Hukam Singh, Sardar
Politician, Parliamentarian and Jurist (1895-1983)
Was born at Montgomery (Sahiwal) on 30 August 1895, the son of Sham Singh, a businessman of moderate means. Hukam Singh had his preliminary acquaintance with Punjabi letters at the local gurdward and matriculated in 1913 from Government High School, Montgomery, tinder its headmaster, Bawa Dasaundha Singh, father of the famous Akali leader and teacher of English literature, Bawa Harkishan Singh, who had influential contacts in the Akali party. He graduated from Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1917. At the Khalsa College he distinguished himself as a member of the College Hockey X1. He was a contemporary of the legendary hockey player Lali or Lal Singh who died prematurely falling a victim to hockey rivalry. Hukam Singh used to say that had Lal Singh lived, no one would possibly have heard of the second maestro, Dhian Chand.
Graduating college, Hukam Singh took up government service and became an inspector in the Co-operative Department, but resigned to resume his studies. He passed his LL.B. examination in 1921 from Law College, Lahore, and set up practice as a lawyer at Montgomery, where he established himself securely in the profession as well as in the civic life of the town. A devout Sikh, he also took part in the Gurdwara Reform or Akali movement. When Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee was declared unlawful and most of its leaders arrested in October 1923, the Sikhs formed another Parbandhak Committee. Sardar Hukam Singh was a member of this Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and was one among those who were arrested on 7 January 1924 and sentenced to two years imprisonment.
He was elected a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee at the first elections held under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, and continued to be elected successively for many years. He took part in the anti-Simon Commission agitation in 1928 and was injured and arrested during police baton charge on a procession in the streets of Montgomery.
Montgomery, town as well as the district, fell in the predominantly Muslim majority region of the Punjab, and Sikhs and Hindus faced a grave threat to their lives at the hands of Muslim fanatics especially during the riots that broke out following the declaration of partition of the country in August 1947. Most of them including Hukam Singh’s own family took refuge in the walled compound of Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha of which he himself was the president. He went about the town evacuating people from their houses, burying the dead and evacuating the dying to hospital at grave personal risk.
He was at the top of the rioters’ hit list when, during the night of 19-20 August 1947, a European army officer of the Boundary Force evacuated him, penniless and disguised in khaki uniform, to Firozpur cantonment. After about ten days he came to know that his family too had arrived safely at Jalandhar. He traced his family in a refugee camp where he rejoined it after several days filled with tension and anxiety. Giani Kartar Singh, a vastly influential Sikh leader in those days, introduced him to the Maharaja of Kapurthala for a position in the state judiciary. But an unfortunate faux pas occurred. Sardar Hukam Singh arrived at the Kapurthala palace in his white toga. To say the least, the Maharaja was not at all pleased to see him so dressed. The prime minister of the state smoothed over matters saying that Sardar Hukam Singh had arrived as a refugee and could be forgiven the lapse.
Sardar Hukam Singh was appointed a judge of the Kapurthala High Court. Consequent upon Partition, some seats in the Constituent Assembly of India had become vacant. On a motion from Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, the Assembly, on 27 January 1948, approved to elect two Sikh and two Hindu members from the East Punjab. By a stroke of luck and again with the help of Giani Kartar Singh, Hukam Singh was elected a member (30 April 1948). He actively participated in the Constituent Assembly’s debates, and only a year after his entry was nominated on the panel of its chairmen. He continued to be on the panel till his election as deputy speaker in March 1956. He had been elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, in 1952 elections held under the new constitution and was re-elected in 1957 and again in 1962 in which year he was elected speaker of this house. He did not contest the 1967 elections and was instead appointed governor of Rajasthan at which position he remained till June 1972.
Although in March 1948 the Shiromani Akah Dal had directed all Akali legislators to join Congress legislature party en bloc, Hukam Singh, who had been elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1948, continued to function in opposition. He stubbornly fought for the protection of the rights of the minorities and, failing to get protection for the Sikhs as a religious minority, he refused to put his signatures as a member to the new constitution. On his election to Parliament in 1952, he was secretary of the National Democratic Front of which Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was the president, but later he joined and remained in the Congress party. On the question of Punjabi Suba, he favoured the reorganization of the state on linguistic rather than on religious basis. He was the chief architect of the regional Formula which, however, did not work.
The Akalis’ agitation for Punjabi Suba continued despite the failure of the strategy of fasts resorted to by their leaders during 1960-61. In 1965, when Sant Fateh Singh announced his resolve to go on an indefinite fast for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state, the central government still seemed unyielding. But the Sant’s gesture in postponing his fast in consideration of hostilities having broken out against Pakistan and his appeal to the Sikhs wholeheartedly to support India’s war effort appeared to have touched the hearts of many people, including Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had by then taken over as the Prime Minister of India. He ordered the appointment of a parliamentary committee with Sardar Hukam Singh, then Speaker of the Lok Sabha, as Chairman to consider the question of Punjabi Suba, i.e. a Punjabi-speaking state. It was a miracle how Hukam Singh was able to secure from elements as diverse as the parliamentary committee a unanimous report. The committee gave its verdict in favour of a Punjabi State saying that the State of Punjab be reorganized on a linguistic basis.
After his retirement from the office of governor of Rajasthan as well as from active politics in June 1972, Hukam Singh settled down in Delhi. In March 1973, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee formed Sri Guru Singh Sabha Shatabadi (centenary) Committee to celebrate the centenary of the Singh Sabha movement launched in 1873. Hukam Singh was nominated its president with Giani Gurdit Singh as its secretary. Even after the celebrations, this committee continued to function as a permanent non-political body under the name of Kendari Singh Sablia for research and preaching of the Sikh tenets. Hukam Singh remained active as its president till his death which occurred in Delhi on 27 May 1983.
Hukam Singh also made considerable contribution for the cause of Sikh education. At Montgomery he was the manager of the local Khalsa High School. In 1928 when the annual session of the Sikh Educational Conference was held at Montgomery, he was the secretary of its reception committee. Hukam Singh presided over the 40th and the 46th sessions of the Conference. He was also patron of the Montgomery Educational Trust established at Jalandhar. He was a member of the Punjabi University Commission. The University conferred on him, in 1967, the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa). The launching by him of the Spokesman, English weekly from Delhi in 1951, served to supply a serious deficiency in Sikh journalism. He was the author of two books, in English – The Sikh Cause and The Problem of the Sikhs, in addition to a travelogue on his visit to Russia.