KARTĀR SIṄGH, GIĀNĪ (1902-1974), Akālī leader who was known for his political astuteness and for his single-mindedness of purpose and who dominated Sikh politics during the 40's and 50's of the 20th century, was born the son of Bhagat Siṅgh and Māī Jīo on 22 February 1902 at Chakk No. 40 Jhaṅg Branch in Lyallpur district (now in Pakistan) . The family, Jaṭṭs of Khaihrā clan, originally belonged to Nāgoke village in Amritsar district and had migrated to Lyallpur district when that area, formerly a wasteland known as Sāndal Bār, was opened up as a canal colony towards the close of the nineteenth century. Kartār Siṅgh received his early education in the village gurdwārā and later joined Khālsā School in the neighbouring Chak No. 4l from where he matriculated in 1921. He had a religious bent of mind and during his school days led a kīrtanī jathā or group of hymn-singers which earned him the epithet giānī (learned in religious texts). He joined Khālsā College, Amritsar, but owing to an attack of smallpox two years later he had to leave without taking a degree. The only son of his parents, Kartār Siṅgh was married at an early age to Harnām Kaur, daughter of Jagat Siṅgh of Ghiālā Kalāṅ, in Amritsar district.

         Giānī Kartār Siṅgh was attracted to politics in his early youth. He was in Amritsar in April 1919 staying with his uncle, Risāldār Jagat Siṅgh, a Viceroy's commissioned officer in the army, when the Jalliāṅvālā massacre took place. This event and the martial law conditions in the Punjab under which he travelled from Amritsar to his village left a deep impact on his mind. While yet a student of the tenth class, he along with some fellow students had participated in the campaign on behalf of the Tilak Svarāj Fund launched by the Indian National Congress. Leading a party of about 20 students, he also attended a Sikh conference at Dhārovālī village in early October 1920, which paved the way for the formation of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. In 1924, he was appointed general secretary of the Lyallpur district branch of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. Later during the same year, he was arrested for leading a procession to welcome the 13th Shahīdī Jathā which was touring the central districts before it headed for Jaito. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment which he underwent in the central jail at Campbellpore. In 1926, he was elected a member of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee which had been reconstituted under the Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, and became a member of its executive committee in October 1927. He took part in the agitation against the visit of Simon Commission to India in 1928 and attended the protest rally that greeted the Commission with black flags al Lahore railway station, on 30 October 1928, with shouts of "Simon, Go Back." During the Civil disobedience movement in 1930-31, he was again arrested and sentenced to one year's imprisonment for delivering anti-government speeches. In 1933 Giānī Kartār Siṅgh was elected member of the executive committees both of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. In 1937, he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly from Samundāri Jaṛhāṅvālā constituency of Lyallpur district.

         Reacting to Muslim League's demand for a separate Muslim State, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh put forward in 1943 some concrete Formulations of which his Āzād Punjab scheme was vigorously pursued for some time. The scheme envisaged carving out of the then-existing Punjab a new unit, Āzād Punjab, which would have included the maximum Sikh population, with no single religious community being in absolute majority. This formed the basis of the Akālī standpoint at the subsequent political negotiations during which Giānī Kartār Siṅgh ranked next only to Master Tārā Siṅgh as representative of the Sikh opinion. Later, in January 1947, he was elected president of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. In 1942 he had played a crucial role in bringing about rapprochement between the Akālīs and the Muslim-dominated Unionist Party in consequence of which Baldev Siṅgh, the Akālī nominee, joined the Unionist Government as a minister in the Punjab led by Sir Sikāndar Hayāt Khān. Taking advantage of the arrangement labelled as Sikandar-Baldev Pact, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh moved a bill in the Punjab Legislative Assembly to amend the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, with a view to making the central authority for the management of Sikh shrines, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, more effective. Already, at a meeting of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee on 22 February 1941, he had drawn the attention of the Sikh people to the need for such a revision. The amending bill, which became the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Act XI of 1944, was passed on 12 December 1944.The amendments provided for representation on the Committee to the so-called backward classes among the Sikhs, greater administrative control over the local gurdwārās and more freedom for the Committee to spend money from its funds for missionary, educational and charitable purposes. The Act was again amended consequent upon the merger of PEPSU territory with the Punjab in 1956. That amendment too was sponsored by Giānī Kartār Siṅgh.

         After the Viceroy's proclamation of 3 June 1947 announcing the decision of the British government to divide the country conceding the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh called a joint meeting of the working committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal and the Panthic Pratīnīdhī Board which passed a resolution on 14 June 1947 advocating transfer of population and property as an essential concomitant of the proposed partition. After 15 August 1947, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh at grave personal risk helped the migration of non-Muslims, especially of Lyallpur and Sheikhūpurā districts to India. On 17 March 1948, the working committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal under his leadership passed a resolution, permitting all Panthic (Akālī) members of the East Punjab Assembly to join the Congress. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh became a minister in the East Punjab government under Chief Minister Gopī Chand Bhārgava and was assigned to the portfolios of revenue and developmenṭ. He continued in the ministry headed by Lālā Bhīm Sain Sachar which in fact he, with his group of 22 MLAs, had helped to form in March 1949. He was the architect of what came to be known as the Giānī-Sachar formula, according to which East Punjab was demarcated into Punjabi-speaking and Hindi-speaking areas --- a demarcation which laid the foundation of a Punjabi-speaking state. Demand for Punjabi Sūbā, i.e. Punjabi-speaking state, became the focus of. Sikh politics and Giānī Kartār Siṅgh became one of its principal advocates on re-joining the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. In 1955, he courted arrest in the Akālī campaign for Punjabi Sūbā.

         Earlier, as a member of the Constituent Assembly Giānī Kartār Siṅgh had advocated some statutory guarantees for the Sikhs as a minority. He lost his assembly seat in the first general election held under the new Constitution in 1952, but was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council soon after. In 1956, a compromise was reached between the Akālī Dal and the Congress in the form of what is known as Regional Formula and the Akālīs again joined the Congress party en bloc. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh was elected to Legislative Assembly from Dasūyā-Ṭāṇḍā constituency and became Revenue and Agriculture minister in 1957 in the Cabinet headed by Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ. In 1962, he was re-elected to the state assembly. In February 1967, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh sought election from his former constituency as a Congress candidate but was defeated. He resigned from the Congress party on 16 April 1967. His bid to be elected a member of the Lok Sabhā from Hoshiārpur in 1972 met with a similar fate. He was now in failing health and his political career had come to a vīrtual end. He died in Rājindra Hospital, Paṭiālā, on l0 June 1974.


  1. Dalip Singh, Dynamics of Punjab Politics. Delhi, 1981
  2. Gulati, K.C., The Akalis: Past and Present. Delhi, 1974
  3. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
  4. Sarhadi, Ajit Singh, Punjabi Suba. Delhi, 1970
  5. Wallace, Paul, and Surendra Chopra, eds., Political Dynamics of Punjab. Amritsar, 1981
  6. Brass, Paul R., Language, Religion and Politics in Northern India. Delhi, 1975

Kulwant Siṅgh Virk