Central Sikh League
Political Organisation of the Sikhs (1919-1933)
Political organization of the Sikhs which guided their affairs until the Shiromani Akah Dal emerged as a mass force. The inaugural session of the Central Sikh League was held at Amritsar on 29 December 1919, coinciding with the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. It was dominated by the educated Sikhs from the middle strata such as Sardul Singh Caveeshar, Harchand Singh Lyallpuri and Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri. The first president was Sardar Bahadur Gajjan Singh representing moderate political opinion. But the leadership soon changed and Baba Kharak Singh, an ardent nationalist, was elected president for its second session at Lahore in October 1920.
The aims and objectives of the Central Sikh League, according to its new constitution adopted on 22 July 1921, were the attainment of svaraj, i.e. political autonomy for the country, by legitimate, peaceful and constitutional means and the promotion of Panthic unity, the fostering of patriotism and public spirit among the Sikhs and the development and organization of their political, moral and economic resources. Membership was open to Sikhs who had attained the age of 21 years and the fee was four annas per month. The executive committee of the League consisted of 101 members, exclusive of ex officio members, 80 of whom were elected and 21 nominated. By August 1921, units of the Central Sikh League had been set up at Amritsar, Lahore, Gujranwala, Lyallpur, Sialkot, Jehlum, Firozpur, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. The annual meeting of the League was held generally during the Dussehra holidays.
In espousing Sikh interests, the Central Sikh League sought adequate representation for the community in the Punjab Legislative Council, removal of restrictions on the carrying by Sikhs of kirpan, one of their religious symbols, and reform of Sikh places of worship. The League maintained a close liaison with the Indian National Congress. At the second session of the Central Sikh League, Baba Kharak Singh, in his presidential address, exhorted the Sikhs to participate in national politics. At this session, the League passed a resolution supporting the noncooperation movement of the Indian National Congress. Like the Congress and the Central Khilafat Committee, the Sikh League also started enlisting volunteers to carry on the fight for svaraj. It issued a manifesto and asked for 10,000 Sikh volunteers to come forward and join the national movement. At the same time the League, with a view to stressing Sikh identity, insisted that the Congress include in the national flag it was designing a strip in yellow, the colour of the Sikhs.
The League supported the struggle for gurdwara reform and appointed an enquiry committee to investigate the Nankana tragedy in which about 150 reformist Sikhs were mercilessly butchered by the priest’s hired killers.
Similarly when the government took over the keys of the Golden Temple toshakhana, the League called a series of protest meetings. When Ripudaman Singh, the Maharaja of Nabha, relinquished in 1923 the gaddi, his royal seat, the Central Sikh League convened a special meeting to protest against what was described as undue pressure brought upon him by the British Government.
The Central Sikh League showed concern about the communal sentiment penetrating into Indian body politic. It favoured the complete abolition of communal representation in legislatures, but reiterated at the same time in its resolution of 10 October 1927 that, in case it was retained, the Sikhs must be given 30 per cent share in the Punjab legislative seats.
The Sikh League participated in the allparties conference convened by the Congress in Delhi in February 1928 to work out a constitution which would be acceptable to various .interests. It sent a delegation consisting of Baba Kharak Singh, Sardar Bahadur Mehtab Singh, Master Tara Singh, Giani Sher Singh, Amar Singh Jhabal and Mangal Singh to take part in the conference. Mangal Singh was appointed a member of the committee constituted under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru which prepared an exhaustive scheme which was published in August 1928 and came to be known as the Nehru Report. The Report was however strongly opposed by the Central Sikh League, because, as Baba Kharak Singh said in his presidential address given extempore at the annual session of the Sikh League at Gujranwala on 22 October 1928, it had sinned against the self-respect and dignity of India by limiting the national objective to Dominion Status instead of demanding purna (purna = complete) svaraj, complete autonomy.
The second point of criticism was that the, Nehru Report had laid the foundation of communalism by accepting separate electorates. The League advocated a system of joint electorate with plural constituencies adding that, if community wise representation became inevitable, the Sikhs should have at least 30 per cent of the seats in the Punjab legislature and the same proportion of the representation from the Punjab to the Central legislature.
The temper against the Nehru Report was so high that in the annual meeting of the Central Sikh League in October 1929, Baba Kharak Singh even proposed boycotting the forthcoming Congress session to be held in Lahore. But Master Tara Singh, the then president of the Central Sikh League, was not in favour of this.
In the meantime, Mahatma Gandhi and other Congress leaders also urged the League not to dissociate itself from the Congress session. The problem was resolved when the Congress working committee at Lahore decided to drop the Nehru Report. The Congress also adopted a motion assuring Sikhs and Muslims that no constitutional solution which did not satisfy them would be acceptable to it.
The Central Sikh League took part in the Civil Disobedience movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on 6 March 1930. Master Tara Singh, while leading a batch of Akali volunteers to help the Pathan satyagrahis at Peshawar, was taken into custody. The League like the Congress also boycotted the first Round Table Conference convened in London with the object of obtaining the views of Indians on the future constitutional reforms but, after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact signed on 5 March 1931, it agreed to participate in the second Round Table Conference.
It also presented a memorandum listing 17 demands of the Sikhs to Mahatma Gandhi who was to represent the Congress at the Conference. These included the setting up of a national government in India, one-third share for the Sikhs in the Punjab cabinet and public service commission, joint electorates without reservation of seats and transfer of Muslim areas to the Frontier Province to bring about communal balance in the Punjab, five per cent share for the Sikhs in the Indian upper and lower houses, inclusion of at least one Sikh in the Central cabinet, and adoption of Punjabi as the official language of the province.
In the scheme announced by the British government on 16 August 1932 which came to be known as the Communal Award, Sikhs were given only 18.85 per cent representation in the Punjab legislature. The Sikh League lodged a strong protest. What especially irked it was the statutory majority assured the Muslims in the Punjab by giving them 50.42 per cent seats. Anticipating the pronouncement, the Central Sikh League called a representative conclave of the Sikhs on 24 July 1932 at the samadh of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore at which a 16-member council of action was formed to oppose the British proposals.
This council of action set up a new organization, the Khalsa Darbar, representing all sections of Sikh opinion, to lead the agitation against the Award. On 16 October 1933, a joint session of the Central Sikh League and the Khalsa Darbar was held whereafter the former ceased to be a separate organization. With this ended the short, but lively and chequered, career of the Central Sikh League.