PUNJABI SUBA MOVEMENT
PUNJABI SUBA MOVEMENT, a long drawn political agitation launched by the Sikhs demanding the creation of Punjabi Suba 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 cleancut boundaries a commission was set up by Government of India in 1948.
The commission had its jurisdiction limited to the southern states such as Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra. 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 Reorganization 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, Jats and others. The Commission recommended the integration of Patiala and East Punjab States Union and Himachal Pradesh with the Punjab. This was entirely unacceptable to the mainstream Sikh political setup, the Shiromani Akali Dal. The Akali leader. Master Tara Singh, 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 Tara Singh 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 Nehru.
The ground for such a meeting had already been prepared by the former De fence Minister, Sardar Baldev Singh. Baldev Singh, 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-to-gethers at which he was likely to be present, was persuaded by Giani Kartar Singh and others to act as a mediator between the Akalis and the government. He showed Jawaharlal Nehru 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 Jawaharlal Nehru and the Sikh leaders round the conference table. In these parleys, the Prime Minister was assisted by two of his senior cabinet colleagues, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. The Sikhs were represented by Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh, Sardar Hukam Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh and Sardar Gian Singh Rarewala. A sixth colleague of theirs, Bawa Harkishan Singh, did not participate in the negotiations, but joined their own private discussions afterwards. All of them put up in Sardar Hukam Singh`s house in Delhi, and, before leaving for the first day`s meetings, they vowed in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib 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 Tara Singh was to say a few opening words and was not to. speak again. Bhai Jodh Singh was to explicate the language problem in the Punjab, and Giani Kartar Singh and Sardar Hukam Singh were to meet the political points. The first meeting took place on 24 October 1955, the second a month lateron 23 November. This second meeting was preceded by Prime Minister Nehru`s lunch for Master Tara Singh. At the end of the meeting, the Press asked Master Tara Singh if he had obtained the Punjabi Suba.
“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 1112 February 1956. In an impromptu, but dramatic gesture, the Shiromani Akall 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 Akall cavalcade preceding the deliberations was a magnificent spectacle of Sikh solidarityan 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 Giani Kartar Singh, proudly standing in ajeep, his broken arm in a sling and his eyes alight with an unmistakable glint of triumph. He had but lately returned to the Akall fold to strengthen the hands of Master Tara Singh. Most graphic is the account of this Sikh march in Michael Brecher`s biography of Jawaharlal Nehru: 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 corcligionists 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 kirpdn, 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 faroff 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 vicelike 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 Suba. The dialogue between the Akali 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. Pandit 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 Singh, a Sikh member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, who sat in the meetings as an observer, tried to bring them round to rejoining 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 Suba, 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 Shiromani Akali Dal at Amritsar on 11 March 1956.
There were critical voices raised. The angriest was that of Amar Singh Ambalavi, who had his dissent formally recorded. Gurmit Singh did not go that far, but opposed the proposal. In the same lobby was another youth leader, Karnail Singh Doad, who was then a member of the Working Committee of the Shiromani Akali 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 Giani Kartar Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh and Sardar Ajit Singh Sarhadi.
Giani Kartar Singh conceded that what had been offered by government was not the Punjabi Suba of their conception. Yet he commended acceptance of it as a shagan or promise for Punjabi Suba. The motion was carried, but one man who was left somewhat puzzled was Master Tara Singh. He was not sure if they had acted prudently. Once again the Akalis were permitted to join the Congress. Once again Master Tara Singh questioned in his heart of hearts the wisdom of so enfeebling the Akali Dal. His instinct inclined him to oppose the half measure that had emerged from government Akali 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 Akali Dal renounced politics. It was proposed to hold a rally a few weeks later and present two lakhs of Akali members to the Congress. Master Tara Singh` s unease was not lessened. The 1957 general elections gave him the opportunity to end his mental dichotomy. The Congress had assigned the Akali entrants twenty-two nominations for the Punjab Assembly and three for Parliament. This share struck Master Tara Singh 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 Akali 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 Shiromani Akali 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 Raksha Samiti, 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 Partap Singh Kairon as Chief Minister and former Akalis, Giani Kartar Singh and Gian Singh Rarewala, 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 Raksha Samiti`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 Tara Singh, Punjabi Subawas 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 Tara Singh called a meeting of the general body of the Shiromani Akali Dal at Patiala 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 lanugage of the state.
But none could define exactly the scope and design of such a university. The first concrete formulation came from the Punjabi Sahit Akademi, 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 Giani Kartar Singh, who was one of the architects of the Regional Formula. He was then a minister in Partap Singh Kairori`s government. One of his close associates, Sardar Ram Dyal Singh, proposed in the Punjabi Regional Committee a resolution for Punjabi being adopted as the exclusive medium of instruction in schools in the Punjabi xonc.
Certain sections felt perturbed and pressed Giani Karlar Singh to have the motion withdrawn. Giani Kartar Singh agreed on the condition that the leader of the House, Pandit Mohan Lal, make an announcement for the estblishment of a university in the name of Punjabi. Mohanlal 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 Giani Kartar Singh 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.
Partap Singh gave his approval and Mohan Lal 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, Giani Kartar Singh 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 Giani Kartar Singh without batting an eyelid.
The humour of the situation was not lost on Partap Singh Kairori. In any case, he was himself a protagonist of Punjabi. His own cultural perceptions and affiliations were derived from the Singh Sabha enlightenment in which his father, Nihal Singh, had been a prominent figure. In private conversation and in public speech, he used to refer proudly to his Singh Sabha upbringing. Although his regime as Chief Minister was marked by severe repression of the Akalis, 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, Partap Singh now went ahead with his plans for the establishment of the university. Soon afterwards he and his cabinet colleagues happened to be in Patiala for the bhog ceremonies for the mother of Maharaja Yadavinder Singh.`There the Chief Minister requested the Maharaja to accept the chairmanship of Punjabi University Commission the state goverment had decided to appoint. The Maharaja agreed. Among other members of the Commission nominated were Bhai Jodh Singh, Hukam Singh, Ujjal Singh, Malik Hardit Singh, Dr A.C.Joshi, Dr Anup Singh, Dr P.S. Gill, Hardwari Lal and Professor Harbaris Singh.
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 Patiala palaces. The Punjab Government, under Partap Singh Kairori, 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 Giani Kartar Singh who was now a minister in the Kairori government. Master Tara Singh was outmanoeuvred in the annual elections to the office of president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 16 November 1958, and defeated by 77 votes to 74.
The victor was a young man, Prem Singh Lalpura, barely in his thirties. Master Tara Singh reacted by giving the signal for a Punjabi Suba conference to be convened in Chandigarh. At the conference, he disclosed his intention of launching a mass movement on a vast scale. In 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 Tara Singh`s portrait displayed on a vehicle, ended in a religious (Swan at Gurdwara Rikabgarij. Within less than a week, Master Tara Singh was released from gaol.
The 1960 elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee turned out to be another trial of strength between the Congress and the Akalis. Congress Sikhs, led by Partap Singh Kairori and Giani Kartar Singh, strove hard to defeat Master Tara Singh and his nominees. Giani Kartar Singh resigned from the ministry to apply all his energies to electioneering. With the overt help of the state government, he sponsored a society called Sadh Sari gat Board to contest the elections. But the results went overwhelmingly in favour of the Shiromani Akali Dal. The Dal took 136 seats, contrasting with Sadh Sarigat Board`s four.
All the Akali members assembled at the Akal Takht on 24 January 1960, to bind themselves solemnly to achieve Punjabi Suba. The Akali Dal carried its campaign a step further by calling upon former Akali members to withdraw from the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Only five out of 24 members resigned at the behest of the Akali Dal. Undismayed, Master Tara Singh summoned a broadbased Punjabi Suba convention in Am ri tsar on 22 May 1960, to which members ofSwatantra and Praja Socialist parties were also invited. The conference was presided over by Pandit Sundar Lal, and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, once a staunch Congressman, opened the proceedings.
The main resolution was moved by Sardar Gurnam Singh, calling upon government “not to delay any more the inevitable formation” of a Punjabi speaking state, especially when languagebased states had been carved out in other parts of the country. Close on the heels of the Amritsar con vention, came Master Tara Singh`s proclamation to start upon a march on 29 May 1960, which was the day of Guru 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 gurudwaras and make speeches to rally support for Punjabi Suba.
This announcement led him into gaol once again. He was picked up by police from his home in Amritsar on the night of 2425 May and taken to Dharamsala gaol. The government came down upon the Akalls with a heavy hand. Largescale arrests were made throughout the Punjab. A reign of terror ensued. The Sikhs once again exhibited their usual fondness for gaolgoing. Columns of volunteers started courting arrest at Amritsar and Delhi. The main centre of mobilization was the Golden Temple. The evening divans at MarijI Sahib attracted vast audiences. Akall leaders made stirring speeches asserting the Sikhs` right to selfdetermination.
In the absence of Master Tara Singh, Sant Fateh Singh, 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 Satbir Singh, Bharpur Singh and Bhan Singh. Satbir Singh was a favourite speaker at the Mariji Sahib divans. By his eloquent narration of deeds of heroism and martyrdom from Sikh history, he maintained mass fervour at a high pitch. Sant Fateh Singh 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 Suba 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 nÂ« w state or the proportion of Hindu and Sikh population in it was not of primary reL`vance. What mattered was the creation of a unit comprising Punjabi speaking areas, with Punjabi as the official language. Sant Fateh Singh 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 morchd, he said, “We do not seek a Sikhmajority area. V/e are not concerned about percentages.
We want the Punjabi Suba 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 morchdwent 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 Singh, in a conclusive bid, put his own life at stake. On 29 October, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nehru 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 Punjab Government had been. Jawaharlal Nehru refused to intervene, and Sant Fateh Singh unhesitatingly took up his cross. The fast began on 18 December 1960.
Before entering his ascetical hut in the Golden Temple premises, Sant Fateh Singh had the ardds said at Akal Takht by theJathedar 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 kardh prasdd. 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 ourselves,” he told them. A roster was announced often Sikhs who had offered to continue the chain in case Sant Fateh Singh`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 Faieh Singh`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 Singh`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 Singh to abandon the fast.
But he would not withdraw from his selfimposed 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 Nehru, in a speech in Chandigarh 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 Rajpura 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 Singh to end his fast, were judged by the latter as falling short of his stipulation.
So the stalemate continued. Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairori made a bold gesture and set Master Tara Singh free on 4 January 1961. This was done on the advice of Bhai Jodh Singh, his old teacher of college days, with whom he often took counsel in moments of crisis. Immediately after his release from gaol in Dharamsala. Master Tara Singh called on Sant Fateh Singh, considerably weakened from his trial. He next wanted to meet Prime Minister Nehru, who was then in Bhavnagar attending the annual session of the Congress. Not wishing to lose any time, he flew from Delhi in a specially chartered plane to Bhavnagar.
He was accompanied by Harbaris Singh Gujral, Lachhman Singh Gill, Hargurnad Singh, Harcharan Singh of Bathinda, and Seth Ram Nath, 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 Tara Singh had a twohour meeting with the Prime Minister on 7 January 1961, but without securing anything worth reporting to Sant Fateh Singh. On 8 January 1961,Jawaharlal added a postscript to what he had told Master Tara Singh. He announced that it is not out of any discrimination 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 Suba with Punjabi as the dominant language.” He expressed his anxiety about Sant Fateh Singh`s health and wished to see his ordeal ended. Master Tara Singh, who had returned to Delhi, felt reassured by this elaboration and forthwith had a call made to Amritsar. He assured Sant Fateh Singh that the obligations of his vow had been fulfilled and asked him to terminate his fast.
To Master Tara Singh`s appeal was added the weight of a motion adopted by the Working Committee of the Akali Dal and the command of the Parij Piare or the Five Elect who, speaking for the entire Khalsa, told Sant Fateh Singh 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 Singh took his first sips of nourishment in twenty-two daysa glass of juice from the hands of Bhai Chet Singh, one of the Golden Temple priests. This marked the end of the sevenmonthlong morchd in which, according to official figures, 30,000 went to gaol and, according to Akali reckoning, 57, 129. Political negotiations ensued between government and the Akalis.
Sant Fateh Singh had three meetings with Prime Minister Nehruone 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 Suba issue another fast had to be staged this time by Master Tara Singh. His trial began on 15 August 1961, after a solemn prayer in front of the Akal 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 Maharaja Yadavinder Singh of Patiala and Malik Hardit Singh. They kept in touch with Prime Minister Nehru and Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on the one hand and with the Akal; leaders on the other. Eventually Master Tara Singh 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 Maharaja of Patiala and Sant Fateh Singh. In pursuance of the settlement made, the Prime Minister appointed a commission to go into the question of Sikh grievances.
The Shiromani Akali 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 Akali Dal`s noncooperation. 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 Tara Singh 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 Akal 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 Singh *s fast similarly ended was also laid at Master Tara Singh`s door. Five Sikhs eminent in the religious hierarchyJathedar Achchhar Singh of the Akal Takht, Jathedar Sharam Singh of Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Giani Bhupinder Singh, Head Granthi of the Harimandar Sahib, Bhai Kartar Singh and Bhai Chet Singhwere named as Panj Piare on 24 November 1961, to judge if the oath sworn by Master Tara Singh had been complied with.
They made a close investigation of the circumstances leading to the abandonment of the fast and pronounced Master Tara Singh guilty of having gone back on his plighted word and of having blemished thereby the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice. Master Tara Singh was laid under expiation to have an akhand path of the Guru Granth Sahib recited at the Akal Takht, to say for one month an extra path of theJapu every day in addition to his normal nitnemor prescribed regimen of five daily prayers, to offer kardh prasdd of the value of Rs 125 and to clean the shoes of the sangatwd the dishes in the Guru ka Langar for five days.
As Jathedar Achchhar Singh and Giani Bhupinder Singh explained on behalf of the religiousjury, they had no comments to make on Sant Fateh Singh`s fast which, they said, had been given up with the consent of Master Tara Singh and under the orders of the Working Committee of the Akali Dal, Panj Piareand the sangatin general. He was, nevertheless, held guilty, along with other eight members of the Working Committee, for acquiescing in Master Tara Singh`s breaking his fast.
Sant Fateh Singh was to recite for one month an additional path of the Japu and wash dishes in Guru ka Langar 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 Guru ka Langar for two days. The verdict was announced on 29 November 1961, and the sanctions imposed were dutifully complied with. Master Tara Singh`s pictures scrubbing dishes in the Guru ka Langar and cleaning the shoes of the sangat were widely circulated.
These acts of humility and expiation evoked spontaneous popular admiration, but Master Tara Singh could not climb up the ladder again. Sant Fateh Singh had emerged as a serious rival. The story of Sikh affairs henceforward is the story of the gradual eclipse of Master Tara Singh and steady ascendancy of Sant Fateh Singh. 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 1961two days after Sant Fateh Singh had broken his fastMaster Tara Singh was booed by the audience at a divan at Manji Sahib and not allowd to make a speech. At the Maghi divan at Muktsar on 13 January 1961, the entire festival crowd stood u
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