Punjabi Suba movement

Punjabi Suba movement
Punjab, India (1956-1966).png
The East Punjab state in India from 1956 to 1966
Date15 August 1947 (1947-08-15) - 1 November 1966 (1966-11-01)
GoalsCreation of the separate state of Punjab for Punjabi-speaking people from the bilingual East Punjab state
MethodsProtest marches and demonstrations, hunger strike, general strike
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Master Tara Singh (AD)
Fateh Singh (AD)
Jawaharlal Nehru
Indira Gandhi
Death(s)At least 43 + 200 during 1955 Golden Temple [1]
Arrested57,129 Sikhs (Akali Dal records)[2][1]
30,000 Sikhs (government figures)[2]
Nonviolent civil rights and linguistic rights political movement

The Punjabi Suba movement was a long-drawn political agitation, launched by the Sikhs, demanding the creation of a Punjabi Suba, or Punjabi-speaking state, in the post-independence Indian state of East Punjab.[3] Led by the Akali Dal, it resulted in the formation of the state of Punjab. The state of Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh were also created and some Pahari-majority parts of the East Punjab were also merged with Himachal Pradesh following the movement.

Early years[edit]


Slogans for the Punjabi Suba had been heard as far back as February 1947,[4] and the demand for a Punjabi Suba as a policy position was first presented in April 1948 by Master Tara Singh of the Shiromani Akali Dal,[5] a Sikh political party active mainly in Punjab. The Sikh population, after the partition of Punjab, had become a majority population in a contiguous, strategic land area for the first time in its history, with a new socio-political position.[5] This enabled the Akali Dal to focus on expressing unencumbered Sikh political needs, free from the politics of the former Muslim majority that had needed to be accommodated on its political platform prior to it, and provided the opportunity for Sikhs themselves to express a degree of autonomy from the sway of the Congress party and the central government, through the Akali Dal.[5] In January 1948, Akali Dal's three-member delegation of leaders, Harcharan Singh Bajwa, Bhupinder Singh Mann, and Giani Kartar Singh, met the Minister of Law and Justice Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar suggested that the Akali delegation demand a Punjabi-speaking state or Punjabi Suba (Punjabi Province) as a Sikh state, since the central government had declared a commitment to a linguistic basis for the reorganization of the states.[6][7][8]

Though it was commonly recognized at the time of Independence that the Indian states were created not on a rational basis, but were the result of the exigencies of the progressive British conquest of the subcontinent,[3] a commission that had been set up in 1948 by the Government of India, tasked with drawing up clean-cut states corresponding to demographic and linguistic boundaries, was not effective in the north of the country.[9] Its jurisdiction was limited to the southern states, with northern India kept out of its purview, specifically to avoid problems like those of Punjab, and specifically issues raised by the Sikhs.[9]

The Sikhs now constituted a majority in the northwestern seven districts[10] of the 13 districts of East Punjab state at the time: Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Firozpur, Ludhiana, and Ambala, along with Patiala and East Punjab States Union, or PEPSU, with sizable populations in surrounding districts, while Hindus formed a majority in the remaining six,[10] including the southeastern districts between PEPSU and Delhi (Hisar, Karnal, Rohtak, and Gurgaon), and the eastern Kangra and Shimla divisions. The seven Sikh-majority districts would be the suggested basis of the Punjabi Suba, for which Tara Singh campaigned vigorously between late 1948 and early 1949.[5] The new platform of the Akali Dal mobilized strong support among Sikhs,[5] though a decision adopted by the Congress in its annual session held in December 1948 read, “We are clearly of the opinion that no question of rectification of the boundaries in Northern India should be raised at the present moment whatever the merits of such a proposal.”[5] Tara Singh himself was arrested on 20 February 1949 and imprisoned for several months, during which time the agitation was continued under the leadership of Sardar Hukam Singh.[4]

Sachar Formula[edit]

The Sachar Formula was introduced on 2 October 1949 under the government of Bhim Sen Sachar to forestall the growing agitation.[11] Drafted by two Hindu members and two Sikh members of the Congress party, it proposed making Punjabi as the medium of instruction up to the matriculation stage, in the “Punjabi zone” area, with Hindi taught as a compulsory subject from the end of the primary level onward, and vice-versa for “Hindi zone” areas.[11] Its goal had been bilingualism, but as it divided East Punjab into Punjabi and Hindi zones, it had the effect of sharpening the divide between the majority Sikh north and majority Hindu south.[11] Tara Singh was released at this time in the hopes that the formula would be accepted by the Shiromani Akali Dal, but Tara Singh turned it down, reminding the Congress of its commitment to forming linguistic states, and that a Punjabi-speaking region had already been demarcated for the purposes of the Sachar Formula itself.[4]

To undercut the linguistic basis of the demand, the Arya Samaj embarked on a newspaper propaganda campaign to encourage the Hindus of even the Punjabi-speaking area to disown Punjabi entirely and select Hindi in censuses beginning in early 1951.[12] In response the Akali Dal mobilized the Sikhs of the region. This competition led to several clashes in Punjab, and heated electoral campaigns by the Akali Dal and Congress through to 1952; Congress would go on to win the election,[13] but by forming and leading a coalition called the United Front with other opposition parties, the Akali Dal would go on to form the first non-Congress government of India in April 1952.[13] In August of that year, the Akali Dal would position itself as the premier representative for Sikh rights, broadcasting its victory in the subsequent annual elections and dislodging of the pro-Congress president of the Dal as a referendum for support for the Punjabi Suba among the Sikhs.[14] The merging of PEPSU into the Punjabi-speaking region was also advocated in December by Tara Singh to further ensure Sikh territorial unity within the proposed Suba.[14] The Akali Dal criticized Congress in its handling of PEPSU in relation to the designated Punjabi-speaking area, though the Congress announcement on 27 December 1953 of another States Reorganization Commission undercut accusations of division, and Congress retained control in the PEPSU elections in January 1954.[14]

1953 States Reorganisation Commission[edit]

Though the calls for a Punjabi Suba were initially disregarded by the central government, the problem did not subside, and for the sake of the democratic functioning of the new democracy, another States Reorganization Commission was set up in 1953.The Commission began its work in February 1954, and the Akali Dal submitted an 18-page memorandum on 14 May 1954, proposing the Punjabi Suba to include all of Punjab and Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU), excluding the districts of Gurgaon and Rohtak, Panipat Tehsil in Karnal, and a few tehsils of Hisar district.[15] The Congress in Punjab, on the other hand, proposed the state integration of East Punjab, PEPSU, and Himachal Pradesh, which was similar to what the Arya Samaj and the Jan Sangh memoranda had stated, which had proposed the amalgamation of not only these territories but even Delhi as well.[16][9] The Commission tried to turn down the demand for Punjab state being advanced based on the argument that the formation of linguistic-based provinces would spur other demands for the separation of other linguistic groups elsewhere; such claims had already been advanced by Sikhs, Jats, and other groups.[9]

The Akali Dal entered the 1955 Punjab elections on this platform and won resoundingly, winning all 112 seats it contested against the Punjab Congress, which had contested under the banner of the “Khalsa Dal,” which had only won 3 out of 112 contested seats.[16] The results proved a strong morale booster for the party, which had demonstrated strong Sikh support for its platform, and felt encouraged to start a movement for the Punjabi Suba. The opportunity presented itself when on 6 April 1955 the Punjab Congress banned the shouting of Punjabi Suba slogans; twenty days later the Akali Dal issued an ultimatum to rescind the ban by 10 May or face an agitation.[16] The ban was not lifted, and the agitation began that day with Tara Singh and 10 companions being arrested for shouting Punjabi Suba slogans.[16] In the next five days more than 1,000 prominent Akali leaders were arrested,[17] and by July as many as 21,000 Akalis were jailed in Congress efforts to quash the growing movement.[17]

1955 Golden Temple raid[edit]

A flashpoint occurred on 4 July 1955, when a group led by Fateh Singh had arrived from Ganganagar a few days prior to take part in the protest movement. Government police forces came onto the temple premises and heavyhandedly took the entire group into custody, along with the head granthis of the Akal Takht and Golden Temple, volunteer protestors, and even cooks of the temple’s langar.[17] The Guru Ram Das Serai and Shiromani Akali Dal offices were also raided, and batons used and tear gas and shells fired to disperse the protestors gathered on the periphery of the temple, damaging the periphery and sarovar, or pool, of the temple.[17] Over 200 protestors were killed, more than 2000 arrested, and thousands, including women and children, were injured.

The reaction from this event gave further momentum to the movement, opposite to the intention of the government, and proved to be so potentially destabilizing to the government that on 12 July, the government under Sachar used the pretext of a “triumphal return from peace mission abroad” to lift the ban on Punjabi Suba slogans, appealing for peace.[17] It also announced the release of Akali prisoners in installments, which proved slow to be implemented; Tara Singh was released on 8 September, and the last Akalis were not released until 18 October.[17] In addition, Inderjeet Singh, a 10-year-old boy from Moga visiting relatives in Karnal, would be beaten with batons, killed, and thrown in an irrigation well on 21 September 1955 by policemen for raising slogans.

Amritsar Convention[edit]

The States Reorganization Committee submitted its report to the Government of India on 10 September 1955 where it was considered and published on 10 October.[18] The Commission recommended the integration of PEPSU and Himachal Pradesh with the Punjab, which was considered unacceptable by the mainstream Sikh political body, the Shiromani Akali Dal, whose leader, Master Tara Singh, took the opportunity to exhibit Sikh unity and resolution on this point, summoning a representative convention of Sikhs at Amritsar on 16 October 1955; nearly 1,300 invitees attended.[9]

The Amritsar convention strongly rejected the Commission’s proposal, castigating it for bias against Sikh claims.[9] The resolution of the Amritsar Convention stated in part, “this convention of the Sikhs view with alarm and great resentment the complete and callous resolution of the States Reorganisation Commission of the just and reasonable demand for a Punjabi-speaking state.”[18] The resolution called on the government to create the Punjabi Suba not only in the interest of the Sikhs but in the interest of the Hindi-speaking peoples of East Punjab; Tara Singh received authorization from the Amritsar Convention “to take suitable steps to for conveying the views and sentiments of the Sikh community to Government of India and urging them to do their duty to the Sikhs,”[18]; Tara Singh’s first action was to arrange a conciliatory meeting with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru,[9] who had been quoted in the 9 January 1930 edition of the Lahore Bulletin during the freedom struggle that "the brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special considerations. I see nothing wrong in an area set up in the North of India wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom,"[19] though afterwards telling the Sikhs after the British left that the “circumstances had now changed."[19] The meeting was facilitated by former cabinet member Baldev Singh, who presented Nehru with correspondence between Sikh leaders and the Muslim League, reminding him that the Sikhs had rejected the League’s overtures to side with India.[9] Baldev Singh would act as a mediator between the Akali leaders and the government in their meetings.[9]

Government talks[edit]

The first meeting took place on 24 October 1955 in Delhi between the government, represented by Nehru and two of his senior cabinet colleagues, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, and the Sikhs, represented by Master Tara Singh, who would present opening statements, Bhai Jodh Singh, also a member of the Chief Khalsa Diwan,[18] who would explicate the language problem, Giani Kartar Singh and Sardar Hukam Singh, who were to meet the political points, and Sardar Gian Singh Rarewala; a second meeting followed on 23 November the same year.[9]

Further meetings were put on hold in December due to the announcement of a general session of the Congress Party to be held in February 1956 in Amritsar; [20] the Shiromani Akali Dal’s announcement of its own parallel congress, the orderly five-hour-long procession of which dwarfed in size that of the Congress convention,[20] provided another show of Sikh solidarity, with a large turnout of Sikhs from all over Punjab and beyond, with conservative estimates of over 100,000 marchers.[20] Nehru biographer and contemporary observer Michael Brecher estimated the figure to be over double that,[20] with participants being old and young, men and women, with many of them wearing the traditional Akali symbols of the kirpan and the blue turban, and observed the processioners raising chants of "Punjabi Suba Zindabad" ("Long live a Punjabi State") and "Master Tara Singh Zindabad," with intermittent music. The success of the Akali march helped talks with the government to resume. Talks again stalled by 26 February 1956 after the Sikh delegation perceived a lack of action during the meetings, but were resumed after Joginder Singh, a Sikh parliamentarian from Uttar Pradesh, persuaded the Sikhs to rejoin the talks.[21]

The Regional Formula[edit]

Eventually both parties managed to break the impasse with a preliminary compromise: while stopping short of a Punjabi Suba, the state would be split into two regions in what would be called the Regional Formula: Punjabi and Hindi, with each region having its own committee consisting of its own share of Punjabi legislators, with powers to deliberate on all matters except law and order, finance, and taxation.[21] The Regional Formula was put to a vote at a general meeting of the Shiromani Akali Dal at Amritsar on 11 March 1956.[21] While there were critical voices raised, on grounds of constitutional propriety as well as the perceived inadequacy of the measure, and Giani Kartar Singh conceded that what was offered was not the Punjabi Suba of their conception, leaders including him, Jodh Singh, and Sardar Ajit Singh advocated acceptance of it as the beginning point, or tentative promise, of a Punjabi Suba.[21] Master Tara Singh, however, was apprehensive of accepting the measure, which would weaken the Akali negotiating position.[21]

On 23 September 1956 after approving the Regional Formula, the Akali Dal renounced politics, and it was proposed that its large number of politically active members, including Giani Kartar Singh, be presented to Congress[21] to further Akali goals by joining and working through Congress. However, when the Congress assigned the Akali entrants 22 nominations for the Punjab Assembly and 3 for Parliament,[21] Master Tara Singh considered this as grossly inadequate, and considered the settlement void as far as he was concerned, though the Akali Dal continued to abide by it. Among the options left to him were to put up his own candidates against the Congress, which proved unsuccessful, and to politically reactivate the Shiromani Akali Dal, which he still controlled and set out to do.[21]

Opposition to the Formula[edit]

The Regional Formula was also opposed by Hindi language supporters of Punjab as being harmful to their interests, and under the Hindi Raksha Samiti, campaigned to have it annulled.[21] During the course of the Hindi movement, several Sikh gurdwaras had been desecrated,[21] and the new Congress government, which had commenced on 3 April 1957 and was headed by the influential Partap Singh Kairon as Chief Minister and former Akalis and current cabinet members Giani Kartar Singh and Gian Singh Rarewala who served under him, dealt with it harshly.[21]

However, Sikh sentiments remained hurt by the violent desecrations, the Sikh masses had not enthusiastically accepted the Regional Formula either, and though the post-independence intellectual and cultural milieu that had driven Punjabi advocacy and the initial drive toward the Formula did yield institutions like Punjabi University in 1956,[22] the Formula was increasingly viewed as an inadequate solution to the Punjab problem, with neither the government or the political parties seeing potential in it.[22] Language frontiers had become communal frontiers, and Master Tara Singh considered the Punjabi Suba as the only solution against rising Hindi fanaticism.[22] He called a general meeting of the Shiromani Akali Dal at Patiala on 14 February 1959, which 299 out of 377 members attended.[22] The convention strongly supported restoring the political operation of the Akali Dal.[21]

Partap Singh Kairon was himself an advocate of Punjabi and the founding of the Punjabi University for the support and development of the language along with Giani Kartar Singh.[22] His own father Nihal Singh had been a prominent figure in the Singh Sabha enlightenment,[22] the influence of which his own cultural perceptions and affiliations to Punjab and Sikhism had been moulded; he would refer to his proud Singh Sabha upbringing both privately and publicly. He pressed for the establishment of the university, though he repressed Akali influence in favor of bringing Congress influence into rural Punjab.[22]

Renewed efforts for the Punjabi Suba[edit]

The Punjab Government under Kairon remained as politically firm dealing with rival supporters of Punjabi as it had done over the supporters of Hindi,[23] and the political rivalry between Congress and the Akali Dal resulted in the narrow loss of Master Tara Singh in the election for the office of president of the SGPC to another Akali candidate, Prem Singh Lalpura.[23] Tara Singh reacted by arranging a Punjabi Suba conference in Chandigarh, at which he announced his intention of launching a mass movement. He was subsequently arrested, though a silent procession in Delhi on 15 March 1959 proceeded as arranged; the procession, with portraits of Tara Singh, ended in a religious divan at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, and Tara Singh was released from jail in under a week.[23]

The 1960 election was another political contest between Kairon’s Congress and Tara Singh’s Akalis. Congress Sikhs strove hard to defeat the Akalis; Giani Kartar Singh even resigned from his ministry to focus solely on campaigning, and with help from the state government created the Sadh Sangat Board to contest the elections. The Shiromani Akali Dal overwhelmingly won the elections however, taking 136 seats to the Sadh Sangat Board’s four.[23] All the Akali members assembled at the Akal Takht on 24 January 1960 to dedicate themselves to achieving the Punjabi Suba. Another Punjabi Suba convention was held on 22 May 1960, to which members of the Swatantra Party and Praja Socialist Party were invited.[23] Presided over by Pandit Sundar Lal and former Congress member Saifuddin Kitchlew, the main resolution was moved by Sardar Gurnam Singh, calling upon the government "not to delay any more the inevitable formation"[23] of a Punjabi-speaking state, especially when language-based states had been carved out in other parts of the country.[23]

Another march was announced, to commence on 29 May 1960, going through the Punjabi countryside to end at Delhi to join a Sikh procession on 12 June 1960, stopping at important Gurdwaras to make speeched to rally support for the Punjabi Suba.[24] He was arrested and detained in jail on the night of the 24th, and the government cracked down heavy-handedly on the Akalis, with large-scale arrests made throughout the Punjab,[24] and lines of arrests at Amritsar, at which the Golden Temple was the main center of mobilization, and Delhi. Akali leaders made stirring speeches asserting the Sikhs’ right to self-determination, and the evening divans, or assemblies, at Manji Sahib attracted vast audiences.[24]

Under Sant Fateh Singh[edit]

With Tara Singh in jail, Sant Fateh Singh directed the movement from the Golden Temple, assisted by the Sikh Students Federation in delivering speeches drawing from Sikh history to garner support,[24] in 1966.[1] A religious leader without a long background in politics, Fateh Singh was nevertheless an effective leader, and presented the demand for the Punjabi Suba as based on linguistic considerations alone, bringing it in line with the country’s declared goals of democracy and secularism, and what was considered most important was the creation of a unit comprising all Punjabi-speaking areas, with Punjabi as the official language, over religious demography.[24] He tactically stressed the linguistic basis of the demand, while downplaying its religious basis — a state where the distinct Sikh identity could be preserved.[25] The government resorted to rigorous measures to put down the agitation, but volunteers continued to join and the movement continued, even as thousands of Sikhs were put in jail.[24]

On 29 October 1960, Fateh Singh wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru saying that if the Sikhs’ democratic and constitutional demand for a Punjabi-speaking area was not accepted, he would go on a fast (a novelty in Sikh tradition);[24] he sought to impress upon him the Sikhs’ sense of grievance and the repressiveness of the Congress-run Punjab Government. Nehru did not intervene, and the fast commenced on 18 December 1960. Before entering his hut on the Golden Temple premises, he addressed a large gathering of Sikhs, instructing them to keep the movement peaceful, saying that damage to the country was damage to themselves.[26] A roster of ten Sikhs was drafted to continue the movement in case Fateh Singh’s fast ended in death.[26]

Indian leaders of diverse opinion attempted to intervene to persuade Fateh Singh to abandon the fast, though he would not withdraw from his resolution.[26] With growing national concern over his life, Nehru in a speech in Chandigarh on 20 December 1960 conceded that Punjabi was the dominant language of the Punjab and that it must be promoted in every way; this was repeated in a speech in Rajpura later in the day.[26] On 31 December he made a personal appeal to Fateh Singh to stop the fast.[26]

Assurance from Nehru[edit]

Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon, under the advice of his old teacher and informal counsel Jodh Singh, set Tara Singh free on 4 January 1961.[26] Tara Singh immediately called on Fateh Singh, severely weakened from his fast, then arranged to meet Nehru while he was in Bhavnagar, Gujarat for the annual Congress session. On a specially chartered flight from Delhi to Bhavnagar, he was accompanied by Harbans Singh Gujral, Lachhman Singh Gill, Hargurnad Singh, Harcharan Singh of Bathinda, and Seth Ram Nath, one Punjabi Hindu who openly espoused the cause for a Punjabi-speaking state. While in flight the group held mutual consultations and reduced their minimal demand in writing.[26]

On 7 January 1961, Tara Singh held a two-hour meeting with Nehru without result, but the next day Nehru added a postscript to what he had told Tara Singh, that the formation of forming linguistic states had not halted due to any discrimination against Punjab or distrust of the Sikhs, and that "Punjab state is broadly speaking a Punjabi Suba with Punjabi as the dominant language."[26] He also expressed concern regarding Fateh Singh’s health and wished to see his fast ended.[26] This reassured Tara Singh, who had a call made to Amritsar stating that the obligations of his vow had been fulfilled, and asking him to terminate his fast, a motion also adopted by the Working Committee of the Akali Dal, who on behalf of the Khalsa, told Fateh Singh that they were satisfied the his pledge had been complied with and that he must forthwith end his fast.

Fateh Singh ended his 22-day fast with a glass of juice on 9 January 1961, marking the end of the seven-month-long morcha, or movement. According to official government figures, 30,000[26] Sikhs had been placed in jail over the course of the morcha; according to Akali figures, 57,129[26] Sikhs had been placed in jail.

Ascendance of Fateh Singh[edit]

Political negotiations resumed between the Akalis and the government, with three meetings between Fateh Singh and Nehru on 8 February 1961, 1 March 1961, and 12 May 1961. While cordial, they did not yield solid results; Nehru offered to extend protection to the Punjabi language but did not accept Punjabi-speaking areas forming a separate state, which was not accepted by Sikhs.[2] To impress this point, Tara Singh himself embarked on a fast on 15 August 1961, during which notable Sikh mediators like Maharaja Yadavinder Singh of Patiala, and Hardit Singh Malik kept in touch with Nehru and Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on one hand and Akali leaders on the other.

Tara Singh was persuaded to end his fast without concrete progress on the issue 48 days later on 1 October 1961, a development which led to brewing criticism among Sikhs and damage to his reputation among them, as the pledge solemnized at the Akal Takht was perceived to have been broken without achieving the stated target, and was thus seen as violating a religious vow. The responsibility for having Fateh Singh’s vow ended was also directed at Tara Singh.[2] A committee of five Sikh religious notables, including religious scholars, jathedars of Kesgarh Sahib and the Akal Takht, and the head granthi of the Darbar Sahib[disambiguation needed], were selected and authorized on 24 November 1961 to investigate and determine the circumstances leading to the ending of the fast and determine penalties.[2] Five days later, they pronounced Tara Singh guilty of breaking his word and blemishing the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice, and he was ordered to perform additional prayers for a month and clean the shoes of the sangat, or congregation, and the dishes of the langar, or open community kitchen, for five days.[27] Fateh Singh was also to recite extra prayers and wash "langar" dishes for five days for his own fast ending, though it was recognized that his fast had ended at Tara Singh’s request.[27] Photographs of Tara Singh’s service were circulated widely in newspapers and served to somewhat rehabilitate his popular image, though his political reputation never fully recovered. He had been rejected by crowds at divans as far back as when after Fateh Singh’s fast had ended. Fateh Singh would begin to eclipse him as the leader of the movement, and by 1962 after a period of interparty schism, had been elected president of the Akali Dal, and had the support of the majority faction. A close associate of Fateh Singh, Sant Channan Singh, was elected SGPC president, further consolidating Fateh Singh’s position.[28] With the parallel factions remaining divided, Tara Singh withdrawing from the scene for six months for contemplation amid dwindling political fortunes.[28]

Meanwhile, following the settlement made up to that point, Nehru appointed a commission to address the question of Sikh grievances. The Akali Dal did not agree with its composition and did not present its case to it, though the commission carried on regardless, and rejected suggestions of anti-Sikh discrimination, rejecting the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state as a Sikh state.[2]

Nalwa Conference[edit]

Attention to the Punjabi Suba, the shared objective of both factions of the Akali Dal, was renewed at a conference on 4 July 1965. Named the Nalwa Conference after famed Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa of the Sikh Empire, the main Conference resolution was drawn up by eminent Sikh scholar and intellectual Kapur Singh, and moved by Gurnam Singh, then leader of the opposition in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, and seconded by Giani Bhupinder Singh, then president of Tara Singh’s faction of the Akali Dal.[28] The resolution read as follows:

1. This Conference in commemoration of General Hari Singh Nalwa of historical fame reminds all concerned that the Sikh people are makers of history and are conscious of their political destiny in a free India.

2. This Conference recalls that the Sikh people agreed to merge in a common Indian nationality on the explicit understanding of being accorded a constitutional status of co-sharers in the Indian sovereignty along with the majority community, which solemn understanding now stands cynically repudiated by the present rulers of India. Further, the Sikh people have been systematically reduced to a sub-political status in their homeland, the Punjab, and to an insignificant position, in their mother-land India. The Sikhs are in a position to establish before an impartial International Tribunal, uninfluenced by the present Indian rulers that the laws, the judicial processes and the executive actions of the union of India are consistently and heavily weighed against the Sikhs and are administered with bandaged eyes against Sikh citizens.

3. This Conference, therefore, resolves, after careful thought and consideration that there is no alternative for the Sikhs in the interests of their self preservation but to frame their political demand for securing a self-determined political status within the Republic of the Union of India.

— Moved by: Sardar Gurnam Singh,

Bar-at-law, Judge, High Court (Retd.)

M.L.A. (Punjab), Leader of the Opposition, [28]

Government deliberations[edit]

On 24 July 1965, Tara Singh ended his self-exile from politics, and on 2 August, he addressed a press conference in Delhi, applauded and pledged support for the Nalwa Conference resolution, calling for the Sikhs’ "place in the sun of free India."[29] Fateh Singh announced on 16 August that in order to secure the Punjabi Suba he would commence another fast on 10 September, and if it was unsuccessful, in the 25th he would self-immolate at the Akal Takht. SGPC president Channan Singh, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and Harcharan Singh Hudiara went to Delhi on 8 September to attend a high-level meeting with prominent government leaders including Yadavinder Singh, the Defense Minister, The Minister of State for Home Affairs, and members of Parliament. They requested Fateh Singh to defer the fast in light of the declaration of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965; some, including the Yadavinder Singh, gave their assurance of support for the cause if the government continued to avoid the demand after normalcy was restored. This message was relayed to Fateh Singh on 9 September as Channan Singh and the Akali leaders returned to Amritsar. Fateh Singh accepted the request and appealed to the Sikhs in Punjab to support the war effort and the senior commanders, who were almost all Sikh.[29]


The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 ended 21 days later with a ceasefire on 22 September, with both sides claiming victory.[30] Stories of the bravery and patriotism of the Sikhs during the war had already been circulating, and on 6 September the Union Home Minister, Gulzarilal Nanda, had made a statement in the Lok Sabha that "the whole question of formation of Punjabi-speaking state could be examined afresh with an open mind."[30] Later on the 23rd he declared the formation of a committee of the Cabinet to pursue the matter further, with the stated hope that "the efforts of this Cabinet Committee and of the Parliamentary Committee will lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question."[30] The Punjab Congress Committee also debated the issue at length, with Zail Singh, General Mohan Singh, and Narain Singh Shahbazpuri lending their full support.[30] In the Parliament, the Home Minister sent a list of nominees from the Rajya Sabha to the Chairman and a list of nominees from the Lok Sabha to the Speaker, Sardar Hukam Singh, who announced the final 22-person committee representing all sections of the House, including representatives from the Akali Dal, Congress, Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party, Communists, and independents.[31]

The period for receiving memoranda from the various parties and individuals was set from October to 5 November 1965. Preliminary discussions were held from 26 November to 25 December. On 10 January of the following year, the SGPC’s general secretary Lachhman Singh Gill and executive member Rawel Singh met the committee and presented the case for a Punjabi-speaking state. On the 27th, Giani Kartar Singh and Harcharan Singh Brar appeared in the Punjab legislature on behalf of Congress, also arguing in favor of it. Of the memoranda submitted to the committee, nearly 2,200 supported the Punjabi Suba and 903 opposing.[31] Hukam Singh was thus able to secure string support from the assembled committee for its creation. The Parliamentary Committee’s report was handed in on 15 March 1966; the Congress Working Committee had already adopted a motion on the 6th recommending the government to carve out a Punjabi-speaking state out of the erstwhile East Punjab state.[31] The report was made public on 18 March, and the demand was conceded on 23 April, with a commission appointed to demarcate the new states of Punjab and Haryana, and transferring certain areas to Himachal Pradesh.[32][33][34] The Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 was passed on 18 September in the Lok Sabha, and on 1 November 1966, a Punjabi-speaking state became a reality.[31]


The Akali Dal took issue with the conceived form of the state of Punjab as presented, the form in which it continues to exist currently. Akali Dal opposed the implementation of the Punjab Reorganisation Act on 1 November 1966 and Akali leaders protested against it.[1]

Chandigarh had been the planned city built to replace Lahore, the capital of erstwhile Punjab, which became part of Pakistan during the partition,[35][36] and was to be the capital of Punjab.[1] Chandigarh was claimed by both Haryana and Punjab. Pending resolution of the dispute, it was declared as a separate Union Territory which would serve as the capital of both the states. Though the Union Government had decided to give Chandigarh to Punjab as solely its capital in 1970, per a formal communication issued by the Union government on 29 January 1970, and Haryana was granted five years and a proposed budget of 200 million rupees to set up its own capital, this has not been implemented, though Chandigarh had been conceived to be the capital of a single state.[37] The provisional understanding that employees would be posted in Chandigarh on a 60:40 ratio basis from Punjab and Haryana has been disregarded, with the number of Punjabi employees having declined significantly, as the Union territory has created its own cadre of government employees[1] from outside the state. Punjabi continues to have no official status in Chandigarh despite the heavy Punjabi presence in the city, and the entire executive process of Chandigarh remains with the central government[1] as a Union territory.

A week after the implementation of the Act, Akali leader Fateh Singh initiated preparations for another long-drawn agitation to have Chandigarh and the Punjabi-speaking areas left in Haryana transferred to Punjab. He also sought seeking the control of Bhakra Dam and other hydro power projects and headworks. On 16 November 1966, the morcha was re-launched. Fateh Singh started sending jathas of Akali leaders to the countryside to mobilise support. 12 December was observed as Black Day. In the third week of December, Fateh Singh started his fast at the Akal Takht, announced that he would immolate himself on 27 December 1966. The Union government was concerned at this announcement and continued negotiations on the demands. An hour before the scheduled time of 4 pm on 27 December for immolation, Fateh called off his immolation bid.[1] He would continue to demand the inclusion of Chandigarh and other Punjabi-speaking areas left out of Punjab until his death in 1972.[1]

The demand was additionally advanced by Darshan Singh Pheruman, a veteran Akali leader with a long history of participating in Sikh political rights movements, from the Akali movement during which he was jailed for a year in 1921, to the Jaito Morcha of 1923-25 to reinstate Sikh leaders of Punjabi princely states removed by the British in which he was jailed again three years later.[1] He went to the jail three times during the course of the Punjabi Suba movement.[1] Believing that Sant Fateh Singh had failed Punjabis on the issue of transfer of Chandigarh and Punjabi-speaking areas by not fulfilling his promise of self-immolation, Pheruman announced his own fast on 15 August 1969. He was arrested and sent to jail where continued his fast. He passed away on 27 October 1969, on the 74th day of his hunger strike.[1]

Despite the success of the movement in the creation of the state of Punjab, its implementation left many unresolved issues behind, including the allocation of the capital city of Chandigarh,[31] which is the only state capital in the country to be shared with another state, adjustment of some of the territorial claims of Punjab,[31] with many large Punjabi-speaking areas left out of the allocated state, and the distribution of river waters which remains unresolved.[31] To address this, the Akali Dal would draft the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in the 1970s, and re-launch the movement in the form of the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982; by 1983 more than 40,000 Akali protestors had courted arrest,[38] with thousands remaining in jail for months, and some for years.[1] These issues continue to figure prominently in Punjab politics and remain points of contention between the state and the central government.[31]


  • Bal, Sarjit Singh (1985). "Punjab After Independence (1947-1956)". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 46: 416–430. JSTOR 44141382. PMID 22491937.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Doad, Karnail Singh (1997). Siṅgh, Harbans (ed.). Punjabi Sūbā Movement (3rd ed.). Patiala, Punjab, India: Punjab University, Patiala, 2011. pp. 391-404. ISBN 9788173803499. Retrieved 24 February 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dhaliwal, Sarbjit (9 September 2016). "Punjabi Suba: What's there to celebrate?". The Tribune. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Doad 1997, p. 399.
  3. ^ a b Doad 1997, p. 391.
  4. ^ a b c Bal 1985, p. 420.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Bal 1985, p. 419.
  6. ^ "Ambedkar's role overlooked". The Tribune. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Fifty Years of Punjab Politics (1920-70)". Panjab Digital Library. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  8. ^ Singh, Sardar Ajmer. "Dr. Ambedkar's Invaluable Advice on the Sikh Right to Self-rule". Round Table India. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Doad 1997, p. 392.
  10. ^ a b Bal 1985, p. 417.
  11. ^ a b c Bal 1985, p. 418.
  12. ^ Bal 1985, p. 421.
  13. ^ a b Bal 1985, p. 422.
  14. ^ a b c Bal 1985, p. 423.
  15. ^ Bal 1985, p. 424.
  16. ^ a b c d Bal 1985, p. 425.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Bal 1985, p. 426.
  18. ^ a b c d Bal 1985, p. 427.
  19. ^ a b Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Foreign Affairs Committee (4 May 2007). South Asia: fourth report of session 2006-07, report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence. London, United Kingdom: The Stationery Office. p. 112. ISBN 9780215033789. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  20. ^ a b c d Doad 1997, p. 393.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Doad 1997, p. 394.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Doad 1997, p. 395.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Doad 1997, p. 396.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Doad 1997, p. 397.
  25. ^ Brass, Paul R. (2005). Language, Religion and Politics in North India. iUniverse. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-595-34394-2.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Doad 1997, p. 398.
  27. ^ a b Doad 1997, p. 400.
  28. ^ a b c d Doad 1997, p. 401.
  29. ^ a b Doad 1997, p. 402.
  30. ^ a b c d Doad 1997, p. 403.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h Doad 1997, p. 404.
  32. ^ Singh, IP. "Future tense?". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  33. ^ The Sikhs as a "Minority" in a Sikh Majority State in India, by Paul Wallace, Asian Survey, 1986 University of California Press
  34. ^ "The Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966" (PDF). Government of India. 18 September 1966. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  35. ^ "Chandigarh History". Chandigarh Guide. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  36. ^ "About Chandigarh". Government of Chandigarh. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  37. ^ Sura, Ajay. "In 1970, Centre decided to give Chandigarh to Punjab". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  38. ^ Chima, Jugdep S (2008), The Sikh Separatist Insurgency in India: Political Leadership and Ethnonationalist Movements, SAGE Publications India, pp. 71–75, ISBN 9788132105381

Coordinates: 31°00′N 76°00′E / 31.000°N 76.000°E / 31.000; 76.000