Welcome to Startup Pakistan! Before the partition of India, Sikhs were the third largest community in the subcontinent, after Hindus and Muslims. A question does come to our minds, naturally. Muslims got Pakistan as a result of the partition of India in 1947. Similarly, Hindus got India. But what did the Sikhs get? Did Sikhs also demand a separate country for themselves or not? If they did not, what made them do so? And if they did, what happened to it?
Were Sikhs ever invited to be a part of Pakistan? Let’s try to address all these questions today. Sikhism is a peaceful religion, originating from the land of Punjab. It’s a relatively newer religion as compared to Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. It was introduced by Baba Guru Nanak, in the land of 5 rivers, towards the end of 15th century. Even to this day,
Punjab is the region where most of the Sikhs live. Sikhs have an overall global population of 27 million. Almost 90% of this population lives in the Indian Punjab. However, there’s a considerable population of Sikhs settled in Canada, USA and England. But, naturally, that is too little if compared to that in Punjab. During the earlier decades of the 20th century, when the demand for the British to leave India was gaining momentum, and Muslims were enthusiastically asking for a separate state,
that’s when the idea of a separate country for Sikhs emerged. But Sikhs had a different position than Muslims. Muslims constitute 24% of the population of the Indian subcontinent. Whereas, the total Sikh population was hardly 2%. They didn’t even have a majority in any district of India. The Sikh population back then was scattered in different cities from Peshawar to Delhi. However, they had a much stronger social status. They always had a good relationship with the British.
And they had a much bigger representation in the Indian army, in contrast to their smaller population. Sikhs were also considered to be the best Marshal Race of Punjab. Sikhs made 20% of the Indian army during World War 1. Besides, Sikhs have previously ruled the subcontinent And ruled a huge empire under Raja Ranjit Singh. In fact, the British snatched Punjab from Sikh rulers. After the collapse of the Sikh empire, a large number of Sikh soldiers joined the British army.
When the British took over in the middle of 19th century, the Sikh empire included Punjab, Kashmir and some parts of KPK province of present day Pakistan. Back then, both Muslims and Hindus did not want to get into any trouble with Sikhs. Because, Sikhs would in turn greatly benefit the side they chose at the time of partition, despite their small number. Sikh population was mostly concentrated in Punjab anyway. The support of Sikhs would mean the greater chunk of immensely fertile land of Punjab.
Sikhs were religiously and historically close to Hindus. For ones, Sikhs were mostly converts from Hinduism. Secondly, Sikhs and Hindus could marry each other. Not to forget that Sikhs and Muslims hadn’t been enjoying good relationship since the time of Ranjit Singh. They have had many battles with Muslims, including Afghan Muslims as well. Nehru and Gandhi promised Sikhs a province in the new country with maximum autonomy. They ensured Sikhs that they will get more rights, should they choose to be a part of India.
However, in 1928, Sikh leader Baba Kharrak Singh had a fall out with Congress. He felt that the proposed constitution of independent India, presented by Moti Lal Committee, did not have the promised rights for Sikhs. Sikh leader Master Tara Singh also protested at this, but he did not break up with Congress. Because he didn’t want to get away from the mainstream politics. During the annual meetings of Congress in December 1929, Gandhi and Nehru went to patch things up with Baba Kharrak Singh.
They assured him that the constitution of independent India would not have anything that Sikhs do not agree to. That’s how the Sikh – Hindu alliance stayed intact without much damage. Now lets address the second question. Did Quaid-e-Azam ever offer Sikhs an opportunity to make alliance with Pakistan …? Well, Muslims did try to make Sikhs their allies. Quaid-e-Azam formally invited Sikhs to be a part of Pakistan during a meeting with Maharaja of Patiala. He was ready to accept an independent and free Sikh state in Punjab. That state would have existed from the west of Panipat to the eastern banks of Ravi. Muhammad Ali Jinnah suggested that Maharaja of Patiala be the head of this new state. Quaid-e-Azam only wanted the Sikh state to eventually make a semi independent confederation with Pakistan. Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Liaquat Ali Khan and Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan were also present in this meeting. Maharaja claimed that he understood Master Tara Singh and other Sikh leader quite well
… and he was certain that the Sikh leadership was never going to accept this offer by Quaid-e-Azam. The Maharaja himself wanted an alliance with Hindus. And so he refused Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s offer. According to Maharaja’s own accounts, Lord Mountbatten suggested he get in touch with Mr. Jinnah on this issue once more. They did have another meeting in Delhi. At this meeting, the then Prime Minister of Patiala, Hardit Singh Malik, was also present, along with Miss Fatima Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. On being asked by the famous Sikh historian, Kartar Singh, about the offer made by Quaid-e-Azam, Hardit Singh said that Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh, and the Maharaja of Patiala were present in the meeting.
According to him, Mr Jinnah promised things like parliament, even armed services. Mr Jinnah even mentioned the agreement between Zaghlul Pahsa and Christian minorities in Egypt. He, then, went on to say that he wanted to make a similar agreement with Sikhs. Mr Jinnah further mentioned that when the Christian representatives went to Pasha with their demands, he asked them to present their demands in black and white. When they came back with their demands in writing, Pasha signed the document without even reading it first. Hardit Singh said that we had already decided not to go with Pakistan. But after listening to what Mr Jinnah offered, we were sort of stunned.
We didn’t expect anything like that. So we asked him if his successors in Pakistan will be as generous to us as he was. Mr Jinnah responded by saying that his word in Pakistan would be like a divine word. No one can go back to my word, even if I am not around. After such reassurances by Mr Jinnah, there was nothing left to say. That concluded the meeting. However, this offer was ignored by the Sikh leadership. These meetings between Quaid-e-Azam and Sikh leadership took place in April 1947. By that time, the division of Sub Continent and that of Punjab had been decided. Sikhs have already decided to be with Congress.
The riots of Rawalpindi division had already taken place. Sikhs had incurred heavy human casualties and monetary losses. Consequently, thousands of Sikhs had started to migrate to the Eastern Punjab. Had the unpleasant events of Rawalpindi not had happened, and the offer to join hands with Pakistan was presented to Sikhs a little earlier, it would have gotten more serious attention. But some historians believe that these meetings did not take place in 1947, rather in 1946. Now, lets address the question of whether Sikhs ever demanded a separate state themselves. Friends .. the British did offer a possibility of a separate state to the Sikhs as well. And we do have a historical witness to that. In his book, ‘Some Documents on the Demand for the Sikh –
Homeland’, Kapur Singh writes, On May 17, 1947, the British Cabinet invited Nehur, Liaquat Ali Khan and Baldev Singh to England, in order to reach a final solution for the problem of division of India. Failing to arrive at any mutual agreement, Nehru decided to return to India. Following that, the British Cabinet members made an offer to Baldev Singh. They said that if he separates himself from Nehru, there might be a way for Sikhs to keep their unique political standing. And Sikhs might be able to get identified through their own identity globally; independently of Hindus. In simple words, that was in fact an offer for a separate and autonomous state for Sikhs. Baldev Singh tried and asked for Nehru’s opinion on this offer. Baldev Singh eventually declined the offer with the following statement and returned to India, “The Sikhs do not have any other demand from British, except to quite India.”
That’s a testimony to the faith that Sikhs had in the promise of an autonomous state, offered by Hindus. A study of history reveals that the demand for an independent Punjab was put forward by some Sikh leaders in the 1930s. They demanded that the state be comprised of Jalandhar division, Lahore division, Ambala … Lyalpur (present day Faisalabad) and Montgomery (present day Sahiwal). They also wanted to include the regions of Karnal and Hisar. They were even ready to let go of some of the Hindu majority areas of Punjab. Nankana Sahib, one of the most sacred places for Sikhs, was also a part of Lahore division. At another instance, a formula to divide Punjab in 3 parts was also put forward. According to the formula, it was demanded that Ambala and Jalandhar divisions be formed into a non-Muslim state. Secondly, Rawalpindi and Multan divisions be formed into a Muslim state.
Thirdly, Lahore division will be controlled collectively by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. But the fact of the matter was that the Sikh population was less than 15% of the total Punjab population. According to the Governor of Punjab at that time, Jenkins … a non-Muslim state could be made using such formulas but a Sikh state couldn’t. And Sikhs were only 15% without majority in any state. The British Secretary of State for India commented on these Sikh demands as follows: “Undoubtedly, Sikhs are a great people and their role in the economy and armed forces of India, is far greater than their population.
But it’s also a fact that there are only 4 million Sikhs in the 25 million population of Punjab. And according to any democratic standards, they can hardly be considered as even a significant minority. They aren’t in majority in any district. Keeping these facts in view, there’s no point in asking for a separate Sikh state. ” This is enough to clarify that Sikhs did try to get a separate state. But their smaller population and lack of majority in any state, made it next to impossible. Sikh leaders of the time had a clear idea about this apparent weakness.
That’s why they started supporting the idea of an autonomous state in a free India by aligning themselves with Congress more vigorously. The division of Punjab was a No No for Sikhs. Because a major part of their population existed in Punjab. And being a Muslim majority state, the division of Punjab was certain. But Muslims, Hindus or British were not to be blamed for this. It was the lack of numbers for Sikhs. Also religiously and historically, Sikhs had better relations with Hindus.
Perhaps that is the reason that made Sikhs agree with the prospects of their state within India. Let’s take a look at the post partition India, now. When the Constitution of India was compiled in 1950, it did not have the said rights for Sikhs, that were promised before partition. That infuriated the Sikh leadership and they refused to accept the constitution.
The promise of an autonomous state for Sikhs was being ignored by Congress. On the contrary, Congress included the Hindu majority areas of Haryana in the new state of Punjab. This further reduced the percentage population of Sikhs in the state. However, Sikhs originally demanded that all the Punjabi speaking areas should be combined to form a completely Punjabi state. With Punjabi as its official language. In 1956, a coalition of 8 autonomous states, PEPSU .. Patiala and East Punjab States Union … was also included in the Sikh majority Punjab. This made Sikhs even more angry. They started feeling as if they were deliberately being cheated.
And Hindu majority areas are being dissolved in Sikh areas deliberately, so that Sikhs may not get powerful enough to get majority in even a single state. Indian government tried to make up for this in 1966, that is, right after the 1965 war. Some southern Hindu majority areas of PEPSU, were made a part of already Hindu majority Haryana, and made it a separate state. Similarly, some of the northern parts of Punjab such as Hoshiarpur were merged with Himachal Pradesh. It eventually resulted in a Sikh majority Punjab.
Chandigarh, the new city built as an alternative of Lahore after partition, was declared the common capital of Punjab and Haryana. And hence, Chandigarh served as a union territory of the central government. Sikhs were still not happy with the government because of Chandigarh issue. They wanted it to be a part of Punjab only. Even after the creation of the new Sikh majority Punjab, the conflicts between Sikhs and central government in India continued. The painful incident of Golden Temple in 1984 was a result of these conflicts. Time to consider a hypothesis … What if Sikhs had agreed to be a part of Pakistan … Had Sikhs agreed to support Pakistan at the time of partition, the whole of Punjab would have stayed united with Muslims and Sikhs living together.
United Punjab was the most fertile land in India and provided food for the whole sub continent. And that would have meant that the boundaries of united Punjab reaching Delhi. It could also have weakened the Indian army as a large number of Sikh soldiers would have gone to Pakistan. And the sacred Sikh cities, such as Nankana Sahib, Amritsar, Kartarpur and Hasan Abdal, would have stayed a part of the Sikh state. Sikhs, who are currently only 2% of the Indian population, would have been 13% of the Pakistani population.
And that is almost 6 times as much as their current standing in India. Inclusion of Sikhs in Pakistan could have made Pakistan culturally and socially more diverse. The 13% Sikh population would have made Pakistan a multi-cultural country. Especially in terms of religion. But these are just hypotheses. Sikhs are a free nation. Their leadership decided what they thought was best for them. How successful that decision turned out to be … is a question for historians. Do let us know what you think about this, in the comment section. Thank you. Contact Us