TARA SINGHNEHRU PACT refers to an understanding arrived at in 1959 between Master Tara Singh, the Akali leader, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, in order to remove certain misgivings of the Sikhs with regard to government interference in their religious affairs. Looming in the background was the political demand of the Sikhs for the formation of Punjabi Suba or a Punjabi speaking state. After the failure of the Sachchar Formula and the halfhearted implementation of the Regional Scheme, the Shiromani Akali Dal under the leadership of Master Tara Singh had revived the Punjabi Suba agitation in 1958.

During the first Punjabi Suba conference held at Amritsar on 12 October 1958, Sant Fateh Singh, a holy man who had only lately entered politics and had by that time come into prominence as the Senior Vice President of the Shiromani Akali Dal, announced the plan for the attainment of Punjabi Suba. Addressing the conference, he declared that their demand was only for a state wherein they should be able to develop the Punjabi language and culture and protect their religious faith. He complained that the Government by the inordinate delay in the implementation of the Regional Formula had taken the life out of it, and thus completely disillusioned the Sikhs.

Master Tara Singh, too, earlier while renouncing the Regional Scheme on 14 June 1958, had declared, “I have never wanted a Sikh State… I do not want to usurp the rights of another community. But I do want freedom for the Sikhs.” The ruling party in the Punjab, through Giani Kartar Singh, an exAkali still having considerable influence in Akali circles, outmanoeuvred Master Tara Singh in the annual elections to the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) executive on 16 November 1958. The latter was defeated as presidential candidate by 77 votes to 74. The victor was a young man, Prem Singh Lalpura, barely in his thirties.

Following their advantage of victory, the government and the Congres site group in the SGPC proposed to amend the Sikh Gurdwaras Act to provide for the SGPC 47 additional members representing the erstwhile PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) region chosen by a limited electoral college. The prompt passing of the amending bill into an Act in early January 1959 exposed the Government`s intention to pack the SGPC with reliable persons of its own choice in order to keep Master Tara Singh out forever. The step had a serious impact on the Sikh masses.

There had been a clear understanding during the settlement of 1956 that while the Shiromani Akali Dal would merge with the Congress politically, it would retain its existence to promote and protect the community`s social, cultural, educational, religious and economic interests. The recent action of the government and their Akali allies was taken by the Sikhs in general as a clear interference in their religious affairs. Master Tara Singh, addressing a mammoth gathering at Chandigarh, on the occasion of the Second Punjabi Suba conference, the first of its kind in the state capital, declared that he was contemplating launching of a mass movement on a vast scale.

As a first step, a silent procession was to be taken out in Delhi on 15 March 1959, as a protest against government interference in Gurdwara administration. He announced that the procession would be purely religious, without any political slogans, and that he would himself lead the march. The Punjab government arrested Master Tara Singh as he was about to leave for Delhi on 14 March 1959. The procession, however, was taken out as scheduled with a portrait of Master Tara Singh displayed on a truck at the head. Tills had some impact on the government and he was released on 21 March 1959.

The Prime Minister however rejected his suggestion for arbitration. The Working Committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal then suggested, on 27 March 1959, arbitration by Jayaprakash Narayan, Rajagopalachari or Acharya Vinoba Bhave but this propsal, too, was rejected by the Prime Minister on 5 April 1959. Master Tara Singh announced that he would go on a fast unto death on 16 April 1959. It was then that Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru invited Master Tara Singh to tea on 11 April 1959. The meeting resulted in what came to be known as Tara SinghNehru Pact.

The text read: It is common ground amongst all concerned that there should be no governmental interference in religious affairs; Nevertheless, complaints have arisen of such interference in regard to Gurdwara management and amendments made in the Gurdwara Act. Some machinery should be devised to ensure the implementation of the policy of noninterference in the Gurdwara management and to consider any complaints of such interference. It is suggested that a Committee should be constituted for the purpose. This Committee should consist of two persons nominated by the Punjab Government and two persons nominated by Master Tara Singh, President of Shiromani Akali Dal.

This Committee will consider any allegations of interference and will suggest remedial action wherever possible. Where there is disagreement among the members of the Committee, the matter may be referred to the Governor of Punjab. Any amendment in the Gurdwara Act should be undertaken after obtaining the approval of the General Committee of the SGPC. The general elections of the SGPC should be held as early as possible.If any difficulty arises in the implementation of the above proposal, Mr. Nehru will be glad to help. The Pact vindicated Master Tara Singh`s stand on die matter of government interference in the religious affairs of the Sikhs.

But the Committee set up under its provisions could not arrive at any understanding or conclusion, because of divergence of views in the two blocks, nor could they arrive at any decision what matter should be referred to the governor. The pact, however, laid down an unequivocal commitment by the government at the highest level on the basic issue that no amendment in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act shall be undertaken without the approval of. the general body of the SGPC. Incidentally, the control of the SGPC was retrieved by the Shiromani Akali Dal as a result of the 1960 elections when it won 136 seats against only 4 in favour of Sadh Sangat Board, a society set up with the overt help of the state government.

References :

1. Sarhadi, Ajit Singh, Punjabi Suba, Delhi, 1970
2. Gurmit Singh, History of Sikh Struggles. Delhi, 1989-92
3. Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People (1469-1978). Delhi, 1979
4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1994
5. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Shiromani AkalJ Dal. Chandigarh, 1980