TEJA SINGH BHUCHCHAR (1887-1939) , one of the pioneers of the Gurdwara reform movement in the 1920`s was the eldest son of Mayya Singh and Mahitab Kaur, of the village of Bhuchchar Khurd, 25 km from Tarn Taran, in Amritsar district. He was born on 28 October 1887 at Mien ke Maur, popularly known as Bhai Pheru, the village of his mother`s parents, now in Pakistan. He attended the village school and assisted his father in tilling their lands. When Khalsa Diwan Majha was revived in 1918 under the name of Central Majha Khalsa Diwan, Teja Singh had himself initiated and took the vows of the Khalsa.

He became an active member of the Diwan, which concerned itself mainly with reforming the ceremonial in Sikh holy places, especially at Tarn Taran and Amritsar. At the annual meeting of the Diwan held at Bhuchchar in March 1919, Teja Singh was elected its jathedar or leader. A few weeks later, on 13 April 1919, occurred the Jalliarivala Bagh tragedy and the British Brigadier General E.H. Dyer, who had ordered the shooting, was received and honoured by the government appointed sarbarah, or manager, and the priests of the Harimandar at Amritsar which deeply hurt the feelings of the Sikhs. A public agitation started against the sarbarah in which the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan, under the leadership of Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchchar, took an active part.

As the Gurdwara Reform movement got under way, Teja Singh Bhuchchar led ajatha of 25 Akali volunteers which liberated Gurdwara Babe di Ber at Sialkot on 56 October 1920. Upon the occupation, on 12 October 1920, of Sri Akal Takht by the reformist Sikhs, he was named its first jathedar. He was also a member of the provisional committee of nine Sikhs appointed the following day by the deputy commissioner of Amritsar to manage the shrines till the formation of a regular committee. Teja Singh took the initiative in summoning a general meeting of the Sikhs which formally elected, on 1516 November 1920, a 175member committee, called Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

He joined the Shiromani Akali Dal formed on 14 December 1920, and led ajatha of 40 Akali volunteers to Tarn Taran and liberated the Darbar Sahib on 26 January 1921. On 5 February 1921, he took possession of Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh at Peshawar. On 15 March 1921, Teja Singh was arrested along with 14 other Akali activists. He was tried by a special magistrate at Lahore and awarded a nine year sentence which was suspended by government in September 1921. While Jathedar Teja Singh was still in jail, his supporters in the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan formed, on 19 April 1921, a new organization, the Gargajj Akali Jatha (later, Gargajj Akali Diwan), and elected him in absentia its president for life.

Neither the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee nor the Shiromani Akali Dal had favoured his taking control of the gurdwaras forcibly and he had gradually drifted away from them. As he was released from jail, the government made overtures to him through Daya Kishan Kaul, prime minister of Patiala state, and succeeded in securing his consent to preside over a rival Akali conference proposed to be held at Patiala on 1213 December 1921 at which Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala was to be elected leader of the Sikh community. But the plan did not materialize owing to Akalis getting themselves involved in November 1921 in the agitation for the recovery from government of the keys of the Golden Temple treasury.

However, Teja Singh`s opposition to the central Akali leadership continued. To strengthen the Gargajj Akali Diwan, he floated on 22 February 1922 his own daily newspaper, Gargajj Akali, with financial assistance from the Maharaja of Patiala. He supported the Guru ka Bagh agitation but, later, he renewed his attack on the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee through his new newspaper Babar Sher, which started publication from 15 June 1923. He stoutly opposed the proposal for the use of gold basins and silver spades for the inaguration of karseva, the desilting of the Amritsar sarovar. On 17 June 1923, a band of volunteers from the GargaJj Akali Diwan tried to disturb the inaguration ceremony.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, at its meeting the following day, declared Teja Singh a tankhahia, guilty of the breach of Sikh code of conduct, and removed him from the membership of the committee. For his contacts with Master Mota Singh, a leader of the radical Babar Akali movement, he was rearrested on 10 December 1923. Cancelling its earlier resolution, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee readmitted him to its membership. The Shiromani Akali Dal celebrated his release on 5 November 1929 by presenting him with an address of welcome. Teja Singh died in the Civil Hospital at Amritsar on 3 October 1939, succumbing to injuries he had suffered at the hands of his brother, Seva Singh, in a family feud.

References :

1. Piar Singh, Teja Singh Samundn. Amritsar, 1975
2. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Shiromam Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee da Panjah Sala Itihas. Amritsar, 1982
3. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurdwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
4. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978