Master Tara Singh, The Unionists and The Congress
Through the Act of 1935, which included the Communal Award, provincial autonomy was introduced in Punjab. Sikhs were upset over the prospects of their continued existence after the introduction of the provincial autonomy in the Punjab. It was a period when Master Tara Singh as leader of the Sikhs adopted various strategies to keep the Sikh interests safe while dealing with the Unionists and the Congress party. Till now, he had always emphasised the necessity to maintain cordial relations with the Congress; be it the question of Nehru Report or the participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement or the participation in the Round Table Conferences. The Congress stand on the Communal Award and some other questions relating to Sikhs vis-à-vis Muslims forced Master Tara Singh to adopt an independent course for the Shiromani Akali Dal to safeguard Sikh interests. Meanwhile, the Unionist Party had emerged as an important factor in Punjab politics. The leaders of the Unionist party always claimed that their party was non-communal in character and program. They projected themselves as the protagonists of the interests of the peasantry. But, nevertheless they always opposed the Sikh demands.
The Government of India Act of 1935 contemplated a federation of British Indian provinces and the Indian states. The provincial governments were to be autonomous for the administration of subjects listed in the provincial section of the Act. The Sikhs who had already rejected the Communal Award did not approve of the new constitution based on this award and the provision of provincial autonomy. Although the governors of the provinces were entrusted with the special responsibility of protecting the minorities, but the Sikhs wanted independent constitutional rights to safeguard their political and cultural existence. The Government of India Act allowed the Sikhs only 33 from the 175 seats in the Punjab legislative assembly, 3 out of 50 seats in the North West Frontier Province, 6 out of 250 seats in the Federal legislative assembly and in case one existed 4 out of 150 seats in the council of state. The Sikhs felt themselves reduced to a position of political insignificance by these provisions.
The first elections under the Act were held in 1937. Despite reservations Shiromani Akali Dal decided to contest the elections. The efforts for compromise between the Chief Khalsa Diwan and the Central Akali Dal could not materialise and a faction of Central Akali Dal under Giani Sher Singh and the loyalists group among the Sikhs organised themselves under the banner of new party called the Khalsa National Party. Even the Maharaja of Patiala and the British were supporting it. Master Tara Singh refused to enter into any compromise with this party because he was not willing to co-operate with the loyalists of the Chief Khalsa Diwan. He feared this might throw this nationalist part into the company of a pro-government party. Master Tara Singh tried to sort out the differences with Giani Sher Singh but the later refused to leave the company of Sundar Singh Majithia and Sir Joginder Singh. There were two other main contestants in the fray for the elections: the Unionist Party and the Congress Party.
Master Tara Singh was opposed to any Sikh candidate contesting on the Congress ticket. He felt that Congress could not be trusted if it hesitated in joining the Sikhs in matters where the Sikh interests clashed with the Muslims or the injustice was done to the Sikhs. In a meeting of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Khalsa Durbar held at Amritsar in June 1936, under the presidentship of Mangal Singh, it was decided to set up a joint parliamentary board for the choice of candidates for the forthcoming elections. A nineteen-point election manifesto was drawn up. The manifesto said that the party will fight for complete independence and co-operate with those political parties whose program and ideals were similar to those of its own. It reinforced its strong opposition to the ‘Communal Award’. The Shiromani Akali Dal’s opposition to the Congress came into the open. There was a split among the Akali ranks over the question of co-operation with the Congress. As Master Tara Singh was opposed to the co-operation, Mangal Singh, the president of the Khalsa Durbar resigned from the board as he felt that the board should not oppose Congress candidates.
In October 1936, Congressite Sikhs resolved to form a compromise board to confer with other progressive Sikh parties and make adjustments on Sikh seats. However, before reaching any agreement with the Congress, Master Tara Singh wanted the Congress to declare its attitude towards the Communal Award. Jawahar Lal Nehru in his reply to Master Tara Singh expressed sympathy with the Sikh attitude towards the Communal Award. In view of the imminent Muslim domination in the province by the provisions of the new act, the Akali circles were anxious to secure the support of the Congress to strengthen their position in the province. Moreover the Akali program was identical with the Congress policy that is to wreck the constitution and to work for the complete independence. The pressure from the pro-Congress section of the Akalis, as well as the immediate need of the hour forced Master Tara Singh to reach on agreement on the distribution of seats. The prime initiators of the move were Giani Kartar Singh, Partap Singh Kairon, Gurmukh Singh Mussafir and Ishar Singh Majhail.
The February 1937 elections of the Punjab assembly resulted in a clear-cut majority for the Unionist Party. In these elections the Unionists won 88, Congress 15, Khalsa National Party 12 and Akali Party 10 seats. Despite absolute majority, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan of the Unionist Party decided to seek co-operation of other parties including the Khalsa National Party. Sir Sunder Singh Majithia the leader of the party became a minister in the Unionist party's government. Master Tara Singh condemned the acceptance of office by Sir Sunder Singh Majithia.
Immediately after the establishing their government in the province the Unionists with the help of the Khalsa National Party raided the offices and residences of the leading Akali leaders, including those of Master Tara Singh, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, Office of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Shiromani Akali Dal, Sarab Hind Sikh Mission, Sri Darbar Sahib Committee, Sri Nankana Sahib Committee, Sikh Missionary College Amritsar and Bombay Khalsa College. Several civil suits were filed against the Akalis in the Gurdwara Judicial Commission accusing them of embezzlement and misuse of Gurdwara funds. A criminal case was started against Master Tara Singh under section 409 in the same connection. These acts of the government proved apprehensions of the Sikhs, consequent to this, leaning of the Sikhs towards the Akalis increased and in the 1938 Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee general elections despite the unity between the opponents of Master Tara Singh; Shiromani Akali Dal had unprecedented victory.
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