AKALI SAHAYAK BUREAU, lit. a bureau to help (sahayak, from Skt. sahaya, one who lends one company or support) the Akalis, then engaged in a bitter struggle for the reformation of the management of their places of worship, was a small office set up at Amritsar in 1923 by the Indian. National Congress to assist the Akalis with their public relations work. This Akali struggle, aiming at ousting the priestly order who had come into control of Sikh shrines introducing therein conservative rituals and forms of worship rejected in Sikhism, came into conflict with the British authority who buttressed the entrenched clergy, and ran a course parallel to the Congress movement for the nation`s freedom.

The Akalis` heroic deeds of sacrifice and disciplined suffering won them appreciation of Congress hierarchy as well as of the people in common. When under pressure mounted by the Akalis, the British district magistrate of Amritsar was forced to return to the Golden Temple authorities keys of the to shakhana, the Temple treasury, seized from them, the Congress applauded the incident as a victory for the nationalist cause. Mahatma Gandhi in fact sent a wire to Sardar Kharak Singh, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee which read as follows: “First decisive battle for India`s freedom won congratulations M. K. Gandhi.”

The wholesale massacre of Akali reformists (20 February 1921) at Nankana Sahib, birthplace of Guru Nanak, shook the entire nation and Congress leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Shaukat `Ali and Muhammad `Ali travelled to Nankana Sahib to pay homage to the martyrs. The patient suffering of Akali volunteers in the Guru ka Bagh campaign (1922) when they faced police brutalities calmly and stoically won them countrywide sympathy and admiration and the British scholar and missionary, C. F. Andrews, wrote a very touching account of the trial the Akalis went through day after day.

At a special meeting held on 17 September 1922, the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress adopted a resolution condemning the police highhandedness. It also appointed a subcommittee to conduct enquiry into the Guru ka Bagh affair. When the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal which were directing and guiding the Akali campaigns (morchas) were banned by the British government in India, the Indian National Congress at a meeting in December 1923 declared the outlawing of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal as “a direct challenge to the right of the free association of all Indians and a blow aimed at all movements for freedom.”

The Akali and Congress movements had thus become intervolved and both served to feed the nationalist sentiment in the country. The Akali Sahayak Bureau was designed to serve as a vehicle for publicizing Akali activity and to serve as a link between the Congress and the Akalis. A. T. Gidwani, Principal of Gujarat Vidyapith, was placed in charge of the Bureau. After Gidwani`s arrest by the British, Mr Shukia of the United Provinces took over charge, but he was soon replaced by K. M. Panikkar who had returned from Oxford with a first class degree in history the first Indian ever to achieve the distinction, and who had left his academic position as head of the Department of History at Aligarh Muslim University to take to politics and journalism.

Panikkar was for this position the personal choice of Mahatma Gandhi who, though impressed by the successes Akalis achieved through their adherence to passive resistance, was not clear about their ultimate objective. This was especially so in the case of Jaito Morcha. Panikkar sent reports which only deepened Mahatma Gandhi`s sense of ambivalence. Panikkar warned Gandhi about the organization of Akali jathas which roamed the countryside as a strong force and which for Panikkar were reminiscent of Sikh Jathas or bands of the second half of the eighteenth century and which were, according to him, tamed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, only to reemerge after his death.

He stressed that these Jathas with their military structure and discipline and their spirit of militancy constituted a menace to other communities in the Punjab. Having served for a while in the Sikh state of Patiala and edited Sikhs` English newspaper. The Hindustan Times, he was fairly well aquainted with the Sikhs. After the Sikh Gurdwaras Act was placed on the statute book in 1925, the Akali agitation ceased. And so the Akali Sahayak Bureau became redundant.

References :

1. Josh, Sohan Singh, Akali Morchian da Itihas. Delhi, 1972 –
2. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurdwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
3. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
4. Amrik Singh, ed. , Punjab in Indian Politics. Delhi, 1985
5. Kapur, Rajiv A. , Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith. London, 1986
6. Panikkar, K.M., An Autobiography. Oxford (Delhi), 1979