CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS OF 1919: SIKH DEPUTATION TO ENGLAND. In August 1917, the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Samuel Montagu, made the declaration that the aim of British policy was the introduction of responsible government in India. When Montagu visited India that autumn, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, ruler of Patiala, met him on behalf of the Sikhs. A deputation of the Sikh leaders also waited upon the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, on 22 November 1917 and pressed their claim to one-third representation in the Punjab, especially in view of their services in World War I. The Montagu Chelmsford report published in July 1918 proposed to extend to the Sikhs the system adopted in the case of Muslims in provinces where they were in a minority.

To consider the report, the Chief Khalsa Diwan convened a representative conclave of the Sikhs at Amritsar on 18 September 1918. In the memorandum which they prepared on behalf of the community, government was urged to carry out the assurance given the Sikhs in the Montagu Chelmsford report. The Montagu Chelmsford proposals were debated in the joint committee of the Punjab Legislative Council. When Sir Fazli Hussain, the Muslim leader, tried to push through a resolution that the Muslim proportion in the Punjab Legislative Council be based on the Lucknow Pact, Gajjan Singh of Ludhiana proposed that the words “subject to just claims of the Sikhs” be added to the resolution.

The amendment was opposed by both Muslim and Hindu members and was lost. The publication of the Montagu Chelmsford report was followed by the appointment of Franchise Committee under the chairmanship of Lord South borough to go into the matter of the composition of the new legislatures. India was represented on the Committee by three members, but none of them was a Sikh. When the Sikhs protested, Sundar Singh Majithia was taken as a coopted member for the Punjab, but their demand for one-third of the total number of nonofficial seats held by Indians in the Punjab, 7 out of 67 nonofficial seats in the Assembly of India and 4 seats in the Council of States for the Sikh community remained largely unfulfilled.

The Franchise Committee recommended 15 per cent Council seats for the Sikhs. In Bihar and Orissa where they formed 10 per cent of the total population, the Muslims were given 25 per cent seats by the Franchise Committee. In the Punjab, where they constituted 11.8 per cent of the population and were otherwise an important factor in the life of the province Sikhs` share was fixed at a bare 15 per cent. The Sikhs made representations to government.

A deputation, consisting of Sewaram Singh, a lawyer of the Chief Court of Lahore, Shivdev Singh Uberoi, a senior member of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Sohan Singh of Rawalpindi and Ujjal Singh, who later became the principal spokesman of the Sikhs on constitutional reforms, was sent to England. The deputation sailed from Bombay on 18 June 1919 and reached London on 11 July 1919. On arrival in London, they had interviews with Lord Selborne, Chairman, Joint Parliamentary Committee, Mr Montagu and others. The deputationists claimed seats for the Sikhs on the same principle as was being applied in the case of Muslims in Bihar and Orissa.

They demanded 33 per cent of Council seats in the Punjab and justified the demand on the grounds of their historical and economic position in the “province”. The deputationists found the authorities in England quite receptive to their arguments and generally friendly to the claims of the Sikh community. Lord Selborne regretted that they did not have the benefit of these arguments while formulating their recommendations and promised to discuss the case again with his colleagues on the Joint Parliamentary Committee, but ultimately nothing tangible came forth and the deputationists returned disappointed.

References :

1. Gurmukh Nihal Singh, Landmarks in Indian Constitutional and National Development. Delhi, 1963
2. Mujeeb, M., The Indian Muslims. London, 1967
3. Nayar, Baldev Raj, Minority Politics in the Punjab. Princeton, 1966
4. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2. Princeton, 1966
5. Brass, Paul R., Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Delhi, 1975
6. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
7. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983