Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhawalia – Chief of Singh Sabha Movement

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Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhawalia

Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhawalia

WHILE tracing the history of the freedom movement of India, little importance has been attached to the efforts made both by Maharaja Daleep Singh, exiled in Britain, and his cousin Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia in India to free their motherland from the British.

Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia
Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhawalia

Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia prepared the exiled Prince not only to re-embrace Sikhism, his original religion, but also imbued him with zeal to return to India to wrest back his lost empire after abrogating the Treaty of Bhairowal (1846) and Terms Granted (1849) by which he had lost not only his kingdom and the Kohinoor but also the right to reside in the Punjab.

Hailing from Raja Sansi village (now known for the international airport in Amritsar district), Thakur Singh was born in 1837 and was only 12 years old when Maharaja Daleep Singh lost his empire to the British. He was a witness to the goings on of the First War of Independence in 1857, in which his father-in-law Raja Nahar Singh of Ballabhgarh was hanged to death.

He was well versed in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit languages. In 1865, he was appointed as a Extra Assistant Commissioner of Amritsar and elected as a member of administrative board of Golden Temple, Amritsar. From that time he took initial steps to improve the social and religious conditions of the Sikhs and Sikh shrines.

The turning point in his life came when he learnt about the conversion of four Sikh students of Amritsar Mission High School into Christianity in 1873. He immediately summoned a meeting of prominent Sikhs like Baba Khem Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak, Kanwar Bikram Singh of Kapurthala and Sikh scholar Giani Gian Singh of Amritsar and laid the foundation of the reformist Singh Sabha Society on October 1, 1873, of which he became the founder President.

The British divested him of his powers as Extra Assistant Commissioner at Amritsar and his entire estate was brought under the control of Court of Wards. About the same time, he received a telegram from Maharaja Daleep Singh, asking him to give the details of his properties in Punjab. The Maharaja also invited him to visit England. The British Government was opposed to the visit of Thakar Singh to England but as its ties with Maharaja Daleep Singh had not deteriorated to the level beyond redemption, it allowed him to visit England. By helping Talbot, an English solicitor sent by the Maharaja from England for identifying his properties in India, Thakur Singh became the most hated man in the eyes of the British Government.

However, he left Amritsar on September 28, 1884. He went to England accompanied by his sons Narinder Singh and Gurdit Singh and a granthi called Partap Singh. He wanted the granthi to recite the Guru Granth Sahib to the Maharaja. In England, Thakur Singh would talk of the lost riches of the Punjab and Talbot’s report. “But, Thakur Singh Sandhawalia had carried with him to England something much more potent than a list of lost property. He bore the keys to the whole kingdom in the form of a prophecy,” says Christy Campbell, a researcher.

According to the “prophecy”, the Maharaja was to return to India through Russia and regain his lost empire after extensive bloodshed. The Maharaja did not believe the prophecy earlier but Thakur Singh Sandhawalia wrote to his eldest son Gurbachan Singh in India to obtain written statements from principal Sikh priests verifying the prophecy. These were then signed and sealed and sent to Elvedon Hall. After that there were no doubts in the gullible Maharaja’s mind. A year later, the impolitic Maharaja committed one of the most tragic mistakes of his life by mentioning that prophecy in a letter to Lord Randolph Churchill, Secretary of State for India.

In order to embrace the religion of his forefathers, Maharaja Daleep Singh left England on March 30, 1886. He requested Thakar Singh to reach Bombay and arrange the ‘Pahaul’ ceremony. The Maharaja, upon knowing that the then Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab would not allow him to visit Bombay, wrote to the British Secretary of the State of India to give him permission.

While the entire Punjab was anxiously awaiting the return of their Maharaja, Daleep Singh was served a notice to stop at Aden. The re-conversion ceremony was performed at Aden with the help of Sikh representatives sent by Thakar Singh Sandhawalia.

Since the Maharaja was refused permission to visit his motherland and settle down in India, he became ‘an implacable enemy’ of the British empire and abrogated the Treaty of Bhairowal signed by him on July 15, 1886.

He decided to sneak into Pondicherry, a French territory in India where the writ of the British empire did not extend, in order to carry out his plan of arranging an insurrection. He also planned to take the help of 30,000 Russian troops for the attack.

The ban on the entry of Maharaja Daleep Singh to India and the calculated attempt to keep Thakur Singh away from him had made them both bitter enemies of the British empire.

Roughly seven decades later in 1966, the Punjab Government issued a letter to Sardar Beant Singh Sandhawalia, a great grandson of Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia, asking him to collect Rs 5000 as ‘symbolic’ compensation for the estates of Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia from the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar. Even if the much-touted claims of Sardar Beant Singh Sandhawalia on Kohinoor or other precious items appear debatable, it would be worthwhile to name the Amritsar international airport at Raja Sansi after Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia.