The Sikh State: Reasons for Its Failure

Hardev Singh Virk looks at how dream of SIKH STATE was shattered by follies of Sikh leaders during the Partition of Punjab in 1947

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Prof Kirpal Singh (Insert: Cover of The Partition of the Punjab – 1947
By Hardev Singh Virk | OPINION |

Introduction: The Sikhs were sovereign power and rulers of Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh for half a century (1799-1849). Punjab was the last province to be merged in British India. After the merger, the Sikhs served the British empire as the loyal citizens fighting against the Indian mutineers in 1857. The British won the World Wars on the basis of sacrifices made by the Sikh soldiers. However, they failed miserably to get an independent homeland, call it “Sikhistan or more popularly, Khalistan” because of the follies of their leaders. Many Scholars have studied the Partition of Punjab on the eve of British departure from the Indian sub-continent during 1947 and this process continues as there are some gaps to be investigated in view of Partition Documents released after 50 years of Indian independence.

Akhtar Hussain Sandhu [1] concludes in his paper “Sikh Failure on the Partition of Punjab in 1947“: “The All-India Muslim League achieved Pakistan, the Indian National Congress secured India but the Shiromani Akali Dal got nothing on the eve of the British departure in 1947 although the Sikh community had collaborated closely with the colonial power. The demand of the Sikh community for a separate Sikh state and accession of more territories to this state came to naught as a consequence of partition of Indian subcontinent. The decision of joining India by the Akali leadership enslaved this community to a mammoth majority in which they were only one per cent.”

Asia Samachar has published my articles, “Failure of Sikhs to gain an Independent State during Partition of India“,  “The Sikhs and the Partition of Punjab – Conclusions from Crowe’s MA History Thesis” and “Root Cause of the Sikh Problem: The Partition of India (1947)” during the fag end of the last year. This article is the last one in the four articles series on Punjab Partition in 1947 and the Sikh failure.

To view all previous articles by Prof Hardev Singh Virk, click here

I am a Nuclear and Radiation Physicist by training but Sikh History attracted me in School & College days. The spark was ignited by the ballad singers (Dhadis) in Punjab and my earliest motivation came from Dhadi Sohan Singh Seetal.

The present article is based on the investigations of Dr Kirpal Singh, a well known Sikh Historian, who published his Ph.D. thesis under the title “The Partition of the Punjab”. His views on Partition of Punjab are summarized as under:

  1. The Idea of a Sikh State: The Shiromani Akali Dal put forth the demand of a Sikh State along with the Muslim demand for a sovereign Muslim State. It was based on the argument that “the Panth demands the splitting up of the existing province of the Punjab with its unnatural boundaries so as to constitute a separate autonomous Sikh State in these areas of the central, north-eastern and south-eastern Punjab in which the over-whelming part of the Sikh population is concentrated and which because of the proprietors in it being mostly Sikhs and its general character being distinctly Sikh, is the de facto Sikh Homeland.” The proposed Sikh State was to consist of the territories of “Central Punjab with Divisions of Lahore, Jullundur, parts of Ambala and Multan Divisions with the area comprised of Sikh States and Maler Kotla with certain hills in the North and North-East” [1].
  2. The Idea of Azad Punjab: In order to make their position clear, the Shiromani Akali Dal put forward the Azad Punjab Scheme [2]. According to this scheme a new Punjab was to be carved out after separating the overwhelming Muslim majority areas. It was argued that it was to be an ideal province with about an equal proportion of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In the event of partition of the country it was to remain in the Indian Union. Master Tara Singh explained the basis of this province in his letter to Sir Stafford Cripps [3].
  3. Low Representation to Sikhs in Punjab: The Constituent Assembly proposed to be set up for Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan (Provinces in Section B), the Muslim representatives were 22, Hindus 9 and the Sikhs 4. The Sikhs protested against this compulsory grouping and in a letter, dated May 25, 1946, to the Secretary of State, Master Tara Singh, the Akali Leader wrote, that “a wave of dejection, resentment and indignation has run through the Sikh community. The Sikhs have been thrown at the mercy of the Muslims”[4]. S. Baldev Singh, the Defence Member of the Interim Government, wrote to the Prime Minister of Britain, seeking his intervention to remedy the wrong done to the Sikh community [5].
  4. Proposal for a New Sikh Province: In a memorandum submitted to the Cabinet Mission, the Shiromani Akali Dal stated, “As an alternative to the existing province of the Punjab, a new province may be carved out as an additional provincial unit in the united India of the future in such a way that all the important Sikh shrines (Gurdwaras) be included in it as also a substantial majority of the Sikh population of the existing province of the Punjab” [6].
  5. Congress accepted the Partition of Punjab: But the division of Punjab could only be conceded after the Congress had reconciled itself to the creation of Pakistan. By this lime, Mountbatten, the new Governor-General had discussed his tentative plan with the Congress leaders and Mr. Jinnah. The Congress high command, barring Maulana Azad, had tentatively accepted the partition of India. This laid the foundation of the Partition Plan, which was basically a Partition of Punjab, Bengal and Assam.
  6. The Sikh Leaders accepted the Partition of Punjab: The Sikh leaders jointly with the Hindus as well as separately insisted upon the division of the Punjab and the Shiromani Akali Dal asserted that partition of the Punjab was “the only remedy to end communal strife”[7]. Master Tara Singh, Sardar Baldev Singh and Giani Kartar Singh expressed similar views during their interviews with the Viceroy on the April 18, 1947 [8].
  7. Jinnah offered a Sikh State within Pakistan: Consequently, meetings between Mr. Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and the Maharaja of Patiala and Sardar Baldev Singh, the Defence Member of the Interim Government, were arranged. Since the Sikhs had already put forth the demand of a Sikh State, the talks naturally centered on that issue. Mr. Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan agreed to the formation of the Sikh State with its separate military establishment within Pakistan, provided the Sikhs did not insist on the partition of the Punjab and agreed to join Pakistan [9]. The Sikh leaders demanded the right of opting out of Pakistan for the Sikh State to which the Muslim League leaders did not agree [10].
  8. Sikh Leaders failed to bargain with Congress: Master Tara Singh told the writer that if Mr Jinnah had agreed they would have negotiated with the Congress for better terms. It is difficult to visualize what better terms the Congress could have offered short of creating of an independent Sikh State in the portion of Punjab which fell to India’s share. But Master Tara Singh and Sardar Baldev Singh or Maharaja of Patiala did not contact Congress after Mr. Jinnah’s refusal to concede their demand.
  9. Failure of Penderel Moon Mission: Mr. Jinnah wanted the Sikhs to join Pakistan and gave assurances of good treatment towards them. The Sikh leaders insisted on some constitutional rights when they met Jinnah in 1946 and 1947 which obviously Jinnah would not concede. The later failure of the Moon mission was from the very beginning foreseen. Mr. Jinnah’s Islamic State had no place for zealous and aggressive non-Muslims.
  10. Sikh Leaders were Confused: The Working Committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal and thePanthic Pratinidhi Board jointly passed a resolution on June 14, 1947, emphasizing that, “in the absence of the provision of transfer of population and property, the very purpose of partition would be defeated”[11]. Giani Kartar Singh, President of Shiromani Akali Dal, said on July 16, 1947, “The Sikhs will not rest contented till the boundary line is demarcated in such a way that it leaves at least 85 per cent Sikhs in India and both the States of Pakistan and India are committed to facilitate the transfer of the remaining 15 per cent from Pakistan to India [12].
  11. Baldev Singh committed a Blunder: S. Baldev Singh accepted the 3rd June Plan with partition of the Punjab on the basis of contiguous majority areas. Subsequently he said in a statement, “If the verdict of the Boundary Commission went against the Sikhs, they should be prepared to make all sacrifices to vindicate the honour of the Panth”[13].

He did not foresee that actual boundary line could not be much different from the notional division included in the 3rd June Plan. The issue of the Sikh shrines, the question of transfer of Sikh population and the exchange of the property for which the Sikh leaders struggled subsequently should have been pressed before agreeing to the 3rd June Plan. But the Sikh leader thought that  for his consenting to the plan which affected the Sikhs adversely, the British Government would assert its influence to give them concessions.

  1. Partition was an ill-conceived Plan: According to Lord Ismay, the Mountbatten Plan was a case of “Hobson’s choice’’[14]. No one in India thought that it was perfect. Lord Mountbatten himself admitted this in a radio broadcast on the day of its announcement. He said : “The whole plan may not be perfect, but like all plans, its success will depend on the spirit of goodwill with which it is carried out [15]. The boundary between India and Pakistan, known as Radcliffe Line, was marked on 17th August, 1947, two days after the Partition.
  2. Sikhs were recognized as Equal Partners with Hindus & Muslims: Though these (Hindus and Muslims) were the major contenders for receiving power when it was likely to be transferred, yet the Sikhs had been recognized as the third important community for the transference of power, as it was stated in the Cabinet Mission proposals: “It is sufficient to recognise only three main communities in India, General, Muslims and Sikhs, the General Community including all persons who are not Muslims or Sikhs” [16].
  3. Sikhs Failed to get Sikhistan: “You ask if I found the Sikhs liked that plan and if not, what did I do about it. My impressions on getting to Delhi on the 22nd July, 1947, were these: the Sikhs did not like the plan; they had only agreed to it to meet us more than half-way and to make it easier for us to go out of our way to meet their wish for some sort of Sikhistan [17]. I reported accordingly to our authority in Delhi. They felt as I did, too, that they could not now alter course; but in so far as they could trim a trifle to meet the Sikhs, they would. And so it was left”.
  4. Sikhs were losers on all Fronts: The Partition of Punjab was based on the census figures of 1941, with Muslim majority of 54 %, Hindus constituting 30% and Sikhs just 13%. Tehsil was considered as the basic unit for allocation of territory. The Sikhs had majority population in two tehsils of Tarn Tarn and Jagraon only. Hence, they were losers on population basis in Punjab vis a vis Muslims and Hindus.

According to 1941 census figures, Gurdaspur district was a Muslim majority area by a small margin of 50.4%. Both Batala and Gurdaspur tehsils were clearly Muslim majority areas. The same was true for Fazilka, Zira and Ferozepur Tehsils. Muslim members of Boundary Commission     (Justice Munir Ahmad & Justice Din Mohammad) were dead sure of their inclusion in Pakistan. In private conversation, Tarlochan Singh (Ex-MP) explained to me that Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh prevailed upon Lord Mountbatten to cancel this allocation and make transfer in favour of India at the last moment. However, there is no written record to establish this story.

  1. Lord Mountbatten blamed the Sikhs for their Folly [18]: “It must point out that the people who asked for the partition were the Sikhs. The Congress took up their request and framed the resolution in the form they wanted. They wanted the Punjab to be divided in two predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim areas. I have done exactly what the Sikhs requested me to do through the Congress. The request came to me as a tremendous shock as I like the Sikhs, I am fond of them and I wish them well. I started thinking out a formula to help them but I am not a magician. It is up to the Sikhs who are represented on the Committee to take up the case. It is not I who is responsible for asking for partition”.

 

REFERENCES

1.Akhtar Hussain Sandhu, International Journal of Punjab Studies  September 2012, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273602638.

  1. Justice Harnam Singh, The Idea of Sikh State, page 27 & 46.
  2. Congress te Sikh (Punjabi), by Master Tara Singh (1945), pages 3-4.
  3. Swagati Address Azad Punjab Conference, Amritsar (Punjabi), 28th February, 1944.
  4. Papers relating to the Cabinet Mission Plan in India, p. 61
  5. V.P. Menon, Transfer of Power in India, Calcutta, 1957, p. 291
  6. Memorandum submitted to Cabinet Mission, Sikh History Records (S.H.R.) Folio No. 1815, Khalsa College, Amritsar

8 . Indian Annual Register 1941, Vol. I, Calcutta, p. 244

  1. Ibid
  2. “Mr. Jinnah’s offer of Sikh State,’’ Maharaja Patiala’s article. The Tribune Ambala, July, 19, 1959. This would have left the Hindus of the Punjab in Pakistan either of its Punjab part or in the newly created Sikh Province of Pakistan.
  3. Statement of Master Tara Singh, The Tribune, Ambala, July 23, 1959
  4. Punjab Partition (PP), Vol. I, pp. 6-7
  5. C. &. M. Gazette, June 15, 1947
  6. The Hindu, Madras, July 16, 1947
  7. C. & M. Gazette, July 10, 1947
  8. Lord Ismay, Memoirs of Lord Ismay, London, 1961, p. 420
  9. Para 18, Cabinet Mission Plan, S.D.I C, Vol. II, p. 581
  10. S.H.R, Folio No. 3755, Khalsa College, Amritsar. It is based on author’s interview with Major J.M. Short in UK.
  11. Justice Din Mohammad, 5 August 1947, in: Kirpal Singh, Select Documents on the Partition of the Punjab, p. 377.

 

Scholar and scientist Hardev Singh Virk retired from Amritsar-based Guru Nanak Dev University in 2002 after serving as Founder Head Physics Department and Dean Academics. Ex-Professor of Eminence, Punjabi University, Patiala. He is the present Professor of Eminence, SGGS World University, Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab), India (E-mail: hardevsingh.virk@gmail.com)

 

RELATED STORY:

Failure of Sikhs to gain an Independent State during Partition of India (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2020)

Betrayal of the Sikh Community (Asia Samachar, 11 May 2019)

 

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