| Opinion | Malaysia | 31 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Phrabhakaran Nair
Sardar Budh Singh, popularly known as “Gandhi of Malaya” came to Malaya in the early 1920s and started work in the FMS Railway Finance Department as a clerk. He was an ardent trade unionist, fighting for justice on behalf of the workers, mostly Indians. He was a socialist by nature, but more importantly, an Indian nationalist who was always dressed in woven kadar clothes all white from turban to shirt, trousers and coat.
During the Second World War, Budh Singh greatly assisted Giani Pritam Singh (co-founder of the Indian Independence League in Bangkok) in establishing branches of the Indian Independence League (IIL) in Malaya. On 16 January 1942, Budh Singh was appointed Vice-President of the IIL branch in KL with Dr. M. K. Lukshumeyah as the President. He played a major role in supplying food and clothing to the INA soldiers stationed at Batu Road and Ipoh Road camps, KL. After the Second World War, Budh Singh was invited by Nehru to visit India as his personal guest.
He was one of the founder members of MIC, and to be exact, on 4 August 1947 succeeded John Thivy as the 2nd MIC President (1947-1950). His term of office as President ended on 29 April 1950.
Budh Singh played a very active part in the Gurdhwara Central Workshops which is now known as the Sikh Temple (Gurdhwara) in Sentul. He was its President from 1938-1945. He established a school in Sentul for the promotion of English and Punjabi languages. The school project which he started in the 1930s was only completed in 1953.
During his presidency, anti-British sentiment among the Malays was intense, due to the establishment of the Malayan Union on 1 April 1946 which sought to provide:citizenship with equal rights, regardless of race; and citizenship based on jus soli principle for all Malayans.
Under Budh Singh, the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) did not support the Malayan Union, despite the fact that several prominent Indians were nominated by the British to represent the community at important meetings. Its leadership was ambivalent about the citizenship issue because, just like MIC founder John Thivy, they were riding on the euphoria of the new found freedom for India, and were more interested to retain their Indian citizenship. As a consequence, the Indian leaders could not take a united stand on the Malayan citizenship issue.
The Malayan Union was finally abolished and replaced by the Federation of Malaya on 31 January 1948, which recognized the position of the Malays as the definitive citizens of Malaya, as well as outlining stricter conditions on the granting of citizenship. The consequence of this is that tens of thousands of Indians were refused Malayan citizenship, including those who had resided in Malaya for decades, after migrating from India, and those who were born in Malaya. As a consequence, thousands of wealthy Indians decided to leave Malaya.
Budh Singh later led the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) to join the All Malaya Council for Joint Action (AMCJA) that was initiated by Tun Tan Cheng Lock of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to oppose the less liberal Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948.
His sympathy for the laboring class and trade union activities placed him in a dangerous position. Under Emergency Laws some of the labour leaders were seen as communist sympathizers. Some of them were arrested and detained, while others escaped arrest and fled into the jungles. The MIC nominees were expelled in 1948. Under the circumstances, the pressure was great for Budh Singh.
In these circumstances, he took early retirement in 1951, and returned to his village Vathajpur near Sathiala where he became involved in social work. He built the National College Satheala which he placed under the charge of the government. Budh Singh died in India in November 1958, leaving behind a son and a daughter. His daughter-in-law, Amarjit Kaur, is said to be living in Vancouver, Canada.
For a man whose main interest was education, it was most apt that a monument to his name was unveiled by the Education Minister, Balbir Singh Ji Randhawa in 1993.
Phrabhakaran Nair is a Research Officer at the Dewan Negara (Senate). He prepared this article as MIC prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its establishment.
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