BHAGVAN SINGH LAUNGOVALIA (d. 1944), patriot, Akali activist and one of the founders of the Praja Mandal, a platform meant to provide voice to the people of Indian states ruled by Indian princes during British times to ventilate their grievances and protest against the oppression, misrule and extravagances of the autocrats who presided over their destinies, was born in Burma where his father Rur Singh was a soldier in the army. The only child of his parents, he was named Indar Singh. The family originally belonged to the village of Laurigoval in the present Sarigrur district of the Punjab.

As he grew up, Bhagvan Singh, then Indar Singh, also joined the army and served in World War I. Under the influence of Ghadr radicalism, he deserted the army and went over to Nepal, disguised as a sadhu. It was during this phase of his life that he changed his name from Indar Singh to Bhagvan Singh. After remaining underground for 45 years, he came to India where he was apprehended by police. As he stepped out to freedom, he was drawn into the Gurdwara reform movement, participating in divans and activities connected with the liberation of the Sikh shrines from the control of the degenerate mahants or clergy.

On 24 May 1922, he was convicted and sentenced to two years` rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000 for a “seditious” speech delivered at Sherpur (Patiala state). Another “seditious” speech delivered at an Akali gathering in his own native village, Laurigoval, landed him in jail for a threeyear sentence. All his property was confiscated by the princely ruler of Patiala state. Bhagvan Singh was released along with other Akali prisoners after the Punjab Legislative Council passed the Sikh Gurdwara laws in 1925. But almost immediately he plunged into the agitation for release from Patiala jail of the veteran Akali leader, Seva Singh Thikrivala.

In open defiance of the orders of the district magistrate, Sunam, he led aJatha of agitators from his village to join a protest rally on 11 July 1926. In 1928, a largely attended divan was held at Thikrivala in protest against the continued detention of Seva Singh. Speaking at the divan, Bhagvan Singh denounced the British government as vehe mently as he did the princely rulers of the states. The Patiala police arrested a large number of Akali workers who had attended the dfvan, but Bhagvan Singh dodged the police and escaped into the (British) Punjab territory, thereafter operating mostly from outside the orbit of the princely states.

Akali leaders Master Tara Singh and Baba Kharak Singh were his new allies now. Bhagvan Singh represented the states` people at the AllIndia States Subjects Conference held at Calcutta in 1928. In December 1929, the first regular session of the Punjab Riyasti” Praja Mandal was held at Lahore where Bhagvan Singh was elected general secretary of the Mandal. Another detention and court trial earned him totally a sentence of 22 years. He was released from jail as a result of the Tara Singh Bhupinder Singh Pact of 1935 concluded between the Akali leader and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala after the death in jail of Seva Singh.

Against this pact Bhagvan Singh along with five of his leading colleagues from the Riyasti Praja Mandal undertook a fast unto death on 20 January 1936 in front of the Akal Takht at Amritsar. The pact in fact signalled the exit of Bhagvan Singh from the Akali Dal and his gravitation towards the Communist Party. Bhagvan Singh married, late in his life, Dharam Kaur, widow of his cousin, who bore him two daughters and a son. He died on 16 September 1944 of phthis is of the lungs. His portrait occupies a place of honour among the galaxy of eminent Sikh leaders displayd in the Central Sikh Museum at the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

References :

1. Walia, Ramesh, Praja Mandal Movement in East Punjab States. Patiala, 1972
2. Fauja Singh, Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab. Patiala, 1972