|Master Tara Singh|
Master Tara Singh dominant figure on the Sikh political scene for the middle-third of the twentieth century, was born as one of four brothers and a sister in a Hindu family in a small village called Maryal, in Rawalpindi district, now in Pakistan, on 24 June 1885, and was named Nanak Chand. His father, Bakhshi Gopi Chand, was a Patvari or a subordinate revenue official and later a moneylender, belonging to the Malhotra sub-caste of the Kshatriyas, or Khatris as they are known in the Punjab. Nanak Chand's interest in Sikhism was stimulated while he was still in the primary school by the accounts he had heard of the sacrifices and heroism of the Sikhs at evening meetings organized by his Sikh uncle. For his high school education, he moved to Rawalpindi and there, living among Sikhs, his interest in Sikhism developed further. In 1902 while still a student in the ninth grade, he along with an elder brother and a cousin converted to Sikhism and was named Tara Singh. He received the rites of initiation at the hands of Sant Atar Singh, much honoured in Sikh piety. At school, as later at college, Tara Singh made his mark both in the classroom and on the playfield. After passing high school in 1903, he tried but could not secure admission to medical school because of his short stature. However, he received a scholarship and went to Amritsar to study at the Khalsa College. It was here that he developed interest in politics. This was owing to certain contemporary happenings-the partition of Bengal in 1905, the agitation by Sikh peasantry in Lyallpur in 1907 and the local resistance to government attempts at greater control over the Khalsa College. In this Last, Tara Singh was the president of the students agitation committee, selected primarily because of his talent on the playfield.
By the time he graduated from college in 1907, Tara Singh had decided to devote
his life to the service of the panth. He joined a teachers' training college at
Lahore and, on graduation, like two other colleagues, he offered his services for
a nominal salary of Rs. 15 a month if the community would establish a Khalsa high
school in Lyallpur. This was a small sum with which to support himself and, already
married, his wife. Tara Singh's offer was accepted and at 23, without any teaching
experience, he became the school's headmaster, and thus acquired thereafter the
honorific "Master". He continued in this position for six years until 1914 when he
prepared to leave for England to serve as a granthi (priest), but the outbreak of
World War I prevented his departure. He taught for another six years at other
schools, but finally in 1920 retuned to Lyallpur. In between, he tried his hand
at business, but. did not succeed.
Tara Singh was now an important political figure, but his rise to the front ranks among Sikh leaders came during the controversy over the Nehru Committee Report, of 1928, embodying a Congress-sponsored constitution for India. During the Gurdwara Reform movement a working alliance had come into existence between the Congress Party and the Akalis. Because of its anti-government nature, the movement was considered part and parcel of the nationalist endeavour. As a result, many Akali leaders simultaneously held important positions in the Congress organization as well. However, these leaders were intensely divided in their attitudes towards die Nehru Committee Report. Tara Singh took up a position which combined opposition to the report with continued support for the Congress Party. In this fashion, he was able to outflank the group led by Mangal Singh that supported the Report and equally the group led by Kharak Singh that had turned completely hostile towards the Congress Party. In the process, Tara Singh acquired a distinctive political role, and emerged as a leader ready to fight for Sikh demands without alienating the nationalist organization. Later, in 1930, when the Congress Party launched the civil disobedience movement, Kharak Singh opposed it, but Tara Singh went to jail in its cause. While in jail, he was elected president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and from that point on until 1962, except for short periods, he retained control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and equally of the Shiromani Akail Dal either directly or through a trusted nominee. The Akah Dal under Tara Singh's leadership remained the most vociferous and militant group in behalf of Sikh demands.
During the 1930's, Tara Singh led several agitations first against die British government and then against the government of the Unionist Party in the Punjab. Those against the British government centred around the management of Gurdwaras, the possession of the Shahidganj Gurdwara, and appropriate legislative representation for the Sikhs. The Akali agitation became especially acute at the time of the 1932 Communal Award which gave the Sikhs 19 per cent of the legislative seats and conceded, in effect, a statutory majority to the Muslims in the Punjab legislature. The agitations against the Unionist government were based on the assumption that, despite its secular protestations, the party was essentially a front for Muslim communal domination. As the demand for Pakistan gained popularity, Sikhs trusted Tara Singh to secure them immunity against the Muslim ambition of communal domination. The Akali Dal under his leadership put forth in 1943 the Azad Punjab (Free Punjab) scheme. This scheme essentially involved the reorganization of the Punjab's boundaries in order to give the Sikh community "the balance of power" by excluding Muslim-majority districts. As some Congress leaders seemed to have become resigned to the partition of India as a way of removing the Muslim barrier to independence, the Akali Dal was deeply perturbed and launched a vociferous condemnation of the Congress Party, widening further the breach between the two parties. Tara Singh and the Akali Dal now moved to demand an independent Sikh State : their position was that they were opposed to partition of India because it would split the Sikh community, but if there was going to be a partition then there should be an independent Sikh State. This was the stand taken by Tara Singh at the Simla Conference in 1945, and before the Cabinet Mission in 1946.
The Cabinet Mission's proposals were especially disturbing to the Akali Dal, for
though no partition was envisaged the Sikhs were being placed under a Muslim
majority. At a large meeting in Amritsar in June 1946, Tara Singh asked the
panth "to prepare to die in the struggle ahead."Subsequently, on Congress
Party's appeal, the Akali Dal accepted the Cabinet Mission's proposals and
Baldev Singh became the Akali representative in the Interim government headed
by Jawaharlal Nehru. Sikh hopes of concessions from the Muslim League proved
illusory, and these were soon shattered as Muslim-Sikh riots erupted. Tara
Singh raised protest in Lahore on 3 March 1947 and shouted "Death to
Pakistan." Severe communal disturbances followed, with the Sikhs a
special target of Muslim rioters. In an environment of impending
civil war, the Akali Dal agreed to the Mountbatten plan for
partition of India.
Eventually, the government conceded Punjabi Suba in 1966. The Punjabi Suba
demand had become synonymous with Master Tara Singh. When he died on 22 November
1967 he had had the satisfaction that his long-cherished dream had materialized,
making the Sikhs the dominant political force in the state. With a large following
in the Sikh panth, Tara Singh was the pre-eminent and most durable political leader
of the Sikhs. He was as well a journalist and newspaper editor as also a writer of
fiction and tracts. All these activities were, however, intimately lied with and
subordinate to his politics. His leadership in the Sikh community was importantly
and deeply involved in the key political concerns of the Sikhs and of the Punjab.
Underneath his politics lay a stern and resolute philosophical position.