The Indian Muslims' demand for the recognition of their separate political entity was a severe challenge to the Sikhs' position in the Punjab. The government set its seal on Muslim communalism by introducing separate electorates under the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909, and by giving weighted representation to Muslims in provinces in which they were in a minority. The adoption of this divisive principle created a permanent cleavage between Hindus and Muslims. In 1916, the Indian National Congress attempted to appease the Muslim League by conceding its communal claims and contracting with it an agreement which is known as the Lucknow Pact. By this covenant, the Muslims had their representation in the various legislative councils specified and, in the Punjab, they were to have through their own exclusive electorate 50 per cent of the Council seats. The Sikhs, who were an influential community in the region and had important interests at stake, were completely ignored in this League Congress compact. Finding themselves reduced to a state of political wilderness, the Sikhs began to press for their own rights. They demanded to be treated in the Punjab the same way as the Muslims were treated in provinces where they were in minority. Their viewpoint was ventilated by the Chief Khalsa Diwan, then their principal organized party. Sir Sundar Singh Majithia, the secretary of the Diwan, wrote a letter to the Punjab Government, on 26 December 1916, setting out the claims of the Sikh community for representation in the Imperial and Provincial councils.
In August 1917, the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Samuel Montagu, made his momentous declaration that the aim of British policy as regards India was the gradual development of self governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government. When Montagu visited India that autumn, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala conveyed the Sikhs' views to him. A deputation of the Sikh leaders also waited on the Viceroy (22 November 1917) and pressed Sikhs' claims to a one-third representation in the Punjab on the basis of their services in the war.
The Montagu-Chelmsford Report issued in the spring of 1918 reassured the Sikhs. Its authors disagreed with the principle of separate representation conceded to the Muslims and expressed regret that it could not be altered. But they felt that what had been given to the Muslims could not by any standards of fairness be denied to the Sikhs. The Montagu-Chelmsford proposals were debated in the joint committee of the Punjab Legislative Council. The Muslim leader, Mian Fazl Husain, tried to push through a resolution that the Muslim proportion in the Punjab Legislative Council be based on the Lucknow Pact. Sardar Gajjan Singh of Ludhiana proposed that the words subject to the just claims of the Sikhs be added to the resolution. The innocuous amendment was vigorously opposed by both Muslim and Hindu members. The chairman drew their attention to the injustice they were doing to the Sikhs but in vain. The amendment was put to vote and, as anticipated, lost by six to two-both negative votes being those of the Sikhs.
The Government of India Act of 1919 did not give the Sikhs the 33 per cent representation that they had expected. Under the new constitution the Punjab Legislative Council would comprise 93 members, of whom 15 were to be Sikhs elected by Sikh constituents ; the Central Assembly was to have 145 members, of whom three were to be Sikhs ; the Council of States would have 60 members, of whom one was to be a Sikh. The Chief Khalsa Diwan made a last effort to influence the British government to revise its decision. A delegation consisting of Sewaram Singh, Shivdev Singh Uberoi, Sohan Singh of Rawalpindi and Ujjal Singh arrived in London a week after the joint Parliamentary Committee had made its report.
The only satisfaction they could derive was the knowledge that the committee had increased Sikh representation in the Punjab by two.
The first elections under the Act took. place in 1920. The Unionist Party, a combination of Muslims and Hindus representing agricultural interests, came to power. Sundar Singh Majithia, a representative of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, was nominated to the governor's executive council and entrusted with the care of revenue matters. Some Akalis, who were elected to the legislature a few years later, held aloof, although the Unionist Party's policies benefited the Sikh peasantry.
Much the same political pattern continued on the introduction of provincial self-government under the Government of India Act of 1935. After the elections in the winter of 1936-37, the Unionists under Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan formed the government and Sir Sundar Singh Majithia, whose party, now known as the Khalsa National Party, had won about half the 33 Sikh seats, accepted office as revenue minister ; but most of the other Sikh members, Akalis, Congress Sikhs and independents, joined the Opposition.
During the second of the Round Table Conferences that preceded the passing of the 1935 Act the Sikh representatives, Ujjal Singh and Sampuran Singh, had pressed for weightage giving them 30 per cent representation in the Punjab and 5 per cent at the Centre, with at least one Sikh member in the Central cabinet. Alternatively, they suggested a realignment of the boundaries of the Punjab whereby the two Muslim majority divisions of Rawalpindi and Multan, with the exception of the colony districts of Lyallpur and Montgomery, would be detached and included in the North-West Frontier Province. If this were done, the Sikhs would not ask for any weightage in the remaining areas, as the Muslim and Hindu population there would be about equal and the Sikhs would hold the balance. Little heed was paid to this proposal. The cry of Pakistan had not yet been raised
and no one was disposed to consider a division of the Punjab for the benefit of the Sikhs. By the British government's Communal Award, the Sikhs were granted only a marginal increase in their weightage in the Punjab -33 seats out. of a total of 175- but they were assured some representation in the Federal Legislature and in the North-West Frontier Province.
Sir Sikandar's Unionist ministry took office under the 1935 Act in the spring of 1937. Within a very short space of time there was a radical and unforeseen change in the political situation. At. the Round Table Conferences the idea of Pakistan had been mentioned only to be derided ; but in 1938 the Muslim League, under M.A. Jinnah's leadership, began to revive it and in March 1940 passed at Lahore a resolution demanding independent sovereign Muslim States in the Muslim majority areas of India, including most of the Punjab. Furthermore, in the autumn of 1938 Sikandar Hayat Khan, feeling that all Muslims must stand together against the threat of Hindu domination in a prospective Federal Government, had joined the League with all his Muslim followers ; and so, though they still remained members of the Unionist Party, as members of the League they all became outwardly committed to the demand for Pakistan. Sikandar himself was no believer in Pakistan and assured the Hindu and Sikh supporters of the Unionist Party that complete separation of the Hindu and Muslim provinces of India into independent sovereign States was not intended. But Jinnah displayed no intention of budging his ground, and the Sikhs saw themselves faced with the threat of becoming a small minority in a large Muslim State; for this would be their fate if the Punjab were included in Pakistan, as Jinnah demanded. Rather than accept this fate, the Sikhs' inclination was to demand the partition of the Punjab.
At about this time effective leadership of the Sikhs passed to the Akalis, for the Khalsa National Party, which had been steadily losing influence, was further weakened by the death early in 1941 of Sundar Singh Majithia. The Akalis had always been somewhat isolated-antiBritish and in opposition to the anglophile Unionist government of the Punjab. They now felt themselves to be in need of friends, more especially as soon after the passing of the Pakistan resolution there was another threat to Sikh interests - a proposal to stop all further recruitment of Sikhs to the armed forces. This was the outcome of signs of disaffection among Sikh troops in the early months of the War, for which the Akalis own unsettling influence on the Sikh peasantry was partly responsible. The proposal, ultimately dropped, alarmed the Akalis, who were keenly conscious of the value to the Sikhs of their position in the army, and they decided that they must modify their opposition to the Unionist government and their hitherto lukewarm attitude to the war effort. They took part, therefore, in the organization of a Khalsa Defence of India League to stimulate Sikh recruitment; and in June 1942 they entered into a regular pact with Sikandar's Unionist government and an Akali nominee, Sardar Baldev Singh, became a minister. This pact lasted throughout the rest of the War and represented an accord between Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims which it was hoped might prove an obstacle to Jinnah's demand for a sovereign Pakistan and stave off the danger of a partition of the Punjab.
Over the next few critical years, Sikhs were rallying under the Akali banner though there were elements among them who were supporters of the Congress and of the Communist Party. But in 1942 at the time of the Cripps' Mission almost all Sikh leaders were united in their opposition to Pakistan and in their determination to resist the separation of the Punjab from the rest of India. They welcomed, of course, like other Indians, the Cripps' offer of virtual independence at the end of the War; but they objected to the right conceded by the Cripps' proposals to an individual province to opt out of the projected Indian Union. This seemed to them to amount to an acceptance of Pakistan ; and it was undoubtedly a success for Jinnah, for it was the first public admission by the British of the possibility that India might be divided. It was followed immediately after Cripps' departure by Rajagopalachari submitting to the All-India Congress Committee a resolution that the principle of Pakistan should be conceded. To the Sikhs, who had always thought that the Congress could be relied on to stand firm against any dismemberment of India, Rajagopalachari's resolution came as a rude shock; and , though it was rejected and Rajagopalachari himself resigned from the Congress, it was an indication to them of a possible Congress weakening over the issue. Shortly afterwards, the Congress leaders by launching the Quit India movement condemned themselves to jail for most of the rest of the War, leaving Jinnah a free field in which to carry on his Pakistan propaganda. He steadily strengthened his hold over the Muslims and gained ever wider support for his demand for Pakistan.
In 1944, he expelled from the League Sir Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana who shared Sikandar's views about Pakistan and on his death, in 1942, had succeeded him as premier of the Punjab. Khizar was able to retain the loyalty of most of the supporters in the provincial assembly, but a rift opened in the ranks of the Muslim Unionists and it became doubtful whether the Punjabi Muslims would resist the lure of Pakistan. In the same year Rajagopalachari provided further evidence that the Congress might not stand firm on the unity of India. He persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to offer Jinnah a Pakistan consisting of contiguous Muslim-majority areas in the northwest and northeast of India. Jinnah rejected this offer of a `moth-eaten' Pakistan, but the Sikhs were very indignant at the offer being made at all. Claiming that. the Sikhs were, like the Muslims, a separate nation, they began to talk of demanding an independent sovereign Sikh State. This was to have boundaries roughly the same as those proposed for the Punjab by the Sikh representatives at the Second Round Table Conference and would include the whole of the Lahore Division and the colony districts of Lyallpur and Montgomery. The idea of pressing for such a State had been simmering in the minds of some of the Akali leaders ever since the League's Pakistan resolution was passed ; but most of them recognized that it was impracticable, for the Sikhs were not in a majority in any definable area and the Muslims could not be expected meekly to surrender areas where they were in a majority. The demand was not therefore formally put forward at this stage.
By the end of the War, Jinnah appeared to have gained the allegiance of the great majority of Muslims and this was confirmed by the elections held during the cold weather of 1945-46. Except in the North-West Frontier Province, the League everywhere won almost all the Muslim seats. For the Sikhs its most significant success was in the Punjab where the once powerful Unionist Party with which, since the Sikandar-Baldev Singh pact, most of the Sikhs had been in alliance, was virtually wiped out, and the League emerged as the largest single party. The Sikhs, in order to demonstrate their solid opposition to Pakistan, had all joined together with the exception of the Communists to fight the elections as a single party under the auspices of the Panthic Pratinidhi Board. This was every where successful and the Communist Sikhs, who supported Pakistan, were eliminated. The League, despite its electoral success, did not command a majority in the provincial assembly and without the support of some other groups, which it failed to obtain, was unable to form a ministry in the Punjab. So Khizar, with the backing of the Panthic party, led by Baldev Singh, and of the Congress, continued as premier. But now that his Muslim Unionists were reduced to a mere handful, the Unionist Sikh alliance could no longer be a defence against the Muslim demand for Pakistan.
The Labour Government. which took office in England in July 1945 was determined to transfer power to Indian hands as soon as possible; but the Hindu-Muslim cleavage over Pakistan stood in the way. In the hope of resolving the differences a Cabinet Mission (the Secretary of State for India, PethickLawrence, along with Sir Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander) came out to India in March 1946 and started interviewing representatives of all major parties and interests. The Sikh representatives, Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and Harnam Singh (a Lahore lawyer), and Baldev Singh, who was interviewed separately, said that they stood for a united India, but if it was to be divided then they would want a separate Sikh State, which Giani Kartar Singh explained to mean a province where the Sikhs were in a dominant or almost a dominant position, and this should be free to federate either with Hindustan or Pakistan. So as to bring most of the Sikhs within it, the boundaries of this province were to be much the same as proposed by the Sikhs before and would include considerable Muslim-majority areas ; but the Sikhs argued that population was not the only factor to be considered and that the Sikhs' large holdings of land in the areas they claimed must also be taken into account. They also suggested that there should be a transfer of population under government auspices and said that within five or ten years nearly all the Sikh population could be concentrated in the proposed Khalistan. The Central Akali Dal (Baba Kharak Singh's group) presented a separate memorandum on behalf of their party. It drew attention to the faulty compilation of census figures which made the Muslims a majority community in the Punjab. It opposed the partition of the Punjab and reiterated the demands that had been made by the Chief Khalsa Diwan many times since the introduction of democratic institutions, viz. 33%representation in the Punjab, 5% in the Centre, one Sikh member in the Central Cabinet. In addition, it demanded an 8% representation in the Constituent Assembly (as recommended by the Sapru Committee), a permanent 14% Sikh quota in the defence services ; Sikh representation in U.P, Sindh, Bihar, Bengal and Bombay and an increase in Sikh representation in the North-West Frontier Province. The Central Akali Dal supported joint electorates with reservation of seats for minorities and the setting up of special tribunals for the protection of minorities.
The Mission did not countenance the Sikhs' demand for a separate autonomous State, though it did recognize their strong feeling against being subjected to the Muslim rule and their desire to keep the community together. Moreover, they had been convinced by their other numerous interviews that, outside the supporters of the Muslim League, there was an almost universal desire to preserve the unity of India. They rejected, therefore, a Pakistan of six provinces as claimed by jinnah, since this would place substantial minorities, particularly the Sikhs, under Muslim rule. They also rejected, as did jinnah himself, a truncated Pakistan of contiguous ,Muslim-majority areas, involving a radical-partition of the Punjab. This, they believed, would be contrary to the wishes of most of the people and would of necessity divide the Sikhs, leaving substantial bodies of them on both sides of the border. Having rejected Pakistan, they put forward a scheme for an All-India union limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications within which the provinces claimed for Pakistan could be formed into sub-federations ; and they suggested a procedure for forming on this basis a three-tier constitution- Provinces, Groups of provinces and Union. A Constituent Assembly, elected by the provincial legislatures, would divide up into three sections, one representing the six Hindu-majority provinces and the two others the Pakistan provinces in the northwest and northeast of India. These sections, meeting separately, would draw up constitutions for the provinces included in them and decide whether a Group should be formed and with what subjects. All the sections would then meet together to frame the Union Constitution. The Muslim League and the Congress accepted this scheme; the latter, however, with reservations. Sikhs were united in rejecting it. Complaining that they had been included, without safeguards, in a Muslim Group of provinces where they would be in a hopeless minority, they declined to elect representatives to the Constituent Assembly and prevailed on Baldev Singh to refuse an invitation to serve in an Interim Government that. the Viceroy was trying to form. The Mission felt their fears to be exaggerated, and, in reply to an indignant letter from Master Tara Singh, the Secretary of State pointed out that of the various alternatives open to the Mission their scheme was, from the Sikh point of view, the best. They had escaped inclusion in a sovereign Muslim State and also escaped division through a partition of the Punjab. Eventually, the Sikhs were persuaded by the Congress to take part in the Constituent Assembly and Baldev Singh became defence minister in an Interim Government which Jawaharlal Nehru, on the Viceroy's invitation, formed on 2 September 1946. Some hope was also held out to them that, by agreement between the Congress and the League, they would be allowed in the section in which they were included the same power of vetoing a resolution raising any major communal issue as under the Mission's scheme had been granted to the Muslims in the Union Constituent Assembly. By this time, however, Sikh objections to the Mission's scheme were becoming somewhat academic, as the. chances were, receding that it would ever be put into operation.
The Congress' acceptance of the Mission's scheme had been ambiguous, for they persisted in an interpretation of its provisions regarding the sections and the grouping of provinces which the Mission had declared to be erroneous. At a meeting in Bombay on 29 July 1946 the Council of the League withdrew their previous acceptance of it and decided that a programme of `Direct Action' should be prepared for the achievement of Pakistan. Jinnali also declined to collaborate in the Interim Government. The immediate sequel to the Bombay resolution was an outbreak of communal rioting on an unprecedented scale in Calcutta on 16 August fixed by the League as Direct Action Day. This was followed in October by Muslim assaults on Hindus in East Bengal, which in turn provided a large-scale massacre of Muslims by Hindus in Bihar. In the hope of easing the communal tension by bringing the League into the Interim Government the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, himself entered into negotiations with Jinnah and, at the end of October, five League nominees joined the government on the understanding that the League would rescind the Bombay resolution and take part in the work of the Constituent Assembly.
After the League's entry into the government there was a lull in communal rioting, but Jinnah was unwilling to reconsider the Bombay resolution without an assurance that the Mission's scheme would be worked in the manner the Mission intended; and this assurance the Congress were unwilling to give, for they stuck to their own interpretation of the scheme. The main point now at issue was whether in the sections the voting regarding the provincial constitutions and the formation of groups should be by provinces, as the Congress, with the full concurrence of the Sikhs, contended (which would almost certainly preclude the formation of groups), or by simple majority vote, as the League claimed. After discussions in London, to which at the beginning of December 1946 the leaders of both parties along with Sardar Baldev Singh, as a representative of the Sikhs, were invited, the British government issued a statement upholding the latter interpretation. The All India Congress Committee accepted this interpretation, but with the qualification that there must be no compulsion for a province or part of the province and that the rights of the Sikhs should not be jeopardized. Jinnah was not persuaded to modify his stand and, on 31 January 1947, the Working Committee of the League declined to recommend reconsideration of the Bombay resolution and called on the British government to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which had met in December without League representatives.
The British government, realizing that some fresh initiative was now required, announced on 20 February that Lord Mountbatten would replace Lord Wavell as Viceroy and that, come what may, they would transfer power to Indian hands not later than June 1948. They instructed Mountbatten to try to preserve the unity of India on the basis of the Mission's plan, but if by 1 October this proved to be impossible, to report what steps should be taken for handing over power by the date fixed. The League had now firmly rejected the Mission's plan, and if civil war was to be averted the only solution to which all parties might be induced to agree, was truncated Pakistan of contiguous Muslim-majority areas, involving the partition of Bengal and the Punjab and the division of the Sikhs. Though Jinnah had previously rejected it, he realized that this was the most he could get and was content to take it rather than have no sovereign Pakistan at all. The Congress had always said that they would not contemplate compelling the people of any part of the country to remain in India against their will, and in face of Jinnah's obduracy were now ready to let him take the areas which on a population basis he could indisputably claim. The Sikhs who would suffer most if the Punjab was partitioned on this basis, since this would divide them leaving some two million out of about 5-1/2 million on the Pakistan side of the border, were insistent on partition rather than that the whole Sikh community should be included in Pakistan. So Mountbatten had no great difficulty in securing the acquiescence of all three parties, the Congress, the League and the Sikhs, in a plan for dividing the country, and proceeded with the utmost speed to carry it out.
Jinnah's original aim had been to include in Pakistan the whole of the Punjab except for some Hindi-speaking districts of the Ambala division. His only way of achieving this aim would have been to conciliate the Sikhs, the most compact and militant minority. Some of the Akalis, notably Giani Kartar Singh, were not wholly averse to the Sikhs throwing in their lot with Pakistan, provided they could get good terms. It. would avert the danger of division, and in Pakistan the Sikhs, because they were so distinct from the Muslims; would unquestionably retain their identity and as a well-organized minority could have some political weight. The Sikh Communists, who favoured joining Pakistan, suggested that within it a small Sikh-dominated province should be created, consisting of five central Punjab districts plus the Sikh Princely states. Giani Kartar Singh would have wanted to add to this at least the Lahore and the Sheikhupura districts and one colony district, Montgomery, and would also have demanded weightage for the Sikhs in the Pakistan services and a favoured position in the army. But Jinnah, though he said that he intended to give to Sikhs anything they asked for within reason, never troubled to ascertain what they wanted or made them any concrete proposals.
Then early in March 1947 events occurred that determined the Sikhs that in no circumstances would they allow themselves to be included as community in a Muslim-dominated Pakistan. In a widespread outbreak of communal rioting throughout the province, touched off by the resignation of Khizar's government and a belief among Hindus and Sikhs that a League ministry might take its place pockets of Sikhs in the Rawalpindi and Attock districts were barbarously attacked by Muslim mobs, their houses pillaged and set on fire and themselves murdered or compelled to fly for their lives. After these atrocities which the League leaders signally failed to condemn, Jinnah continued to express a desire for a settlement with the Sikhs; but Baldev Singh and Giani Kartar Singh both said that there could be no discussion with him on the basis of the Sikhs being included in Pakistan, and Master Tara Singh declared that he could have nothing further to do with the Muslim League.
The Sikh leaders were as determined to keep their community together as to avoid its inclusion in Pakistan, and with this in view urged that in partitioning the Punjab population should not be the sole criterion but that weight should also be given to such factors as ownership of property, the Sikhs' stake in the canal colonies and the existence of important Sikh shrines in west of Lahore. An attempt was made to satisfy them by giving instruction to the Boundary Commission, appointed at the end of June 1947 as part of Mountbatten's partition plan, that in laying down the line of division on the basis of contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non Muslims, should also take into account other factors.
A memorandum was presented to the Boundary Commission by thirty-two Sikh members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly arguing, mainly on the basis of these other factors, that the boundary should be drawn along the Chenab and thus keep over 90 per cent of the Sikhs in eastern Punjab. But few Sikh leaders really expected that regard for other factors would lead the Commission to make an award so favourable to them; and whereas the Congress and League leaders publicly pledged themselves to accept its award, Sikh leaders declined to do so and many of them openly declared that they would resist it, if it was not to their liking. Giani Kartar Singh warned the Governor of the Punjab, Sir Evan Jenkins, that there would be tears and bloodshed if the boundary problem was not suitably solved, and stressed the need for a large-scale exchange of population as he had, earlier suggested to Mountbatten.
Early in August, communal riots erupted in the Amritsar district, and these increased in scale and number as 15 August, the date fixed for the transfer of power, approached. Muslims made reprisal attacks on Sikh villages in the Lahore district, as the Sikh attacks had generally been in revenge for the earlier Muslim onslaughts on Sikhs in the Rawalpindi district.
As had been expected, the Boundary Commission fixed the line of division down to the centre of the Punjab, leaving about 2 million Sikhs on the Pakistan side of the border. If the small Sikh community was to survive as an integral whole, as the Sikh leaders desired, these had to move, and soon after 15 August large number of Sikh colonists in the Montgomery district and smaller number in the colony areas of Multan and Bahawalpur state, left their villages as though at the word of command and trekked into eastern Punjab. But not all the Sikhs on the Pakistan side of the border moved so quickly or got off so lightly. Those who moved after 15 August faced murder and despoliation. The other side of the Punjab where Muslims were in a minority was also engulfed in violence. The Sikhs as a community were the worst sufferers, for Muslims made Sikhs rather than Hindus the principal target of attack ; but they were successful in realizing their aim of retaining unbroken the community's cohesion.