Kartar Singh, Giani
Akali Leader (1902-1974)
An Akali leader who was known for his political astuteness and for his single-mindedness of purpose and who dominated Sikh politics during the 40’s and 50’s of the 20th century.
He was born the son of Bhagat Singh and Mai Jio on 22 February 1902 at Chakk No. 40 Jhang Branch in Lyallpur district (now in Pakistan). The family originally belonged to Nagoke village in Amritsar district and had migrated to Lyallpur district when that area, formerly a wasteland known as Sandal Bar, was opened up as a canal colony towards the close of the nineteenth century.
Kartar Singh received his early education in the village gurdwara and later joined Khalsa School in the neighbouring Chakk No. 41 from where he matriculated in 1921. He had a religious bent of mind and during his school days led a kirtani jatha or group of hymn-singers which earned him the epithet giani (learned in religious texts). He joined Khalsa College, Amritsar, but owing to an attack of smallpox two years later he had to leave without taking a degree. The only son of his parents, Kartar Singh was married at an early age to Harnam Kaur, daughter of Jagat Singh of Ghiala Kalan, in Amritsar district.
Giani Kartar Singh was attracted to politics in his early youth. He was in Amritsar in April 1919 staying with his uncle, Risaldar Jagat Singh, a Viceroy’s commissioned officer in the army, when the Jallianvala Bhag massacre took place. This event and the martial law conditions in the Punjab under which he travelled from Amritsar to his village left a deep impact on his mind. While yet a student of the tenth class, he along with some fellow students had participated in the campaign on behalf of the Tilak Svaraj Fund launched by the Indian National Congress. Leading a party of about 20 students, he also attended a Sikh conference at Dharovali village in early October 1920, which paved the way for the formation of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
In 1924, he was appointed general secretary of the Lyallpur district branch of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Later during the same year, he was arrested for leading a procession to welcome the 13th Shahidi Jatha which was touring the central districts before: it headed for Jaito. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment which he underwent in the central jail at Campbellpore. In 1926, he was elected a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee which had been reconstituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, and became a member of its executive committee in October 1927. He took part in the agitation against the visit of Simon Commission to India in 1928 and attended the protest rally that greeted the Commission with black flags at Lahore railway station, on 30 October 1928, with shouts of "Simon, Go Back." During the Civil disobedience movement in 1930-31, He was again arrested and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for delivering antigovernment speeches.
In 1933 Giani Kartar Singh was elected member of the executive committees both of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal. In 1937, he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly from Samundari-Jarharnvala constituency of Lyallpur district.
Reacting to Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim State, Giani Kartar Singh put forward in 1943 some concrete formulations of which his Azad Punjab scheme was vigorously pursued for some time. The scheme envisaged carving out of the then existing Punjab a new unit, Azad Punjab, which would have included the maximum Sikh population, with no single religious community being in absolute majority. This formed the basis of the Akali standpoint at the subsequent political negotiations during which Giani Kartar Singh ranked next only to Master Tara Singh as representative of the Sikh opinion.
Later, in January 1947, he was elected president of the Shiromani Akali Dal. In 1942 he had played a crucial role in bringing about rapprochement between the Akalis and the Muslim-dominated Unionist Party in consequence of which Baldev Singh, the Akali nominee, joined the Unionist Government as a minister in the Punjab led by Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan. Taking advantage of the arrangement labelled as, Sikandar-Baldev Pact, Giani Kartar Singh moved a bill in the Punjab Legislative Assembly to amend the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, with a view to making the central authority for the management of Sikh shrines, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, more effective. Already, at a meeting of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 22 February 1941, he had drawn the attention of the Sikh people to the need for such a revision. The amending bill, which became the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Act XI of 1944, was passed on 12 December 1944. The
amendments provided for representation on the Committee to the so-called backward classes among the Sikhs, greater administrative control over the local gurdwdras and more freedom for the Committee to spend money from its funds for missionary, educational and charitable purposes.
The Act was again amended consequent upon the merger of PEPSU territory with the Punjab in 1956. That amendment too was sponsored by Giani Kartar Singh.After the Viceroy’s proclamation of 3 June 1947 announcing the decision of the British government to divide the country conceding the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan, Giani Kartar Singh called a joint meeting of the working committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Panthic Pratinidhi Board which passed a resolution on 14 June 1947 advocating transfer of population and property as an essential concomitant of the proposed partition.
After 15 August 1947, Giani Kartar Singh at grave personal risk helped the migration of non-Muslims, especially of Lyallpur and Sheikhupura districts to India. On 17 March 1948, the working committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal under his leadership passed a resolution, permitting all Panthic (Akali) members of the East Punjab Assembly to join the Congress. Giani Kartar Singh became a minister in the East Punjab government under Chief Minister Gopi Chand Bhargava and was assigned to the portfolios of revenue and devlopment. He continued in the ministry headed by Lala Bhim Sain Sachar which in fact he, with his group of 22 MLAs, had helped to form in March 1949. He was the architect of what came to be known as the Giani-Sachar formula, according to which East Punjab was demarcated into Punjabi-speaking and Hindispeaking areas – a demarcation which laid the foundation of a Punjabi-speaking state.
Demand for Punjabi Suba, i.e. Punjabi-speaking state, became the focus of Sikh politics and Giani Kartar Singh became one of its principal advocates on rejoining the Shiromani Akali Dal. In 1955, he courted arrest -in the Akali campaign for Punjabi Suba.
Earlier, as a member of the Constituent Assembly Giani Kartar Singh had advocated some statutory guarantees for the Sikhs as a minority. He lost his assembly seat in the first general election held under the new Constitution in 1952, but was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council soon after.
In 1956, a compromise was reached between the Akali Dal and the Congress in the form of what is known as Regional Formula and the Akalis again joined the Congress party. Giani Kartar Singh was elected to Legislative Assembly from Dasuya-Tanda constituency and became Revenue and Agriculture minister in 1957 in the Cabinet headed by Partap Singh Kairori. In 1962, he was re-elected to the state assembly. In February 1967, Giani Kartar Singh sought election from his former constituency as a Congress candidate but was defeated. He resigned from the Congress party on 16 April 1967. His bid to be elected a member of the Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur in 1972 met with a similar fate. He was now in failing health and his political career had come to a virtual end. He died in Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, on 10 June 1974.