of General Members of SGPC held.
The first meeting of General Members elected under guidance
of Gurudwara Act of 1925, was held to elect their office bearers.
It was at this meeting the name Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak
Committee (SGPC) was approved through a resolution and adopted
unanimously. Baba Kharak Singh elected President and Master
Tara Singh became Vice President.
==> Baba KHARAK SINGH, popularly known as "the Betaj
Badshah" was one of the greatest Sikh leaders, a religious
reformer and freedom fighter. For more than three decades,
he struggled boldly against mis-management of Gurdwaras and
the British rule in India. He was tried by courts in every
important agitation for independence, went to prison fifteen
times and suffered incarceration for an aggregate of twenty
years. In the liberation of Sikh shrines from the British
agents his role was decisive. Giani Partap Singh calls him
the most honored Sikh leader of Indian people and founder
of Gurdwara Reform Movement who had firm determination, a
sense of selfless service detachment and simplicity ("Akali
Lehar de Mahan Neta", p. 5, tr. mine).
Baba Kharak Singh was born on June 10, 1868 in Sialkot (now
in Pakistan). He came of a wealthy family. His father, Rai
Bahadur Hari Singh Rais was a big contractor. So good education
was achieved easily. He matriculated from Scotch Mission High
School in his home town. After passing Intermediate from Murray
College, Sialkot, he joined Government College, Lahore. He
was fortunate to be one of the first batch to pass B.A. from
Punjab University. Then he joined the law course in Allahabad
University. But he had to discontinue the studies on account
of his father's death. He was married in a rich family and
had one son.
With the noble idea of devoting himself fully to public and
national service, Kharak Singh renounced all comforts of a
wealthy home. It was an act of great sacrifice on his part.
In this respect he can be justly compared to Jawaharlal Nehru.
Later he faced all difficulties and deprivation with good
grace. During the days of poverty he did not seek help from
Even in his early public activity his patriotic and religious
spirit was evident. For some time he worked as Secretary,
Municipal Committee, Sialkot. But he resigned because the
President was the Deputy Commissioner, an Englishman. It was
against his self-respect to salute that foreign officer and
keep standing while presenting papers. He got the first honor
to be the President of Sialkot Singh Sabha and Khalsa High
School. At the same time he was also an active member of Chief
Khalsa Diwan when it was free from the official influence.
The sphere of Kharak Singh's public life widened in 1912
when he became Chairman of Reception Committee of Fifth Sikh
Educational Conference, Sialkot. In 1915 he acted as President
of Sikh Educational Conference, Taran Taran. A bold action
on his part here was to disallow a resolution conveying greetings
to the British victory in World War I. As Sohan Singh Josh
says, he tore the resolution to pieces and threw it in waste
paper basket ("Akali Morchian da Itihas", p. 52).
He did not care for the displeasure of some Sikh leaders inclined
towards the authorities.
Baba Kharak Singh was closely associated with Gurdwara Reform
Movement for many years. He revolted against closure of Gurdwara
Babay-de-Ber at Sialkot by the "patit" Sarbrah Ganda
Singh. He led a jatha to get the doors of that shrine opened.
When his action was declared by the D.C. as violative of law,
he replied, "I know law better than you" (Quoted
by Kirpal Singh, "Chonvian Sikh Juwania", p.4).
He broke open the lock and brought official control to an
Kharak Singh plunged into active politics in 1919 soon after
seeing the horrors of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Along
with others, he organized Central Sikh League, a purely political
party of the Sikhs. On October 20, 1920 he presided over its
Lahore Session. The issue of the demolished wall of Gurdwara
Rakab Ganj, Delhi, felled by officials was taken up. He also
endorsed Non-Cooperation Movement of Indian National Congress.
During those days mutual cooperation among political parties
was quite common. Congress leaders like M.K. Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar
Tilak, Dr. Kitchloo participated in the Sikh League meetings.
Side by side he brought the representative religious body
of the Sikhs - Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee - on
sound footing. The previous committee formed by Panjab Govt.
was elaborately extended. In August 1921 he became the first
President of the real S.G.P.C. With his control (to quote
Sohan Singh Josh again) the command of Sikhs came into the
hands of such a leader who was sworn enemy of the English
Raj, who hated selfish leaders and who could bear the worst
blows to arouse the deadened spirit of Sikhs ("Akali
Morchian da Itihas", p. 52, tr. mine). Under his guidance
the objectives of S.G.P.C. were to bring the Sikh shrines
under Panthic control, to abolish the influence of Mahants,
to utilize the property and income of sacred places for religious
purposes and to practice Sikhism as per teachings of the Gurus.
For missionary purpose Kharak Singh took bold initiative
and determined stand. He ran one of the biggest factories
manufacturing Kirpans without licence.
Contrary to the British Govt. instructions, he did not reduce
the size of this weapon from three feet to nine inches. The
police raided his factory on November 2 1, 1921 and seized
179 Kirpans. In the second raid on March 22, 1922, again 158
swords were seized. In the face of his determination the authorities
had to yield. The people praised him for "liberating"
the Kirpan irrespective of its length.
The brave Sikh crusader compelled the administration to hand
over to him 53 keys of Toshakhana (Treasury) of Harmandir
Sahib. These were still in the hands of officially appointed
Manager though the whole complex had come in control of the
Sikhs in October 1920. In a clever move these keys were obtained
by Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, in November 1921. Baba Kharak
Singh as President of S.G.P.C gave a call for agitation which
came to be known as the keys Morcha. Along with some other
leaders he was arrested on November 29, 1921 at Ajnala for
violating prohibitory orders.
During the prosecution in that case in the court of Mr. Conor,
he made bold statement against the British authorities. To
quote an extract, "As the Government is a party to this
prosecution and the Judge is one of its servants, I, therefore,
do not wish to make any statement. My position as President
of the Sikh Panth is like that of the President of the United
States, France and Germany" (Quoted by Mohinder Singh,
"The Akali Struggle", pp. 50-51). He was jailed
for six months but had to be released earlier due to public
Finally, the keys of Toshakhana were handed over to him by
the District Judge on January 19, 1922. It was his great achievement
and a big victory over the administration. Mahatma Gandhi
called it decisive victory in "first Battle for India's
Freedom". He also got Pandit Dina Nath released who was
arrested along with Akalis. This glorious success made him
a much esteemed leader of all the people. At this point people
started calling him Betaj Badshah (Uncrowned King) and Baba
For his speeches against Colonial government, Baba Kharak
Singh was again arrested in March 1922. Among other things
he had said, "These Englishmen should leave India now.
If they want to stay, they should live like tame persons"
("Akali Morchian da Itilias", p. 244; tr. mine).
There were two charges against him - sedition and manufacture
of large sword. He was sent to Dera Ghazi Khan Jail where
his imprisonment was later extended to five years. In that
jail he sacrificed A class facilities and lived like ordinary
prisoners. The authorities there asked him to stop wearing
black turban which irritated them. But he refused to carry
out that instruction. As a result his turban was forcibly
taken off. He protested against this outrage by removing shirt
also. It is on record that he remained only in underwear for
four years. When black turban was allowed he insisted on permission
for Gandhi cap for Congressmen. Then his release was recommended
by the Punjab Council. But he, like Master Tara Singh, refused
to give any written or verbal assurance regarding his conduct.
When the Simon Commission arrived in 1928, he organized a
big demonstration against it. Nothing less than absolute independence
was acceptable to him. His protest against the demand of Dominion
Status for India had to be considered by other leaders.
Baba Kharak Singh's open criticism of certain leaders of
Congress Party brought about his alienation from it. In 1922
he was elected President of Panjab Pradesh Congress Committee
also. But in 1929 the recommendation made by Nehru Committee
annoyed him. Even the withdrawal of demand of Dominion Status
could not appease him. Some Congress leaders said that his
attitude was adamant. He organized a separate Akali Conference
As leader of the Sikhs he brought about many reforms in their
shrines and organizations. Corruptions at religious places
could not be tolerated by him. Influence of government agents
was checked and then completely removed. He became the president
of S.G.P.C. again in 1926. During his administration, the
Sikh institutions were not used for honoring British officials,
as had been done in the past. In 1929, he presided over All
India Sikh Educational Conference for the second time.
During 1932-33 he had differences with Master Tara Singh
who had been his companion. It was alleged that he had secret
understanding with Maharaj Patiala who had employed his nephews
Sunder Singh and Nirmal Singh. Baba Ji could not tolerate
such petty things. He submitted his resignation from S.G.P.C.
and Akali Dal. With that action the field was left completely
opened for Master Tara Singh.
Meanwhile Kharak Singh continued playing his role in the
struggle for independence. In 1931 he was detained, but released
after six months. Next year he was again arrested for his
active role in the movement and remained in jail for nineteen
months. In 1935 he rejected Communal Award passed by the British
Govt. This brought him imprisonment for two years. Like Subhas
Chander Bose, he was not in favor of helping the British in
World War II. In 1940 he was jailed for one year for speaking
against the government.
Even in his old age Baba ji was active in the struggle for
freedom. When the question of partition of the country came
up, he raised the slogan - Undivided India. In 1944 he presided
over United India Conference at Gujranwala. For his forceful
speech there he was again arrested but released soon after.
After independence in l947 Baba Kharak Singh settled in Delhi.
He did not seek any office or position on the basis of his
sacrifices. On his 86th birthday Prime Minister Nehru and
President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad praised his bravery,
patriotism and determination. He breathed his last on October
6, 1963, aged 95, survived by three grandsons, his son having
pre-deceased him in an accident.
-from "Baba Kharak Singh - The Betaj Badshah by Dr.
Dharam Singh. Sikh Review, Sept. 1992 issue.