MARCH 3, 1947. The Lahore Assembly. Extremely surcharged atmosphere.
A turban Sardar with an unsheathed kirpan in hand shouted at the top of his hoarse voice: Pakistan Murdabad!
(Khushwant Singh, The History of the Sikhs)
A number of historians and witnesses later claimed that Master Tara Singh had also snatched a Muslim League flag.
"Had Master ji not been there that day and had he not acted with that kind of bravado, the map of India would have been very different from what it looks like now. By uprooting the Pakistani flag in Lahore, Master Tara Singh procured for India half of the Punjab and Bengal," C Rajagopalachari was to write years later.
Lord Wavell with Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Master Tara Singh
The Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946 had clearly grouped the provinces of the British India into three groups and Punjab was put in the "Pakistan group". It was clear to all that if the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan was considered, which seemed to be the probable course of action at the time, all Muslim majority provinces would go to Pakistan. Punjab was one such state.
Master Tara Singh, who had emerged as a leader of Punjab's Hindus and Muslims, wrote to the Secretary of State for India: "If the Cabinet Mission's recommendation is to give protection to Muslims, why should the same consideration not be shown to the Sikhs?"
But he received a reply that any partition of Punjab would be far less acceptable to the Sikhs.
Master Tara Singh's reaction and the subsequent riots forced the Congress to pass a resolution on April 8, 1947 to demand the division of Punjab into two provinces so that the predominantly Muslim part may be separated from the predominantly non-Muslim part.
This resolution, as per historian Dr Kirpal Singh, carried the message to the Muslim League that it could not have it both ways – it could not take Muslim areas out of India and insist on keeping non-Muslim majority portions in Pakistan to terrorize them for all times to come.
A close associate of Master Tara Singh, Thekedar Surjan Singh recalled those events when he was alive: "As there was talk of the Muslim League majority Assembly having made all preparations to pass a resolution in support of Pakistan on that day, Master ji told others to go inside and himself took charge outside. Suddenly, with the sword in hand, he shouted 'Pakistan Murdabad,' and snatched the flag."
This triggered the riots that eventually led to a great bloodbath but saved Punjab from going to Pakistan.
Giani Kartar Singh, who later became a Union Minister, Gokul Chand Narang and Gopi Chand Bhargava were present with Master Tara Singh when he shouted anti-Pakistan slogans on March 3, 1947.
Riots started on March 5 and engulfed the whole of Punjab. Master's own village Hariyal in Rawalpindi was the first to be burnt down. Estimates of those killed varied widely. Sir Edward Penderel Moon, who probably was later placed in the best position to make an estimate, claimed after comparing notes with Sir Francis Mudie, the governor of West Punjab, that the number was 60,000 in Pakistan and a little more in East Pakistan. Sirdar Kapur Singh, in his Sachi Sakhi, put the number of those killed in the March-September 1947 period as five lakhs but it is considered highly exaggerated.
Balraj Madhok of the Jan Sangh was to say later that Master Tara Singh was the first Punjabi who advised the Hindus and Sikhs to leave their homes and migrate to East Punjab.
Madhok also credited Master Tara Singh for saving a large number of lives of Hindus and Sikhs as the Congress had not paid any attention towards formulating a policy for the organised transfer of communities.
The incident in Master's own words:
"Sir Khijir Hayat had resigned on the night of March 2, 1947. His Unionist Ministry was likely to be replaced by the Muslim League ministry. On March 3, the Sikh members of the Assembly met at the kothi of Sardar Swaran Singh.
"We got several offers from the League that day to join the ministry but how could we have agreed to the Muslim majority rule?
It was clear by that time that Pakistan was going to be a reality. We were apprehending that the whole of Punjab would go to Pakistan. So the Sikh members decided to prevent the formation of the League ministry.
"After taking a decision to this effect, we went to the Assembly. Some people suggested that we would make clear our opposition in the evening. I said we should do it now. There could have been a far bigger trouble because of the large Muslim crowd outside.
"Without much further ado, I told everyone 'let's get out'. I shouted "Pakistan Murdabad." There were only 24 of us. The crowd of Muslims was in thousands as it advanced in our direction."
(Punjab observed 134th birth anniversary of Master Tara Singh on June 24, 2018.)
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