TEJĀ SIṄGH SWATANTAR (1901-1973), Sikh preacher turned revolutionary, was born Samund Siṅgh at Alūṇā, a village in Gurdāspur district of the Punjab, on 16 July 1901. His father's name was Kirpāl Siṅgh. After finishing school, he joined Khālsā College at Amritsar where he took a leading part in organizing a meeting to protest against the atrocity committed by the British in the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh (13 April 1919). For this he had to leave the College. He joined the Akālī Dal and took part in the agitation for the liberation of Sikh places of worship. In September 1921, he raised a squad called Swatantar Jathā which in its maiden attempt had the gurdwārā at Tejā, a village in Gurdāspur district, released from the possession of the degenerate mahants. In celebration of the event, his colleagues named him Tejā Siṅgh Swatantar--'Tejā' from the gurdwārā liberated and 'Swatantar' from the Jathā of which he was the leader. In a similar action, the Swatantar Jathā brought the gurdwārā at Othīāṅ, also in Gurdāspur district, under the control of the reformists. Tejā Siṅgh also took part in the Gurū kā Bāgh campaign.
Early in 1923, Tejā Siṅgh went to Kābul as a Sikh missionary. There he came in contact with Ghadr leaders such as Ūdham Siṅgh Kasel, Gurmukh Siṅgh, Ratan Singh and Santokh Siṅgh, who persuaded him to undergo a course of military training. In 1925, Tejā Siṅgh proceeded to Turkey under the assumed name of Āzād Beg. He took up Turkish citizenship and graduated in military sciences, receiving a commission in the army. Five years later, Tejā Siṅgh moved to Berlin, which had been another important centre of the Ghadrites. He travelled all over the continent and also visited Canada and the United States of America (U.S.A.). Wherever he went, he preached revolution at congregations of Indians, mainly Punjabi Sikh immigrants. A brilliant orator, he was described by the American intelligence as a 'fiery speaker'. In January 1932, he left North America and visited Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil before reaching Moscow where he joined the university. In December 1934, Tejā Siṅgh returned to India and became a prominent leader of the Kirtī group of the Communist Party. Disguised as a sādhū, he wandered throughout the Punjab countryside and contributed regularly articles to the Party journal, the Kirtī. On 16 January 1936, he was arrested along with other Communist leaders, and sent to Campbellpore jail. During his confinement he passed his Bachelor of Arts examination from the University of the Pañjab, Lahore. While in jail, he was elected unopposed to the Punjab Legislative Assembly in May 1937 as a nominee of the Indian National Congress.
Tejā Siṅgh Swatantar was secretary of the Punjab Communist Party from 1944 to 1947, and a prominent leader of the Kisān Sabhā. He led a number of peasant agitations against government and the landlords. A highlight of the period of his career was the agitation at Harsā Chhīnā in 1946. After Independence, Tejā Siṅgh formed his Lāl (red) Party with the former Kirtī group of the Punjab Communist Party as the nucleus. Lāl Party became an active constituent of the Punjab Riyāstī Prājā Maṇḍal and campaigned for the merger fo the princely states into the Punjab and against the tenancy laws prevalent in these territories. Warrants fo arrest were issued against him in 1948, but he went underground and reappeared in public only when these were withdrawn on 5 january 1963.
Tejā Siṅgh edited Lāl Jhaṇḍā, a monthly in Urdu, and Lāl Saverā, a weekly in Punjabi, and contributed frequenly to other papers and journals. He was a member of the Punjab Legislative Council from 1964-69 and was, in 1971, elected to the Lok Sabhā. He died after a heart attack in Central Hall of Parliament on 12 April 1973.
Harīsh K. Purī