Tara Singh Malhotra - Communal Award and The Sikhs

Communal Award and The Sikhs

In June 1930, The Simon Commission submitted its report. It favoured the separate electorate and reservation of seats and recommended only 19 percent representation to the Sikhs in Punjab. The dispatch was strongly criticised by the Shiromani Akali Dal. As the Congress and the Sikh rejected the Simon report, the Viceroy called the Round Table Conferences from 1930 to 1932 to decide the future of India with the involvement of Indians. The first Round table Conference was boycotted by both the Congress and the Sikhs. After the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of 5 March 1931 Gandhi went to attend the second Round Table Conference on behalf of the Congress. Before going to London he met leaders of all communities, princes and leaders of important organisations. A Sikh deputation under the leadership of Master Tara Singh placed the Sikh point of view before him and stressed that the Sikhs being an important minority, required adequate safeguards in any future constitution. Important among them were the re-demarcation of Punjab territories by transferring overwhelming Muslim majority areas to the North West Frontier, joint electorate without reservation of seats and one third share for the Sikhs in the Punjab Cabinet and the Public Service Commission.

In the absence of any acceptable solution for the communal problem, the British Government on 16 August 1932, gave its own verdict in the form of Communal Award. The Award made the position of Muslims in Punjab and Bengal strong. According to the Award the system of separate electorate was retained and the Award represented the three communities in Punjab as such that the Muslims got the statutory majority of seven seats in Punjab while the Hindus and the Sikhs gained nothing. The Sikhs were very agitated over the issue, there was a lot of anger against the Loyalist Sikhs, but on this issue even the loyalists gave strong statements in the press, which further encouraged the Sikhs.

Previously, on 24 July 1932, a Sikh conference representing the Akali Dal and the Central Sikh League was called at Lahore, which rejected the proportion of seats allocated to the Sikh as unacceptable. It voiced its grim determination not to allow the successful working of any constitution, which does not provide full protection to the Sikhs by guaranteeing an effective balance of power to each of the three principal communities in the Punjab. The Conference then set up Council of Action to take further steps in the matter. After the announcement of the Award, the Council in its meeting held at Lahore, on 20 August 1932 decided to create a forum called the Khalsa Darbar, with the exclusive task of pioneering agitation against the Communal Award. A storm of agitation took place in the Sikh circles and Master Tara Singh was pivotal in all these. He was interned in his house at Shahadra and was not allowed to enter the municipal limits of Lahore, but he continued to guide the community while remaining behind the scene.

The Sikh representatives joined the All India Anti-Communal Award League formed by Hindus. To find out an alternative to the Communal Award a Unity Conference was held at Allahabad on 3 November 1932. At the conference the Sikhs agreed to accept the statutory majority of Muslims in Punjab with joint electorate. In return the Sikh wanted safe guards like a seat in the cabinet of the province and 4.5 percent seats in central legislature. When almost all the parties had agreed to accept the decision of the Unity Conference, Sir Samuel Hoare, the Secretary of State for India, declared that 33.5 percentage seats would be given to the Muslims in the central legislature and the separation of Sindh was acceptable in principle. With this announcement the Muslims withdrew from the Unity Conference, which then ended in failure.

The Khalsa Darbar viewed with suspicion the efforts going on for a settlement on the issue of the Communal Award between Jogendra Singh and the Unionist leader Sir Fazl-i-Husain, and made it clear that the Sikhs would accept no such settlement unless endorsed by the Darbar. Master Tara Singh had realised that under the system of separate communal representation his community would never be safe. But as far as the Sikh demand of thirty percent reservation was concerned both the government of India and the home government in England were convinced that the Sikh demand of thirty percent representation could not be acceded. The government of India was not in favour of any increase in Sikh representation because it would create suspicion among the Muslims. Sikander Hyatt Khan, a prominent Muslim Leader of Punjab once told Lord Willington that, "The Sikh objective is not to obtain the few extra seats for themselves but to deprive the Muslims of their majority".

The Third Round Table Conference was held in London on 22 December 1932, the Sikhs again decided to boycott it.

The Shiromani Akali Dal wanted the Congress to oppose the Communal Award. The Congress on its part claimed to represent all the communities, so it neither accepted nor rejected the Communal Award because of the difference of opinion among its members. As the stalemate continued, the Congress neutrality went in favour of the Award and the British government went ahead in the formation of the new act on its basis, called the Government of India Act of 1935.

Master Tara Singh had realised that the Akali Dal had to struggle against the Award on its own strength, but Sikh opposition to the Communal Award could not be as strong and united as it should have been. In the beginning the loyalist group expressed strong opposition to the Award and subsequently sent an invitation to the Akalis to come to Simla for a compromise with the Muslims on this issue. On reaching Simla, the Akalis realised that the loyalist group was not as firm in the opposition to the Award as it had shown earlier. On the other hand Muslim leaders approached the government with the wrong information that the Sikhs have accepted the Communal Award that was duly published in the foreign press.

Giani Sher Singh along with two hundred supporters held a separate meeting and formed the 'Khalsa Central Council'. Giani Sher Singh joined Baba Kharak Singh and at a well attended meeting leaders of both the parties agreed to form the Central Akali Dal, with Baba Kharak Singh as its president, Jaswant Singh Jhabal and Amar Singh as co- vice-presidents and Ranjodh Singh Tarsika as general secretary. After their walkout, the Khalsa Darbar held a joint meeting of the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Central Sikh League at which Master Tara Singh was elected president for the forthcoming conference. In reaction to the activities of the other parties, Master Tara Singh, in order to avoid confusing the common people, decided to merge the Central Sikh League with the Khalsa Darbar. Thus the Central Sikh League, a once important political organisation of the Sikhs, ceased to exist and henceforth became a part of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

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