Baldev Singh

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For the Punjabi novelist, see Baldev Singh (author).
Baldev Singh
Baldev Singh in 1948
Minister of Defence
In office
1947–1952
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Kailash Nath Katju
Member of Parliament - Lok Sabha
In office
1952–1961
Personal details
Born July 11, 1902
Rupar, Punjab, British Raj (now India)
Died 1961
Delhi, India
Political party Indian National Congress
Shiromani Akali Dal
Akali Dal
Alma mater Khalsa College
Religion Sikh

Baldev Singh (Hindi: बलदेव सिंह) was an Indian Sikh political leader, he was an Indian independence movement leader and the first Defence Minister of India. Moreover, he represented the Punjabi Sikh community in the processes of negotiations that resulted in the independence of India, as well as the Partition of India in 1947.

After independence, Baldev Singh was chosen to become as the first Minister of Defence, and served in this post during the first Kashmir war between India and Pakistan. He is addressed often with the title of Sardar, which in Punjabi and Hindi means Leader or Chief.

Early life and political career[edit]

Baldev Singh was born on July 11, 1902 in the Rupar district of Punjab to an aristocratic family. Singh was educated at the Khalsa College in Amritsar, and began working in his father's firm in the steel industry. He rose to the position of director of the firm.

Baldev Singh won an election to the Punjab provincial assembly under the Government of India Act 1935 in 1937, as a candidate of the Panthic party. He became closely linked with Master Tara Singh and the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Cripps Mission and World War II[edit]

When the Cripps Mission arrived in India in 1942 to offer Indians some form of self-government, Baldev Singh was chosen to represent the Sikh community in the talks, which also included the chief Indian political party, the Indian National Congress and Muslim League party. The Mission failed to make any progress.

While the Congress Party launched the Quit India Movement, Baldev Singh and other Sikh leaders did not support it. Singh negotiated an agreement with Sikander Hyat Khan, the leader of the Unionist Muslim League to form a government in Punjab, and became the provincial Development Minister for a brief time in the summer of 1942.

Cabinet Mission and government[edit]

Baldev Singh was chosen again to represent the Sikh viewpoint to the Cabinet Mission Plan that had arrived to discuss proposals for Indian political independence. Singh reiterated the Sikh view that India should remain a united country with special protections for the rights of religious minorities. Singh also insisted that should partition become inevitable, the division of the Punjab should happen in a way to offer territorial protection to the Sikhs from Muslim domination.

Although Baldev Singh and other Sikhs initially opposed the implementation of the Mission's May 16 scheme, in the grounds that it did not offer any protection to the Sikh community, Baldev Singh joined the new Viceroy's Executive Council, to be headed by Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the Sikh member. Singh became the Defence Member, a post erstwhile held by the British Commander in Chief of the Indian Army. However, by early 1947, it was clear that the interim government would not work, owing to the conflict between the Congress Party and the Muslim League.

Partition of India[edit]

Baldev Singh once again represented the Sikh community, this time on the Partition Council, which on the basis of the plan written by V.P. Menon and Lord Louis Mountbatten, would partition British India into two independent, self-governing dominions of the British Empire: India and Pakistan.

The Sikh community feared that partition would leave the Sikhs people a small minority in both Pakistan and India, and worried of the violence and deprivation of rights which might victimize them. But the violence of 1946-47 where thousands of people in the Punjab had been killed, made the Sikh leaders unwilling to co-exist with a Muslim majority and had acquiesced to the partition of the province. And given assurances by Congress leaders that India would protect its religious minorities under a secular, democratic Constitution, the Sikhs backed India and partition.

As defence minister[edit]

On August 15, 1947, India became an independent nation and Baldev Singh Singh became India's first Minister of Defence, under the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Singh was also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India.

Along with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Home Minister, Singh became responsible for leading the Indian Army's efforts t ecurity, relief and refuge to over 10 million Hindus and Sikhs who were leaving the newly created Pakistan. Terrible violence broke loose on both sides of the frontier along the Punjab and Bengal, and to date it is estimated that over 1 million people were killed, with millions more suffering from usual acts of cruelty and great physical and personal trauma from the migration.

The Army was caught unprepared, and itself was torn apart by the conflict. Thousands of Muslim officers were leaving for Pakistan, and those still doing their duty for India were worried of their own safety. The Hindu and Sikh soldiers were committing acts of violence against Muslims leaving India as revenge for the killings of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Riots had broken out in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay. Patel and Singh led from the front, and despite a heavy toll, the Army finally re-asserted peace and rule of law all over India and the borders of Punjab and Bengal, and organized a massive relief and aid operation for the millions of people arriving in India.

Defence Minister Singh also led the preparations and planning for war in Kashmir, which had broken out with Pakistani tribesmen and some military officers had incursed into the state with the aim of annexing it into Pakistan. Over almost two years, the Indian Army would wage battle with the militants and the Pakistan Army at the highest altitudes in the world. The Army succeeded in pushing back the raiders from Srinagar and beyond the Baramulla Pass, but with Nehru's declaration of a cease-fire under the supervision of the United Nations, a considerable portion of territory now lay under firm control of the Pakistani Army, and the Kashmir conflict was born.

In September 1948, under the instructions of Acting Prime Minister Sardar Patel Singh and his commanders prepared plans for Operation Polo, a week-long operation that annexed the princely state of Hyderabad into the Indian Union. Singh remained a close advisor to Patel on managing the Kashmir conflict and issues of the integration of India.

Later life[edit]

In 1952, Baldev Singh became a member of the Parliament of India as a member of the Congress Party when the nation held its first democratic elections under the new Constitution of India, but did not join the Nehru administration. Singh remained the major political representative of Sikh concerns and was respected by the Akali Dal, and was re-elected in 1957. Singh died in Delhi after a prolonged illness in 1961. He is survived by his nephew, Sardar Ravi Inder Singh. He is also survived by his niece Harbhajan Kaur who currently resides in Ludhiana, and Sandeep Buttar, who lives in the United States.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]