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Master Tara Singh: India Finally Pays Tribute

Tarlochan Singh is chairman of India's National Commission for Minorities (N.C.M.).

The Tribune, Aug. 21, 2003

At last the nation is paying tribute to the memory of one of its great freedom fighters, Master Tara Singh, by adorning his portrait in Parliament's Central Hall at the hands of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Aug. 21. Master Tara Singh was the leader of the Akali Dal and the sole spokesman for the Sikhs. He had such authority that one word from him could seal the fate of millions of Hindus and Sikhs.

No history book contains any [appropriate] reference to the role of Master Tara Singh. He got half of the Punjab (now Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh) integrated into India. He was born in a Hindu family in Haryal village, near Rawalpindi, on Jun. 24, 1885. Nanak Chand, as he was then known, got converted to Sikhism at the age of 14 and was baptized by amrit [sweet initiation water] and given the name Tara Singh. It is said that next to Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) no Sikh had such vast influence in the community as Master Tara Singh.

Every Sikh leader of modern times was in fact his creation. At one time Partap Singh Kairon was his secretary. India's first defence minister, Sardar Baldev Singh, was his nominee. Sardar Swaran Singh was made a minister and leader of the Akali Assembly Party in Lahore by him. Sardar Hukam Singh, who rose to be the speaker of the Lok Sabha, owed his entry into parliament to Masterji. Sardar Buta Singh was picked up by him and made member of parliament in 1962.

The demand for partition of the Punjab was first mooted by Master Tara Singh when Strafford Cripps announced his Draft Declaration in 1942. In a memorandum to the Cripps Mission he demanded: 'The Sikhs cannot attain their rightful position or can effectively protect their interest unless the Punjab is redistributed into two provinces with River Ravi as boundary between them. If you can separate provinces from India for the domination of Muslims, how can you refuse to separate a big area for protection of Sikhs from the rule of a single community?'

To counteract the Muslim League demand for a sovereign Muslim State, the Akali Dal put forward the demand for a Sikh state. The main aim of the demand was to insist upon the partition of Punjab. Later, they put forward the Azad Punjab scheme. The Punjab had a coalition government headed by Khizr Hayat Khan with the Congress and Akali Dal as partners. In Mar. 1947, the Muslim League succeeded in getting the resignation of Khizr Hayat Khan in order to install its own government. It was due to Master Tara Singh's tough stand that a Muslim League ministry could not be installed in the Punjab.

Master Tara Singh took a great risk but there are political thinkers who concede that his action changed the course of free India's history. The Muslims took to communal riots in Lahore and western parts of the Punjab. Thousands of Sikhs and Hindus were murdered and their homes razed. In vengeance they destroyed Master Tara Singh's ancestral home and killed 59 of his relatives. The Hindu leadership, including Bhim Sen Sachar, Gopi Chand Bhargava, Mahasha Krishan, and Mahasha Khushal Chand, formed an anti-Pakistan front, with Master Tara Singh as its sole dictator.

The British tried to influence Sikh leaders to side with the Muslim League. Jinnah went all out to win over the Sikhs and offered them an autonomous state within Pakistan. Master Tara Singh spurned all offers and announced his decision to stay with India. The demand for the partition of Bengal, which was also a Muslim majority province, was mooted by the Hindu leaders at the behest of Master Tara Singh.

Bengal's leaders, N.C. Chatterjee and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, acknowledged the support of Masterji after their successful campaign in getting half of Bengal integrated into India. For posterity, it may be added that N.C. Chatterjee, then India's leading advocate, represented Masterji whenever he was prosecuted by the Government of India. This valiant fighter for freedom remained active and went to jail many times in free India, demanding redemarcation of Punjab on linguistic basis. He breathed his last on Nov. 22, 1967.