MORCHA CHABIAN, campaign for the recovery of the keys of the Golden Temple treasury, marks a dramatic episode in the Sikhs` agitation in the early 1920`s for reforming the management of their places of worship. The Golden Temple at Amritsar, which had a government nominated sarbrdh or controller to manage it since 1849, came under Akali control in October 1920. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee nominated the old sarbrdh, Sundar Singh Ramgarhia, member of the Committee appointed to administer the affairs of the Golden Temple.

The sarbrdh functioned under the directions of the Committee, but, since he still retained possession of the keys of the toshdkhdnd or treasury of the Golden Temple, the Akali reformers felt that official control, however nominal, still remained. On 20 October 1921, Shiromani Committee resolved to ask Sundar Singh to hand over the keys to its president, but before the decision was implemented, news reached the deputy commissioner of Amritsar who forestalled the Akalis. On 7 November 1921,Amar Nath, extra assistant commissioner, raided the house of Sundar Singh Ramgarhia with a police party and took away the keys.

On 11 November, the government appointed Captain Bahadur Singh to replace Sundar Singh. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee refused to recognize the new sarbrdh. On 12 November 1921 a protest meeting was convened in Bagh Akaliari at Amritsar which was addressed by Baba Kharak Singh and other Akali leaders. Akali meetings took place at Gujrariwala, Gujjar Khan and other places. Captain Bahadur Singh resigned, but government remained adamant.

Dan Singh of Vachhoa and Jaswant Singh of Jhabal, two prominent Akalis, were arrested at a divan at Ajnala on 26 November 1921.The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, then in session at the Akal Takht at Amritsar, adjourned its meeting and soon over 50 of its members reached Ajnala to continue the divan. The district authority declared the divan to be an “illegal assembly” and arrested all the prominent Akalis, including Baba Kharak Singh, Sardar Bahadur Mehtab Singh and Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 27 November condemned the official action and called upon Sikhs to observe 4 December as a protest day. Sikhs were further asked not to join any function in honour of the Prince of Wales, who was likely to visit India early in 1922.Arrests continued to be made and Master Tara Singh and Amar Singh Jhabal were among those held.

Failing to control Sikh protest and foreseeing how it might affect Sikh soldiers and the peasantry, the government announced on 3 January 1922 its decision to return the keys to the executive of the Shiromani Committee so that Poh sudi 7/5 January 1922 could be celebrated as the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, but the Committee refused to accept them until Sikhs arrested during the movement were released unconditionally. On 11 January 1922, Sir John Maynard, the Home Member announced in the Punjab Legislative Council the release of all Sikhs under detention.

Still the Akalis refused to go and fetch the keys from the deputy commissioner.A government official was eventually sent to deliver the keys wrapped in a piece of red silk to Baba Kharak Singh, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, at a divan (19 January 1922) atAkal Takht. The Akalis` victory was hailed throughout the country. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “First decisive battle for India`s freedom” had been won.

References :

1. Ganda Singh, ed., Some Confidential Papers of the Akali Movement. Amritsar, 1965
2. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1983
3. Teja Singh, Gurdwara Reform and the Sikh Awakening. Jalandhar, 1922
4. The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore). December 1921
5. Josh, Sohan Singh, Akali Morchian da Itihas. Delhi, 1972
6. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurdwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
7. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee da Panjah Said Itihas. Amritsar, 1982