Tara Singh Malhotra - Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Affair

Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Affair

Shahidganj was a monument in the memory of those Sikh men, women and children who had laid down their lives in the defence of their religion in the first half of the eighteenth century. The 'Gurdwara Act' had also notified this as a Gurdwara and gave it for management to the local Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee of Lahore. In March 1935, this committee decided to repair the Gurdwara which was in a dilapidated condition. In the Gurdwara premises there were ruins of a small building, which the Muslims claimed was a mosque. The Gurdwara committee decided to raze it in the course of which a Sikh mason fell down from the roof and died. The Muslims regarded this accident as a punishment of God on a kafir that was razing a mosque. Some zealous Muslims began an agitation against the Sikhs, demanding that the demolition of the mosque should be stopped.

According to the Muslims, Shaheed Ganj Mosque was built by Abdullah Khan during the rule of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Later Sikhs seized the mosque during their rule over the Punjab and built a gurdwara in its compound and used the mosque for the residence of the Sikh priest.

Later on they raised their demand to the restoration of the place to the Muslims. The Unionist Government tried all the means to handover the place to the Muslims, but Master Tara Singh refused to submit the possession of the Gurdwara to the Muslims, while Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia favoured a compromise even if the Sikhs had to part with something. Sir Sikander called the leaders of the various communities at a 'Unity Conference' in July 1937. Master Tara Singh opposed the move as he had lost faith in the good intentions of Sir Sikander. In his letter of 10 September 1937 to him Master Tara Singh explained this decision that he and his colleagues believed that Sikander's efforts were to strengthen the Muslim position and to build a Muslim rule in Punjab.

Earlier, Sir Sikandar had tried to allure Master Tara Singh into a compromise by offering to withdraw a criminal case registered against him. It was also assured that Sir Sunder Singh's party would not contest Gurdwara elections against them. In the meantime the Lahore High Court and the Privy Council delivered their judgment in favour of the Sikhs. It was during these days that a prominent Muslim leader Maulana Shaukat Ali wrote a letter to Master Tara Singh with a view to opening ‘negotiations with the Sikh Leaders regarding the Shahidganj question.’

Maulana Shaukat Ali met Master Tara Singh accordingly on 3 October, at Shahid Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar, but, nothing concrete came out of the meeting as Master Tara Singh had already cleared his stand on the issue. In the meantime Muslim leaders and ulemas had called for enlisting one million volunteers in order to strengthen their agitation, which further complicated the situation leading to crimes against the Sikhs. On 4 November 1935 Master Tara Singh gave a final reply in the question of compromise or talks. He said,

“Under the circumstances, it is cowardly to have any talks with the Muslims, I therefore wish to declare that I, at least shall not participate in any such talk. No Sikh leader, no Sikh organisation and not even all the Sikh organisations combined have the power to agree to this demand owing to Muslim threats and bullying. The Sikhs consider it an insult to the Panth and the Martyrs to yield even an inch”.

The legal and moral position of the Muslims in respect of the issue was extremely weak, so the Unionist government could not do much to help them. But in spite of all this, they urged their claim upon this building by force and unlawful means. When their activities defied the law and the authority of the executive government, they had to be suppressed with the help of armed troops. Sir Sikander although tried to take a sober view of the whole thing, but most of Unionist M.L.A.’s inside the legislative assembly supported the Muslim sentiments.

The British blamed Master Tara Singh for not coming to a compromise over the Shahidganj affair between the Sikhs and Muslims. Master Tara Singh, it alleged was, not in the least interested in any sort of compromise. According to reports, "at present a settlement depended more on him than on anything else". They considered that as the Gurdwara elections were imminent, therefore Master Tara Singh and his friends were afraid of giving a platform to their opponents. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and the launching of Pakistan Plan in March 1940 by the Muslim League altered the situation in the Punjab and the attention of both the parties was diverted from this issue.

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