Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

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Unsung Heroes Detail

Giani Kartar Singh

Lyallpur (Faisalabad), Undivided India

June 27, 2022

Kartar Singh (1902-1974) was born on 22 February 1902 in the Chak No. 40 district of Lyallpur (Faisalabad, now in Pakistan). His family was originally from Nagoke village in the Amritsar district. Following the annexation of Punjab on March 29, 1849, the British government established canal colonies in Lyallpur, and Kartar Singh's family migrated there. He received his early education at the village gurudwara before enrolling in Khalsa School in neighboring Chak No. 41, where he matriculated in 1921. He had a religious bent of mind and during his school days, he led a kirtan jatha, or group of hymn singers, earning him the moniker Giani (learned in religious texts). For further studies, he enrolled at Khalsa College, Amritsar.  

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre profoundly influenced him, and he became interested in politics. When Michael O'Dwyer killed several innocent people in Amritsar, he was there. This event, as well as the martial law conditions in Punjab under which he travelled from Amritsar to his village, had a profound effect on his mind. In 1920, he and a group of fellow students raised funds for Mahatma Gandhi's Tilak Swaraj Fund.

Kartar Singh led a group of students to a Sikh conference in Dharowali village, near Dera Baba Nanak, in early October 1920. Later on, Shiromani Akali Dal was founded as a Sikh representative body on December 14, 1920. He was appointed general secretary of the Shiromani Akali Dal's Lyallpur district unit in 1924. During the Jaito Morcha (February 1924), he was arrested for welcoming and serving langar to a Shaheedi Jatha (martyr's group) on its way to Nabha to participate in the Morcha. He was sentenced to six months in the Cambellpur Jail for this.

In 1926, he was elected to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which had been reconstituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925. In October 1927, he became a member of its executive committee. He led a protest against the Simon Commission's visit to India on October 30, 1928, at the Lahore Railway Station, shouting "Simon, Go Back!" During the Civil Disobedience Movement, he was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for delivering seditious speeches.

Kartar Singh was elected to the executive committees of both the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal in 1933. He was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Lyallpur district in 1937. In 1943, Kartar Singh proposed his Azad Punjab scheme in response to Pakistan's Muslim League demand. The scheme envisioned a Punjab in which no single religious community held a sway. As a representative of Sikhs, Master Tara Singh, Akali Stalwart, pursued this scheme in political negotiations with the Congress, Muslim League, and British.

Kartar Singh was elected president of the Shiromani Akali Dal in January 1947. On June 3, 1947, Viceroy Mountbatten declared the partition plan. During these turbulent days, Kartar Singh, at great personal risk, assisted in the migration of Sikhs to India, particularly from the districts of Lyallpur and Sheikhupura. On March 17, 1948, the Shiromani Akali Dal working committee, led by him, passed a resolution allowing all Akali members of the East Punjab Assembly to join the Congress. Kartar Singh joined the Congress and was appointed Revenue Minister in the East Punjab government of Chief Minister Gopi Chand Bhargava. He made his mark in rehabilitating the refugees from Pakistan. Here, he was ably assisted by Dr. M. S. Randhawa.

Kartar Singh was the architect of what became known as the Sachar formula, which divided East Punjab into Punjabi-speaking and Hindi-speaking areas, laying the groundwork for a Punjabi-speaking state. Demand for Punjabi Suba, or Punjabi-speaking state, became a focal point of Sikh politics, and Kartar Singh became one of its leading proponents. During the Punjabi Suba Agitation, he rejoined the Akali Dal and was arrested in 1955, calling for a Punjabi-speaking state for Punjabis. In 1956, the Akali Dal and the Congress reached a compromise in the form of the Regional Formula, and the Akalis rejoined the Congress party. Kartar Singh was elected to the Legislative Assembly and Partap Singh Kairon delegated the Revenue and Agriculture portfolio to him. He was re-elected to the state assembly in 1962 but lost in February 1967, as a Congress candidate. On April 16, 1967, he resigned from the Congress party. In 1972, he ran unsuccessfully for election to the Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur.  His deteriorating health forced him to limit his political activities and on June 10, 1974, he died at Rajindra Hospital in Patiala. 

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