FATEH SIṄGH, SANT (1911-1972), who enjoyed wide religious esteem among the Sikhs (sant, lit. a holy man) and who during the latter part of his career became a dominant political figure, was born, on 27 October 1911, the son of Bhāī Channaṇ Siṅgh, a resident of Baḍiālā in present-day Baṭhiṇḍā district of the Punjab. He had no formal schooling and started learning to read Punjabi only at the age of 15. In view of his interest in religious texts, his father apprenticed him to a well-known scholar, Sant Īshar Siṅgh, of Sekhā, a village near Barnālā. In company with Sant Channaṇ Siṅgh, another holy man, he migrated to Gaṅgānagar district of the then princely state of Bīkāner in Rājasthān, where a large number of Sikh peasants had settled down in the newly established canal colony. Having established himself at Buḍḍhā Jauhaṛ, a little known place which he made famous, Fateh Siṅgh moved from village to village preaching the Sikh faith through kīrtan and discourse and administration of amrit or the vows of the Khālsā. He simultaneously worked for the promotion of education among the masses and was instrumental in the construction of, besides a number of gurdwārās, several schools and colleges, an orphanage and a centre for imparting training in kīrtan. In this task he was assisted by Sant Channaṇ Siṅgh who, though senior in age, always acknowledged him as his elder, and their partnership and their respect for each other lasted till the very end. His pious way of living earned Fateh Siṅgh the title of Sant.

         Sant Fateh Siṅgh made his debut in politics when he joined the Punjabi Sūbā agitation (1955-56), a campaign launched by the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal under the leadership of Master Tārā Siṅgh for the creation of a new state comprising Punjabi-speaking areas carved out of the then-existing Punjab. His rise in the Akālī hierarchy was very rapid. As the Punjabi Sūbā agitation entered its second phase, Fateh Siṅgh unfolded at a specially convened conference at Amritsar (12 October 1958) the plan of action to be pursued by the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal of which he had by that time become the senior vice-president. On 15 March 1959 he led a massive march of Sikhs in the Indian capital, New Delhi. As the Punjabi Sūbā movement gathered momentum in May 1960, the responsibility of directing its course fell to Sant Fateh Siṅgh. He displayed rare qualities of leadership and restraint in running in a most orderly manner the seven-month-long agitation in which, according to one estimate, 57129 Akālī volunteers courted arrest.

         In a final bid for the attainment of a Punjabi-speaking state, Sant Fateh Siṅgh put his own life at stake and started on 18 December 1960 a fast-unto-death. Before submitting himself to the ordeal he offered prayers at the Akāl Takht and at the Harimandar, and addressed a mammoth gathering of the Sikhs adjuring them to remain calm and peaceful in any eventuality.

         There was universal applause for the purity of Sant Fateh Siṅgh's motive and no one questioned the sincerity of his resolution. Yet everybody wished that the worst might somehow be averted. There was intense activity in government and political circles. Indian leaders of diverse opinion tried to intervene and persuade Sant Fateh Siṅgh to abandon the fast. The Prime Minister of India, Jawāharlāl Nehrū, issued several conciliatory public statements, but Sant Fateh Siṅgh judged them as falling short of his stipulation. Al last the one issued on 8 January 1961 was pronounced by Master Tārā Siṅgh and the Working Committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal to be satisfactory and they as well as Pañj Piāre or the Five Elect, speaking for the entire Khālsā Panth, asked him to end his fast. On the morning of 9 January 1961, Fateh Siṅgh took his first sip of nourishment in twenty two days --- a glass of juice from the hands of Bhāī Chet Siṅgh, one of the Golden Temple priests.

         Political negotiations ensued between the Government of India and the Akālī Dal. Sant Fateh Siṅgh had three meetings with Prime Minister Nehrū --- on 8 February, 1 March and 12 May 1961, but with no positive result. His personal political authority had however been firmly established among the Sikhs. In July 1962, he directly challenged Master Tārā Siṅgh, forming his own Akālī Dal which on 2 October 1962 wrested control of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee from the hands of the latter. In the Gurdwārā elections on 17 January 1965, Sant Fateh Siṅgh annexed 90 of the elected seats, conceding only 45 to Master Tārā Siṅgh. To force the issue of Punjabi Sūbā, he proclaimed from the Akāl Takht on 16 August 1965 that he would restart his fast from 10 September 1965 and that, if he survived the fast for 15 days with his demand still not conceded, he would commit self-immolation by burning himself alive on the 16th day. But as hostilities between India and Pakistan broke out in September 1965, he not only postponed the fast but also issued an appeal to all his countrymen, particularly Sikhs, to rally behind the government. The war ended on 22 September 1965 and on 23 September, the Home Minister of India announced in Parliament the setting up of a Cabinet Committee consisting of Indirā Gāndhī, Y.B. Chavān and Mahāvīr Tyāgī to pursue further the question of the formation of a Punjabi-speaking state. He also requested the Speaker of the Lok Sabhā and the Chairman of the Rājya Sabhā to form for the same purpose a Parliamentary Consultative Committee. Matters moved fast thereafter. The report of the Parliamentary Committee, headed by Speaker Hukam Siṅgh, was made public on 18 January 1966, recommending the reorganization of the existing state of Punjab on linguistic basis. Mrs Indirā Gāndhī who had, after the sudden death of Lāl Bahādur Shāstrī, taken over as Prime Minister, finally conceded the demand on 23 April 1966. On 3 September, the Punjab Reorganization Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabhā and on 1 November 1966 Punjabi-speaking state became a reality. A lifelong bachelor, Sant Fateh Siṅgh greeted the event with the words : "A handsome baby has been born into my household."

         The demarcation of the boundaries of the new Punjab basically on the recommendations of a commission appointed by the Government of India, however, started a new polemic. Sant Fateh Siṅgh protested that Chaṇḍīgaṛh, city built as capital for the Punjab after Partition, and some Punjabi-speaking areas had been left out of the new state. On 5 December 1966 he announced that to have this injustice undone he would sit afasting on 17 December 1966 and commit self-immolation on 27 December 1966 if he survived till that day and his demands remained unfulfilled. The demands were : (i) inclusion of Chaṇḍīgaṛh and the Punjabi-speaking areas assigned to Himāchal Pradesh and to the newly created state of Haryāṇā in the Punjab; (ii) severance of common links (governor, high court, etc.) between Punjab and Haryāṇā and (iii) restoration. of the control of Bhākhṛā and other multipurpose projects to the Punjab. Sant Fateh Siṅgh began his fast on the appointed day (17 December). Simultaneously, moves were initiated by government and influential political leaders to have him terminate the fast and thus avert the threatened tragedy. At last, Hukam Siṅgh, the Lok Sabhā Speaker, and Giānī Gurmukh Siṅgh Musāfir, Chief Minister of the Punjab, communicated to him assurances on behalf of the Prime Minister Indirā Gāndhī and persuaded him to break his fast. Sant Fateh Siṅgh ended the fast on 27 December 1966.

         Sant Fateh Siṅgh thereafter became a controversial figure and his influence began to decline. He started another fast-unto-death on 26 January 1970, with self-immolation to follow on 1 February 1970 if Chaṇḍīgaṛh was not merged with Punjab by then. On 29 January, the Union Government announced that "the capital project area of Chaṇḍīgaṛh should as a whole go to Punjab," but this was hedged round by stipulations such as the transfer of Fāzilkā tahsīl from Punjab to Haryāṇā. The All-Parties Action Committee and the Akālī Dal High Command at their separate meetings on 30 January 1970 passed resolutions welcoming the decision regarding Chaṇḍīgarh, but opposing that on Fāzilkā. These resolutions were conveyed to Sant Fateh Siṅgh, who was persuaded to end (30 January 1970) the fast he was going through. On 25 March 1972, he announced his retirement from active politics.

         Sant Fateh Siṅgh died at Amritsar on 30 October 1972.


  1. Ghai, Charan Das, God's Man : A Biography of Sant Fateh Singh. Ludhiana, 1969
  2. Sarhadi, Ajit Singh, Punjabi Suba. Delhi, 1970
  3. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  4. Budhīrājā, Arjan Siṅgh, Do Mulākātāṅ. Amritsar, n.d.
  5. Ashok, Shamsher Siṅgh, Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Prabandhak Committee dā Pañjāh Sālā Itihās. Amritsar, 1982
  6. Dilgeer, Harjinder Siṅgh, Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. Chandigarh, 1980

Jitinder Kaur