Giani Kartar Singh

He lived and died as a fakir
Review by Roopinder Singh

Giani Kartar Singh. A commemorative volume,
by Jasdev Singh Sandhu, S Jasdev Singh Sandhu Foundation, Patiala. Pp 365. Price Rs 300.

Giani Kartar Singh. A commemorative volumeONE of the most important figures in shaping the way Punjab is today was Giani Kartar Singh (1902-1974). He was born in Lyallpur district, though his family originally belonged to Nagoke village in Amritsar district.

He studied at Khalsa College, Amritsar, where he came in contact with such doyens of education as Bawa Harkishan Singh, Professor Teja Singh and Professor Niranjan Singh. He was educated in but did not graduate from the college, since he became politically active.

Giani Kartar Singh was a member of the SGPC since its inception in 1925 to 1960 continuously. He was a Minister from 1948 to 1951 and from 1957 to 1963, except for a few months in 1959. He was a Minister in the Cabinets of Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava, Bhim Sen Sachar and Partap Singh Kairon.

Like almost all Punjabi politicians, he had started his political career as an Akali, though he became a Congressman later on. In this he was in the company of Hukam Singh, Swaran Singh and Gurmukh Singh Musafir.
Giani Kartar Singh made his mark in rehabilitating the refugees from what became Pakistan. Here he was ably assisted by Dr M. S. Randhawa.

One of Giani Kartar Singh’s most able lieutenants was Jasdev Singh Sandhu. It is he who got articles written by most of the luminaries who had been in public life at the same time as Giani Kartar Singh.

The book is a compilation of these articles and includes monograms written by I. K. Gujral (Giani Kartar Singh was the colleague of his father), Prof Harbans Singh (who recorded Gianiji memoirs), Baldev Raj Nayar (who interviewed him while researching for his Ph.D), Giani Zail Singh (who made the state look after him when Giani Kartar Singh was very ill), Lala Jagat Narain (whose ties went back to Lyallpur days), Ajit Singh Sarhadi (who calls him the brain of Sikh leadership), and Swaran Singh (Gianiji gave up his selection as Minister in Khizar Hyat Cabinet for him).

It also has reminiscences by Pandit Mohan Lal, Hukam Singh, Gurmukh Singh Musafir, Kuldip Nayar, Amar Singh Ambalvi, Gursewak Singh and S. S. Narula.

As one reads the book, one comes across various vignettes in the life of a person who devoted himself totally to public service. He was controversial, but no one could doubt his integrity or his commitment.

This book is a good attempt to remember the man who had so much impact on the destiny of Punjab. It was Jasdev Singh Sandhu’s mission to bring out this book, but fate willed otherwise, and it is now his son Tejinder Pal Singh Sandhu who has brought it out, with the help of Dr Dharam Singh of Punjabi University, Patiala, who edited the book, which would have been better if it also carried an index.

Most such books are hagiographical in nature to a certain extent. So is this volume, though given the sheer number of his contemporaries who had personal relationships with him brings out interesting aspects of the life of Giani Kartar Singh. The renowned historian, Hari Ram Gupta, dedicated the fourth volume of his “History of the Sikhs” to Giani Kartar Singh, who “lived and died as a genuine faquir”. One can’t say that about many politicians of today.

This article was published in The Tribune on October 28, 2001