi Sūbā. Addressing a gathering at Amritsar on 14 June 1958, he said that compelled by circumstances he had given up the demand for Punjabi-Sūbā and agreed to the Regional Formula, but anti-Punjabi attitude of the Government was forcing him again to revive his demand for a Punjabi Sūbā. This meant practically the end of the Regional Formula.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)