PUNJABI SŪBĀ MOVEMENT, a long-drawn political agitation launched by the Sikhs demanding the creation of Punjābī Sūbā or Punjabi-speaking state in the Punjab. At Independence it was commonly recognized that the Indian states then comprising the country did not have any rational or scientific basis. They were more the result of the exigencies of British conquest. To have some of these demographic imbalances corrected and inconvenient bulges expunged with a view to drawing up clean-cut boundaries a commission was set up by Government of India in 1948. The commission had its jurisdiction limited to the southern states such as Āndhra, Karnāṭaka, Kerala, and Mahārāshṭra. Northern India, it seems, was deliberately kept out of the purview of the commission especially to prevent problems like those of Punjab and, specifically, issues pertaining to Sikhs cropping up. But these problems could not be swept under the carpet for long, and had to be faced for the sake of honest politics and for the sake of the democratic functioning of polity and society. Another States Re-organization Commission was appointed in 1953.

         The Commission tried to foreclose the possibility of the demand for Punjab state being resurrected by resorting to one obviously weak argument. The formation of linguistic provinces, it was said, was sure to give rise to a demand for the separation of other linguistic groups elsewhere and such claims had already been advanced by Sikhs, Jāṭs and others.

         The Commission recommended the integration of Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union and Himāchal Pradesh with the Punjab. This was entirely unacceptable to the mainstream Sikh political set-up, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. The Akālī leader, Master Tārā Siṅgh, took the opportunity to exhibit Sikh unity and resolution on this point. He summoned a representative congress of the Sikhs at Amritsar on 16 October 1955. Nearly 1,300 of the invitees attended. With one voice, they rejected the recommendations of the States Reorganization Commission and severely castigated it for treating the Sikh claims with such undisguised bias. The convention authorized Master Tārā Siṅgh to devise ways and means to bring home to the Government of India Sikhs' sense of injury. His first move — a conciliatory one — was to call upon Prime Minister Nehrū. The ground for such a meeting had already been prepared by the former Defence Minister, Sardār Baldev Siṅgh. Baldev Siṅgh, who had shunned meeting the Prime Minister since he had been dropped from his cabinet and who in fact stayed away even from social get-togethers at which he was likely to be present, was persuaded by Giānī Kartār Siṅgh and others to act as a mediator between the Akālīs and the government. He showed Jawāharlāl Nehrū the correspondence which had passed between Sikhs and the Muslim League leaders prior to the transfer of power, and reminded him how the former had rejected the League overtures and thrown in their lot with India.

         Conciliatory intercession brought Jawāharlal Nehrū and the Sikh leaders round the conference table. In these parleys, the Prime Minister was assisted by two of his senior cabinet colleagues, Maulānā Abul Kalām Āzād and Paṇḍit Govind Ballabh Pant. The Sikhs were represented by Master Tārā Siṅgh, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, Sardār Hukam Siṅgh, Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh and Sardār Giān Siṅgh Rāṛewālā. A sixth colleague of theirs, Bāwā Harkishan Siṅgh, did not participate in the negotiations, but joined their own private discussions afterwards. All of them put up in Sardār Hukam Siṅgh's house in Delhi, and, before leaving for the first day's meetings, they vowed in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib that they would act by mutual counsel and that none of them would meet singly any member of the government. The members also apportioned among themselves the topics they would take up for discussion. Master Tārā Siṅgh was to say a few opening words and was not to speak again. Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh was to explicate the language problem in the Punjab, and Giānī Kartār Siṅgh and Sardār Hukam Siṅgh were to meet the political points. The first meeting took place on 24 October 1955, the second a month later—on 23 November.

         This second meeting was preceded by Prime Minister Nehrū's lunch for Master Tārā Siṅgh. At the end of the meeting, the Press asked Master Tārā Siṅgh if he had obtained the Punjabi Subā. "I have not at least lost it," he quipped. The parleys were interrupted at the end of December as a general session of the Indian National Congress was announced to be held in Amritsar on 11-12 February 1956.

         In an impromptu, but dramatic gesture, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal gave notice of a parallel conference of its own. As subsequent events proved, this turned out to be efficient strategy. The Sikhs' meeting was massive in size. The entire Punjab countryside seemed to have burst upon the city of Amritsar. The Akālī cavalcade preceding the deliberations was a magnificent spectacle of Sikh solidarity — an endless column of marching humanity fired with one single passion, with one single will. It completely dwarfed the Congress convention. The Indian leaders watched from across the road the mammoth turnout of the Sikh populace. They could not have been but struck by its perfect orderliness and its sense of purpose.

         Beckoning the processionists on and ever urging them to a quicker pace to be on time was Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, proudly standing in a jeep, his broken arm in a sling and his eyes alight with an unmistakable glint of triumph. He had but lately returned to the Akālī fold to strengthen the hands of Master Tārā Siṅgh. Most graphic is the account of this Sikh march in Michael Brecher's biography of Jawāharlāl Nehrū :

        On a bright, cool north Indian winter morning the contending groups massed their forces in a show of strength, especially for the benefit of the Congress High Command which was camped close by. First came the Sikhs in the most impressive — and peaceful — demonstration I have ever seen. Hour after hour and mile after mile they marched, eight abreast, down the main streets of Amritsar, a hallowed name in Indian nationalism because of the shootings of 1919. Old and young, men and women, they came in an endless stream, most with an expression of determination and sadness in their eyes, many still remembering the ghastly days of 1947 when their homeland was cut in two and hundreds of thousands fled before the Muslims, and when thousands of their co-religionists died or were maimed. What strength there was in appearance of the older men who, with their flowing beards, looked like the Hebrew prophets of old. Many carried their traditional sword, the kirpan, and many wore blue turbans, symbol of militancy. (The dyers in the city did a handsome business that week.) They had come from the villages and towns of the Punjab and from far-off places as well. Almost without exception they marched in orderly file, portraying their unity of purpose. At intervals came the resounding cry, "Punjabi Suba Zindabad"("Long live a Punjabi State") and "Master Tara Singh Zindabad," with intermittent music to enliven the proceedings. On they came, for five hours. Few who watched them could doubt their genuine fear of being swallowed up in the vice-like embrace of rabid Hinduism. By conservative estimate they numbered over 100,000. To this observer it seemed more like double that figure.


         The Sikhs had put forth their strongest argument in support of Punjabi Sūbā. The dialogue between the Akālī leaders and the government was resumed. What began to irk the former was the monotonous style the meetings had acquired. The Sikh leaders did all the speaking and the government representatives only listened. Paṇḍit Pant, who was meant to be the chief government spokesman never uttered a word from his lips. The Sikh delegation felt frustrated and decided to cease from participating. News appeared in the press on the morning of 26 February 1956 that the negotiations had broken down. The report was accompanied with the announcement that the Sikh leaders were leaving Delhi. But Joginder Siṅgh, a Sikh member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, who sat in the meetings as an observer, tried to bring them round to re-joining the talks.

         The negotiators were at length able to devise a scheme to break the impasse. It was at best a compromise solution. Without demarcating a Punjabi Sūbā, the state was to be split into two regions— Punjabi and Hindi. Each zone was to have its own regional committee consisting of its own share of the Punjabi legislators, with powers to deliberate on all subjects except law and order, finance and taxation. This Regional Formula, as the plan came to be designated, was put to the vote at a general meeting of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal at Amritsar on 11 March 1956. There were critical voices raised. The angriest was that of Āmar Siṅgh Ambālavī, who had his dissent formally recorded. Gurmit Siṅgh did not go that far, but opposed the proposal. In the same lobby was another youth leader, Karnail Siṅgh Ḍoaḍ, who was then a member of the Working Committee of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. A stickler for constitutional propriety, he privately raised with some of the sponsors the cavil that the Formula could not be discussed in that meeting without it having been put up first to the Working Committee. The objection went unheeded by the leaders who were committed to seeing the Formula through. Especially persuasive at the meeting were Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh and Sardār Ajīt Siṅgh Sarhādī. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh conceded that what had been offered by government was not the Punjabi Sūbā of their conception. Yet he commended acceptance of it as a shagan or promise for Punjabi Sūbā.

         The motion was carried, but one man who was left somewhat puzzled was Master Tārā Siṅgh. He was not sure if they had acted prudently. Once again the Akālīs were permitted to join the Congress. Once again Master Tārā Siṅgh questioned in his heart of hearts the wisdom of so enfeebling the Akālī Dal. His instinct inclined him to oppose the half measure that had emerged from government-Akālī detente. But he did not want to overrule his colleagues. He, nevertheless, continued to feel sceptical. He himself did not join the Congress, although most of his front-rank colleagues did. On 30 September 1956, the Akālī Dal renounced politics. It was proposed to hold a rally a few weeks later and present two lakhs of Akālī members to the Congress. Master Tārā Siṅgh's unease was not lessened. The 1957 general elections gave him the opportunity to and his mental dichotomy. The Congress had assigned the Akālī entrants twenty-two nominations for the Punjab Assembly and three for Parliament. This share struck Master Tārā Siṅgh as grossly inadequate and he abrogated the settlement with the Congress so far as he was personally concerned. In his individual capacity he put up his own candidates against Congress nominees. None of the twenty-three fielded by him won, but he had underwritten the point once again that Sikhs must be the masters of their political fortune. He was left alone as he had been in 1948 when all the senior Akālī leaders had joined the Congress. This was the situation, in which he found himself now in 1957. His one advantage now, as in the past, was his control of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. He started on the course of recovery by reactivating it politically.

         The supporters of Hindi assailed the Regional Formula as being harmful to their interests. Under the aegis of the Hindi Rakshā Samitī, they launched a fierce agitation to have it annulled. The new Congress government which had taken office in the Punjab on 3 April 1957, with the mighty Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ as Chief Minister and former Akālīs, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh and Giān Siṅgh Raṛewālā, as two members of his cabinet, dealt with the Hindi protest firmly. But it could do little to assuage the Sikhs' sentiment hurt by the Hindi Rakshā Samitī's acts of animosity against them. During the course of the Hindi movement, several Sikh places of worship had been desecrated.

         Language frontiers had become communal frontiers. For Master Tārā Siṅgh, Punjabi Sūbā was the only antidote to the rising Hindi fanaticism. On 14 June 1958, he resurrected the demand for it, repudiating the Regional Formula which had anyhow been the subject of his criticism and sarcasm. Though accepted under the pressure of circumstances, the Regional Formula was no trustworthy solution of the Punjab problem. The Sikh masses were scarcely enthused by it. Essentially, it was a tentative arrangement and, as it soon became apparent, neither the government nor any of the political parties was keen to give it an earnest trial. Master Tārā Siṅgh called a meeting of the general body of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal at Paṭiālā on 14 February 1959. 299 out of 377 members attended. The convention resolved by one voice to restore the political character of the Dal.

         The Regional Formula never seriously put into effect by government and never seriously accepted by the Sikhs, left one permanent monument in the shape of the Punjabi University. The idea of such a university had taken birth in the new intellectual and cultural milieu created by national independence. Educators and public men in the Punjab had vaguely spoken of a university for the development and promotion of the language of the state. But none could define exactly the scope and design of such a university. The first concrete formulation came from the Punjabi Sāhit Akademī, which at its annual conference in Delhi, in 1956, adopted a resolution demanding that a university with Punjabi as the medium of instruction be set up in the Punjab.

         Most crucial, though generally covert, was the part of Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, who was one of the architects of the Regional Formula. He was then a minister in Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ's government. One of his close associates, Sardār Rām Dyāl Siṅgh, proposed in the Punjabi Regional Committee a resolution for Punjabi being adopted as the exclusive medium of instruction in schools in the Punjabi zone. Certain sections felt perturbed and pressed Giānī Kartār Siṅgh to have the motion withdrawn. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh agreed on the condition that the leader of the House, Paṇḍit Mohan Lāl, makes an announcement for the establishment of a university in the name of Punjabi. Mohan Lāl held hurried consultations with the Chief Minister, who under the provisions of the Formula, did not sit in either of the regional committees. In seeking his concurrence, he said that Giānī Kartār Siṅgh had told him that the establishment of such a university was provided for in the Regional Formula. No one had the time to go into the details. Partāp Siṅgh gave his approval and Mohan Lāl declared on the floor of the House that the government would initiate measures to bring into being a Punjabi University.

         Later, as the Regional Formula was scanned to locate the pertinent provision, it was discovered that none existed. Confronted on this point, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh told the Chief Minister that the development of Punjabi language was an important aspect of the policy on which the Regional Formula was based. How would, he asked the Chief Minister, the language develop if such a university was not established? What chances would the language have to develop itself, if it did not have a university to support it, said Giānī Kartār Siṅgh without batting an eyelid. The humour of the situation was not lost on Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ. In any case, he was himself a protagonist of Punjabi. His own cultural perceptions and affiliations were derived from the Siṅgh Sabhā enlightenment in which his father, Nihāl Siṅgh, had been a prominent figure. In private conversation and in public speech, he used to refer proudly to his Siṅgh Sabhā upbringing. Although his regime as Chief Minister was marked by severe repression of the Akālīs, he gave the Sikhs a dominant position in the administration of the Punjab, and took the ruling Congress party into rural Punjab, tilting the leadership structure decisively in their favour. With the characteristic resoluteness, Partāp Siṅgh now went ahead with his plans for the establishment of the university.

         Soon afterwards he and his cabinet colleagues happened to be in Paṭiālā for the bhog ceremonies for the mother of Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh. There the Chief Minister requested the Mahārājā to accept the chairmanship of Punjabi University Commission the state government had decided to appoint. The Mahārājā agreed. Among other members of the Commission nominated were Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, Hukam Siṅgh, Ujjal Siṅgh, Malik Hardit Siṅgh, Dr A.C.Joshi, Dr Anup Siṅgh, Dr P.S. Gill, Hardwārī Lāl and Professor Harbaṅs Siṅgh. The Commission submitted its report to government in 1961 and, during the same year, legislation was passed. In 1962, the University opened in one of the old Paṭiālā palaces.

         The Punjab Government, under Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ, was as inflexible in front of the supporters of Punjabi as it had been in front of the supporters of Hindi. In the affairs of the former, it intervened more directly via Giānī Kartār Siṅgh who was now a minister in the Kairoṅ government. Master Tārā Siṅgh was outmanoeuvred in the annual elections to the office of president of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee on 16 November 1958, and defeated by 77 votes to 74. The victor was a young man, Prem Siṅgh Lālpurā, barely in his thirties. Master Tārā Siṅgh reacted by giving the signal for a Punjabi Sūbā conference to be convened in Chanḍigaṛh. At the conference, he disclosed his intention of launching a mass movement on a vast scale. ln preparation, a silent procession was to be taken out in Delhi on 15 March 1959. The government acted swiftly and took him into custody. The Delhi march did take place, with Sikhs participating from all over the country. The procession, led by Master Tārā Siṅgh's portrait displayed on a vehicle, ended in a religious dīvān at Gurdwārā Rikābgañj. Within less than a week, Master Tārā Siṅgh was released from gaol.

         The 1960 elections to the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee turned out to be another trial of strength between the Congress and the Akālīs. Congress Sikhs, led by Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ and Giānī Kartār Siṅgh, strove hard to defeat Master Tārā Siṅgh and his nominees. Giānī Kartār Siṅgh resigned from the ministry to apply all his energies to electioneering. With the overt help of the state government, he sponsored a society called Sādh Saṅgat Board to contest the elections. But the results went overwhelmingly in favour of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. The Dal took 136 seats, contrasting with Sādh Saṅgat Board's four. All the Akālī members assembled at the Akāl Ta kht on 24 January 1960, to bind themselves solemnly to achieve Punjabi Sūbā.

         The Akālī Dal carried its campaign a step further by calling upon former Akālī members to withdraw from the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Only five out of 24 members resigned at the behest of the Akālī Dal. Undismayed, Master Tārā Siṅgh summoned a broad-based Punjabi Sūbā convention in Amritsar on 22 May 1960, to which members of Swatantra and Prajā Socialist parties were also invited. The conference was presided over by Paṇḍit Sundar Lāl, and Dr Saifuddīn Kitchlew, once a staunch Congressman, opened the proceedings. The main resolution was moved by Sardār Gurnām Siṅgh, calling upon government "not to delay any more the inevitable formation" of a Punjabi-speaking state, especially when language based states had been carved out in other parts of the country.

         Close on the heels of the Amritsar convention, came Master Tārā Siṅgh's proclamation to start upon a march on 29 May 1960, which was the day of Gurū Arjun's martyrdom, through the Punjab countryside and reach Delhi to join a Sikh procession in the capital on 12 June 1960. On the way, he was to visit important Sikh gurdwārās and make speeches to rally support for Punjabi Sūbā. This announcement led him into gaol once again. He was picked up by police from his home in Amritsar on the night of 24-25 May and taken to Dharamsālā gaol. The government came down upon the Akālīs with a heavy hand. Large scale arrests were made throughout the Punjab. A reign of terror ensued. The Sikhs once again exhibited their usual fondness for gaol-going. Columns of volunteers started courting arrest at Amritsar and Delhi. The main centre of mobilization was the Golden Temple. The evening dīvāns at Mañjī Sāhib attracted vast audiences. Akālī leaders made stirring speeches asserting the Sikhs' right to self-determination. In the absence of Master Tārā Siṅgh, Sant Fateh Siṅgh, a man devoted to religion who had but lately been initiated into politics, directed the movement from inside the Golden Temple precincts. He was assisted by a devoted band of young men from the Sikh Students' Federation such as Satbīr Siṅgh, Bharpūr Siṅgh and Bhān Siṅgh. Satbīr Siṅgh was a favourite speaker at the Mañjī Sāhib dīvāns. By his eloquent narration of deeds of heroism and martyrdom from Sikh history, he maintained mass fervour at a high pitch.

         Sant Fateh Siṅgh proved to be the man marked out for politics. He took to his new role with sovereign facility and stuck to it with a rare tenacity of will. He gave evidence of shrewd practical judgement, uncommon for one reared as a religious recluse. He held the strings of the agitation firmly in his hands and ran it with the finesse of a seasoned leader of men. By his circumspection in speech, he introduced a new convincing note into the agitation. He presented the demand for Punjabi Sūbā as based on linguistic considerations alone, bringing it in line with the country's declared goals of democracy and secularism. Besides the Sikh masses, he won many from other communities over to his viewpoint. For him, the size of the new state or the proportion of Hindu and Sikh population in it was not of primary relevance. What mattered was the creation of a unit comprising Punjabi-speaking areas, with Punjabi as the official language. Sant Fateh Siṅgh handled the media with the skill and aplomb of a born statesman. He never faltered in the consistency of his argument, nor did he ever lose his equanimity or run into a faux pas. Talking once to the Press at Amritsar during the course of the morchā, he said, "We do not seek a Sikh-majority area. We are not concerned about percentages. We want the Punjabi Sūbā to comprise an area where Punjabi language is spoken, regardless of the fact whether the Sikhs are in a majority or minority." This was the burden of his speech and statement, always.

         The state government resorted to rigorous measures to put down the agitation. A scare was created throughout the Punjab, but the supply of volunteers continued unabated and the morchā went from strength to strength. Thousands of Sikhs had lodged themselves in gaols, and the number kept multiplying. On its side, the government showed little sign of relenting. It seemed an unending contest, when Sant Fateh Siṅgh, in a conclusive bid, put his own life at stake. On 29 October, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nehrū saying that, if the Sikhs' democratic and constitutional demand for a Punjabi-speaking state was not accepted, he would end his life fasting. He sought to impress upon him the Sikhs' sense of grievance and to tell him how repressive and vengeful the Puṅjab Government had been Jawaharlāl Nehrū refused to intervene, and Sant Fateh Siṅgh unhesitatingly took up his cross.

         The fast began on 18 December 1960. Before entering his ascetical hut in the Golden Temple premises, Sant Fateh Siṅgh had the ardās said at Akāl Takht by the Jathedār praying God to give him strength to carry his resolve through, and made obeisance at the Harimandar receiving what was meant to be his last portion of kaṛāh prasād. He also addressed a mammoth gathering of the Sikhs, adjuring them to remain peaceful in any event. "Every particle of the country is ours and any damage to it is damage to our selves," he told them. A roster was announced of ten Sikhs who had offered to continue the chain in case Sant Fateh Siṅgh's fast ended in a fatality.

         Suddenly a grimness hung over the country. The air was filled with foreboding. There was universal applause for the purity of Sant Fateh Siṅgh's motive and no one questioned the steadfastness of his resolution. Yet everybody prayed that the worst might somehow be averted. This was Sant Fateh Siṅgh's finest hour. But immolation by fasting was a novelty in Sikh tradition. In this strategy lay the germ of many an internal conflict and of the eclipse of many a reputation.

         Indian leaders of diverse opinion tried to intervene and persuade Sant Fateh Siṅgh to abandon the fast. But he would not withdraw from his self-imposed ordeal until the justice of his point had been admitted. The concern daily grew in the entire nation and there was anxiety everywhere to save his life. Prime Minister Nehrū, in a speech in Chaṇḍīgaṛh on 20 December 1960, conceded that Punjabi was the dominant language of the Punjab and that it must be promoted in every way. The same assurance was repeated in a speech at Rājpurā later in the day. This and an even more conciliatory speech given by him in Delhi on 31 December, making a personal appeal to Sant Fateh Siṅgh to end his fast, were judged by the latter as falling short of his stipulation. So the stalemate continued.

         Chief Minister Partāp Siṅgh Kairoṅ made a bold gesture and set Master Tārā Siṅgh free on 4January 1961. This was done on the advice of Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, his old teacher of college days, with whom he often took counsel in moments of crisis. Immediately after his release from gaol in Dharamsālā, Master Tārā Siṅgh called on Sant Fateh Siṅgh, considerably weakened from his trial. He next wanted to meet Prime Minister Nehrū, who was then in Bhāvnagar attending the annual session of the Congress. Not wishing to lose any time, he flew from Delhi in a specially chartered plane to Bhāvnagar. He was accompanied by Harbaṅs Siṅgh Gujrāl, Lachhmaṇ Siṅgh Gill, Hargurnād Siṅgh, Harcharan Siṅgh of Baṭhinḍā, and Seṭh Rām Nāth, one Punjabi Hindu of consequence who openly espoused the cause for a Punjabi-speaking state. The group held mutual consultations while in flight and reduced their minimum demand to writing. Master Tārā Siṅgh had a two-hour meeting with the Prime Minister on 7 January 1961, but without securing anything worth reporting to Sant Fateh Siṅgh. On 8 January 1961, Jawāharlāl added a postscript to what he had told Master Tārā Siṅgh. He announced that it is not out of any discrimīnation against Punjab or distrust of the Sikhs that the process of forming linguistic states must stop here. "Punjab state," he went on, "is broadly speaking a Punjabi Sūbā with Punjabi as the dominant language." He expressed his anxiety about Sant Fateh Siṅgh's health and wished to see his ordeal ended.

         Master Tārā Siṅgh, who had returned to Delhi, felt reassured by this elaboration and forthwith had a call made to Amritsar. He assured Sant Fateh Siṅgh that the obligations of his vow had been fulfilled and asked him to terminate his fast. To Master Tārā Siṅgh's appeal was added the weight of a motion adopted by the Working Committee of the Akālī Dal and the command of the Pañj Piāre or the Five Elect who, speaking for the entire Khālsā, told Sant Fateh Siṅgh that they were satisfied that his pledge had been complied with and that he must forthwith end his fast. On the morning of 9 January 1961, Fateh Siṅgh took his first sips of nourishment in twenty two-days — a glass of juice from the hands of Bhāī Chet Siṅgh, one of the Golden Temple priests. This marked the end of the seven month long morchā in which, according to official figures, 30,000 went to gaol and, according to Akālī reckoning, 57,129.

         Political negotiations ensued between government and the Akālīs. Sant Fateh Siṅgh had three meetings with Prime Minister Nehrū — one on 8 February 1961, the next on 1 March 1961, and the last on 12 May 1961. The meetings were friendly, but yielded no definite results. Offering to extend to the Punjabi language all the protection it needed, the Prime Minister was not willing to slice off Punjabi-speaking areas of the Punjab into a separate state. The Sikhs were far from pacified. To press home the Punjabi Sūbā issue another fast had to be staged — this time by Master Tārā Siṅgh. His trial began on 15 August 1961, after a solemn prayer in front of the Akāl Takht. The Punjab again was in a commotion. The crisis deepened as days went by. Mediators arose to try and settle the issue. Notable among them were Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā and Malik Hardit Siṅgh. They kept in touch with Prime Minister Nehrū and Home Minister Lāl Bahādur Shāstrī on the one hand and with the Akālī leaders on the other. Eventually Master Tārā Siṅgh was persuaded to end his fast on the 48th day (1 October 1961). The glass of lemon juice, mixed with honey, was given him by the Mahārājā of Paṭiālā and Sant Fateh Siṅgh.

         In pursuance of the settlement made, the Prime Minister appointed a commission to go into the question of Sikh grievances. The Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal cavilled at its composition and refused to put up its case before it. But the commission carried on with its work in spite of Akālī Dal's non-cooperation. It gave its report on 9 February 1962, rejecting suggestions of any discrimination against the Sikhs. Demand for a Punjabi-speaking state was, according to the commission, a camouflage for the demand for a Sikh state.

         Among the Sikhs, criticism was brewing against Master Tārā Siṅgh himself. His termination of his fast without achieving the target aimed at had made him liable to public accountability as never before. The accusation was commonly levelled that he had perjured the pledge solemnized at Akāl Takht. The Sikhs were not willing to condone what amounted to violation of a religious vow and what seemed to cast a slur on their proud tradition. The responsibility for having Sant Fateh Siṅgh's fast similarly ended was also laid at Master Tārā Siṅgh's door. Five Sikhs eminent in the religious hierarchy — Jathedār Achchhar Siṅgh of the Akāl Takht, Jathedār Sharam Siṅgh of Srī Kesgaṛh Sāhib, Giānī Bhūpinder Singh Head Granthī of the Harimandar Sāhib, Bhāī Kartār Siṅgh and Bhāī Chet Siṅgh — were named as Pañj Piāre on 24 November 1961, to judge if the oath sworn by Master Tārā Siṅgh had been complied with.

         They made a close investigation of the circumstances leading to the abandonment of the fast and pronounced Master Tārā Siṅgh guilty of having gone back on his plighted word and of having blemished thereby the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice.

         Master Tārā Siṅgh was laid under expiation to have an akhaṇḍ pāth of the Gurū Granth Sāhib recited at the Akāl Takht, to say for one month an extra pāth of the Japu every day in addition to his normal nitnem or prescribed regimen of five daily prayers, to offer kaṛāh prasād of the value of Rs 125 and to clean the shoes of the saṅgat and the dishes in the Gurū kā Laṅgar for five days. As Jathedār Achchhar Siṅgh and Giānī Bhūpinder Siṅgh explained on behalf of the religious jury, they had no comments to make on Sant Fateh Siṅgh's fast which, they said, had been given up with the consent of Master Tārā Siṅgh and under the orders of the Working Committee of the Akālī Dal, Pañj Piāre and the saṅgat in general. He was, nevertheless, held guilty, along with other eight members of the Working Committee, for acquiescing in Master Tārā Siṅgh's breaking his fast. Sant Fateh Siṅgh was to recite for one month an additional pāth of the Japu and wash dishes in Gurū kā Laṅgar for five days. Other members of the Working Committee got away with a lighter penance. They were to broom the Golden Temple precincts and clean dishes in Gurū kā Laṅgar for two days.

         The verdict was announced on 29 November 1961, and the sanctions imposed were dutifully complied with. Master Tārā Siṅgh's pictures scrubbing dishes in the Gurū kā Laṅgar and cleaning the shoes of the saṅgat were widely circulated. These acts of humility and expiation evoked spontaneous popular admiration, but Master Tārā Siṅgh could not climb up the ladder again. Sant Fateh Siṅgh had emerged as a serious rival. The story of Sikh affairs henceforward is the story of the gradual eclipse of Master Tārā Siṅgh and steady ascendancy of Sant Fateh Siṅgh. Already the former's authority had been challenged, with the charge flung at him that he was responsible for having the Sant's pledge falsified. On 11 January 1961 — two days after Sant Fateh Siṅgh had broken his fast — Master Tārā Siṅgh was booed by the audience at a dīvān at Mañjī Sāhib and not allowed to make a speech. At the Māghī dīvān at Muktsar on 13 January 1961, the entire festival crowd stood up in protest, forcing him to break off abruptly. Jathedār Jīvan Siṅgh Umrānaṅgal, a member of the Akālī Dal Working Committee, notified Master Tārā Siṅgh on 15 November 1961 to vacate presidentship of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal as well as that of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. He counted ten charges against him and declared that, if he did not resign by 20 November, he would sit afasting. Jīvān Siṅgh began his fast on 21 November in front of the offices of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. But a patchwork settlement was arrived at two days later. Umrānaṅgal gave up his fast and the suspension orders against him and others were withdrawn.

         Jīvan Siṅgh Umrānaṅgal and Lachhmaṇ Siṅgh Gill, both supporters of Sant Fateh Siṅgh, continued their criticism of Master Tārā Siṅgh. They rejected the party elections held under his presidentship as fraudulent. Master Tārā Siṅgh suspended them for indiscipline on 4 July 1962, and summoned on 16 July a meeting of the Working Committee of the Akālī Dal which ratified these expulsions. Sant Fateh Siṅgh issued a public statement the following day challenging the decision. He fixed 22 July for a general convention of the Sikhs at Gurdwārā Mushkiāṇā, near Mullāṅpur in Ludhiāṇā district. The assembly, attended among others by 78 of the 155 members of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and 8 of the 19 Akālī members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, led to the birth of a parallel Akālī Dal.

         Master Tārā Siṅgh summoned on 18 August 1962, the general body of the original Akālī Dal. Lachhmaṇ Siṅgh Gill notified a meeting of the rival Akālī Dal for the same day. The latter, comprising 200 delegates of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, 72 circle jathedārs and 9 members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, met in front of the Akāl Takht. Sant Fateh Siṅgh was formally elected president. Capturing the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee was the dissidents' next objective. A no- confidence motion was brought forth on 2 October 1962 against the sitting president, Kirpāl Siṅgh Chakksherevālā, which was carried by 76 votes to 72. Sant Channaṇ Siṅgh, a right-hand man of Sant Fateh Siṅgh, was elected the new president.

         The Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee was now in the hands of Sant Fateh Siṅgh. He also controlled the dominant section of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal which had split into two. The two Dals kept up a running feud. Punjabi Sūbā remained the principal plank for both, but their energies were consumed more in mutual recrimination. A truce was called as the country faced a Chinese attack in 1962. The leaders of the two groups sat together in a meeting at Motībāgh Palace, Paṭiālā, on 24 December 1962, to plan how to have the Sikhs contribute their maximum to the war effort. Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh was nominated Māha Jathedār of the Panth to mobilize the community. Chief Minister Partāp Siṅgh Kāiroṅ had already launched a large scale campaign to rally the Punjab. He had raised a voluntary corps which consisted mainly of rural Sikhs.

         The two Akālī Dals resumed their militant postures as soon as the hostilities ceased. The fortunes of the Master Akālī Dal were visibly on the decline. They received a severe setback when in the Gurdwārā elections on 17 January 1965, the rival faction won a clear majority. The Sant Akālī Dal annexed 90 seats, conceding only 45 to Master Tārā Siṅgh. Among those who lost were two of the latter's leading candidates, Kartār Siṅgh Dīvānā and Kaṅvarāṇī Jagdīsh Kaur of Farīdkoṭ. After a while, Master Tārā Siṅgh stepped aside, withdrawing himself from active politics to leave the field open for Sant Fateh Siṅgh. He took to the hills and quarantined himself in a small village, Salogarā, spending his time in prayer and contemplation.

         A development which helped to focus attention afresh on the Sikhs' political objective was the Nalvā Conference. Named after the famous general of Sikh times, Harī Siṅgh Nalvā, it was convened at Ludhiāṇā on 4 July 1965. The main Conference resolution, drawn up by Sirdār Kapūr Siṅgh, eminent Sikh scholar and intellectual, was moved by Sardār Gurnām Siṅgh, then leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, and seconded by Giānī Bhūpinder Siṅgh, president of the Master Tārā Siṅgh Akālī Dal. The resolution ran as follows :

        1. This Conference in commemoration of General Harī Siṅgh Nalvā of historical fame reminds all concerned that the Sikh people are makers of history and are conscious of their political destiny in a free India.

        2. This Conference recalls that the Sikh people agreed to merge in a common Indian nationality on the explicit understanding of being accorded a constitutional status of co-sharers in the Indian sovereignty along with the majority community, which solemn understanding now stands cynically repudiated by the present rulers of India. Further, the Sikh people have been systematically reduced to a sub-political status in their homeland, the Punjab, and to an insignificant position in their motherland, India. The Sikhs are in a position to establish before an impartial international tribunal, uninfluenced by the present Indian rulers, that the law, the judicial process, and the executive actions of the State of India are consistently heavily weighted against the Sikhs and are administered with unbandaged eyes against Sikh citizens.

        3. This Conference, therefore, resolves, after careful thought, that there is left no alternative for the Sikhs in the interest of self-preservation but to frame their political demand for securing a self-determined political status within the Republic of Union of India.


         This demand for a self-determined political status for the Sikhs was more radical than the demand for a Punjabi Sūbā. It had the immediate effect of breaking the stillness which brooded over the political scene and of stimulating the process of history.

         On 24 July 1965, Master Tārā Siṅgh ended his six-month-old self-exile and announced his re-entry into politics. He first made a trip to Pakistan to pay homage at Nankāṇā Sāhib and perform there the concluding ceremonies for a recitation of the Gurū Granth Sāhib he had completed during his retirement. On 2 August 1965, he addressed a press conference in Delhi, demaniding for the Sikhs "place in the sun of free India." He applauded the Nalvā Conference resolution and pledged his support to it.

         But the initiative was again seized by Sant Fateh Siṅgh with the announcement on 16 August 1965, that, to clinch the Punjabi Sūbā issue, he would sit a fasting from 10 September 1965, and, in case the Government of India did not melt, he would burn himself up on 25 September. The venue fixed for immolation was the top roof of the Akāl Takht; time, 4.30 p.m. Following upon the heels of this declaration came the war between Pakistan and India. In that moment of crisis, everyone wished that Sant Fateh Siṅgh would revoke his decision.

         Sant Channaṇ Siṅgh, president of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, Gurcharan Siṅgh Ṭauhṛā and Harcharan Siṅgh Huḍiārā went to Delhi on 8 September 1965 to take counsel with the leaders of government and others. A high level meeting took place in the Speaker's chamber in Parliament House attended among others by' Mahārājā Yādavinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā, Yashwant Rāo Chavan, Defence Minister, Jaisukhlāl Hāthī, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sirdar Kapūr Siṅgh, Member of Parliament, Dr Anūp Singh, Member of Parliament, Sardār Būṭā Siṅgh, Member of Parliament, and Sardār Dhannā Siṅgh Gulshan. They were all anxious that the tragedy be somehow averted and unanimously sent a message to Sant Fateh Siṅgh requesting him to defer the fast. Some of them, notably the Mahārājā of Paṭiālā, added the assurance that they would be on his side if the government continued to circumvent his demand after normalcy was restored.

         Sant Channaṇ Siṅgh returned to Amritsar with his colleagues by the night train and conveyed to Sant Fateh Siṅgh on the morning of 9 September the message they had brought. Sant Fateh Siṅgh accepted the advice and made a public statement postponing the fast. Simultaneously, he appealed to his countrymen, especially Sikhs, to muster all their resources to resist the onslaught from across the frontier.

         In the border districts, the Sikh population rose to a man to meet the crisis. It stood solidly behind the combatants and assisted them in many different ways. It provided guides to the newly inducted troops, offered free labour and vehicles, country carts, tractors and trucks to transport war supplies to the forward most trenches. Instead of evacuating in panic to safer places, Sikhs right up to the frontier stuck fearlessly to their homes, plying their ploughs and tending their cattle. Along the main approach routes to the front, they set up booths serving refreshments to the soldiers. Their most spectacular feat was the way they swooped down upon the parachutists dropped by Pakistanis behind the Indian lines. On seeing the parachutes open up in the skies the villagers rushed out gleefully with whatever they had in their hands — lāthīs, axes or swords, and seized the bewildered paratroopers before they knew where they were. A few were beaten to death on the spot and the rest were handed over to the army. A South Indian pilot belonging to the Air Force, who had made an emergency leap from his crashing aircraft, had a hard time explaining to his rugged, but prompt, captors that he was an Indian national and not a Pakistani spy.

         Besides a vast number of Sikh troops fighting all along the border from Kutch to Bāltistān and Ladākh, almost all senior commanders in the Punjab sector were Sikhs. Lieut-General Harbakhsh Siṅgh, with his chief of staff, Major-General Joginder Siṅgh, commanded the entire Western zone and was, as such, the principal architect of India's victory. Involved with planning at the army headquarters was another Sikh officer, Major-General Narinder Siṅgh. Lieut-General Joginder Siṅgh ḍhilloṅ, a brilliant tactician, with his Brigadier General Staff, Brigadier Parkāsh Siṅgh Grevāl, and artillery commandar, Brigadier S.S. Kalhā, commanded the corps operating in the Punjab and parts of Rājasthān. Major-General Nirañjan Prasād was replaced mid-battle by Major-General Mohinder Siṅgh, a tough and shrewd soldier, as division commander in the Amritsar sector, the other division commander, in the Khem Karan sector, being Major-General Gurbakhsh Siṅgh. The two divisions not only secured their first objective, the Īchogil Canal, but at certain point advanced even farther, holding Lahore within artillery range. North of the Rāvī, Major-General Rājinder Siṅgh ‘Sparrow', commanding an armoured division, recorded a marvellous feat in the history of tank warfare by a lightning putsch towards Siālkoṭ-Nārovāl, his Centurions humbling Pakistan's prestigious American-gifted Pattons and Chaffees. The Khem Karan sector, too, was turned into what came to be known as the grave yard of the Pakistani Patton tanks. South of the Sutlej, Brigadier Bant Singh, commanding an independent brigade group defended stoutly an extensive border covering the entire Fīrozpur and Gaṅgānagar districts. Both at Hussainīwālā and Fazīlkā, Sikh battalion commanders held fast to their positions despite intensely heavy shelling by Pakistan artillery. The Indian Air Force, under the command of Sikh Air Chief Marshal, Arjan Siṅgh, made devastating strikes and surprised military experts the world over by decisively outpacing a far superior, i.e. better-equipped, force. Indian Moths had routed Pakistani Hawks.

         Within 21 days, Pakistan was brought to heel. The ceasefire came about on September 22. Legendary stories were already in circulation about the patriotic fervour and bravery Sikhs had displayed during the war. Clearly, their moment of fulfilment had arrived. On 6 September 1965, the Union Home Minister, Gulzārī Lāl Nandā, had made a statement in the Lok Sabhā : saying that "the whole question of formation of Punjabi-speaking state could be examined afresh with an open mind.„ On September 23, recalling his statement of September 6, he announced in the Lok Sabhā : "The Government have now decided to set up a committee of the Cabinet to pursue this matter further. The committee will consist of Shrīmatī Indirā Gāndhī, Shri Y.B. Chavan and Shri Mahāvīr Tyāgī." Addressing the Speaker, the Home Minister said : "Sir, I would request you and the Chairman, Rājya Sabhā, to set up for the same purpose a Parliamentary Committee of members of both Houses of Parliament presided over by you." Continuing his speech, he expressed the hope that "the efforts of this Cabinet Committee and of the Parliamentary Committee will lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question." The Congress party also took up the issue in earnest. On 16 November 1965, the Punjab Congress Committee debated it for long hours, with Giānī Zail Siṅgh, General Mohan Siṅgh, and Naraiṇ Siṅgh Shāhbāzpurī lending it their full support.

         The Home Minister sent a list of nominees from Rājya Sabhā to the Chairman and a list of nominees from Lok Sabhā to the Speaker, Hukam Siṅgh. The Chairman forwarded his list to the Speaker. The latter, however, did not accept the Lok Sabhā list given him by the Home Minister, and made five changes in it at his own discretion. The twenty-two member committee announced by Sardār Hukam Siṅgh represented all sections of the House. Among them were Hiren Mukherjee (Communist), Surendra Nāth Dvivedī (Socialist), Aṭal Behārī Vajpayee (Jana Saṅgh), Mahārājā Karnī Siṅgh Bikāner (Independent), Dhannā Siṅgh Gulshan (Akālī Dal), Baṅsi Lāl (Congress), Sādiq Alī (Congress), Amar Nāth Vidyālāṅkār (Congress), Surjīt Siṅgh Majīṭhīā (Congress) and Dayā Bhāī Paṭel (Swatantra).The first meeting of the committee was held in the committee room of Parliament House to lay down its procedure of work.

         1 October 1965 to 5 November 1965 was the period fixed for receiving memoranda from various parties and individuals. From 26 November to 25 December, the committee held preliminary discussions. On 10 January 1966, Lachhmaṇ Siṅgh Gill, general secretary of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, and Rawel Siṅgh, a member of its executive, met the committee and presented the case for a Punjabi-speaking state. On 27 January, Giānī Kartār Siṅgh and Harcharan Siṅgh Brār appeared before the committee on behalf of the Congress group in the Punjab legislature. Both argued in favour of Punjabi Sūbā. There were nearly 2,200 memoranda submitted to the committee favouring the Punjabi Sūbā and 903 opposing it.

         Hukam Siṅgh was able to secure from his committee so diversely constituted a unanimous vote in favour of the creation of Punjabi Sūbā. This was nothing short of a miracle. The Indian Home Minister, Gulzārī Lāl Nandā, was dismayed. Soon after the nomination of the Parliamentary Committee he had borne complaints to Prime Minister Lāl Bahādur Shāstrī alleging that the Speaker was actively working for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state. The Parliamentary Committee's report was handed in on 15 March 1966. On 9 March 1966, the Congress Working Committee had already adopted a Motion recommending to the Government of India to carve a Punjabi-speaking state out of the then existing Punjab. The only member to oppose the resolution was Morārjī Desāi. The report of the Parliamentary Committee was made public on 18 March 1966. Finally Mrs Indirā Gāndhī who had, after the sudden death of Lāl Bahādur Shāstrī, taken over as Prime Minister on 24 January 1966, conceded the demand on 23 April 1966. A commission was appointed to demarcate the new states of Punjab and Haryāṇā. On 3 September, the Punjab Reorganization Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabhā and on 1 November 1966, Punjabi-speaking state became a reality. The happiest man on that day was Sant Fateh Siṅgh. A life long bachelor, he greeted the announcement with the words : "A handsome baby has been born into my household."

         Despite this euphoric summing up, the implementation of the Punjabi Sūbā had left many rough edges behind. Issues such as the allocation of the city of Chaṇḍīgaṛh, adjustment of some of the territorial claims of the Punjab and the distribution of river waters were issues which remained unresolved. They still continue to rankle in the Punjabi consciousness.


  1. Sarhadi, Ajit Singh, Punjabi Suba . Delhi, 1970
  2. Gurmit Singh, History of Sikh Struggles , 4 vols. Delhi, 1989-92
  3. Nayar, Baldev Raj, Minority Poetics in the Punjab .Princeton, 1966
  4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs . Delhi, 1983
  5. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs , vol 2. Delhi,1977
  6. Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People (1469-1978) . Delhi, 1979
  7. Kapūr Siṅgh, Sāchī Sākhī . Chandigarh, 1972
  8. Dilgeer, Harjinder Siṅgh, Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal .Chandigarh, 1980

Karnail Siṅgh Ḍoaḍ