Harchand Singh Longowal
Harchand Singh Longowal
|Died||20 August 1985 (aged 53)|
|Occupation||President of the Akali Dal|
Harchand Singh Longowal (2 January 1932 − 20 August 1985) was the President of the Akali Dal during the Punjab insurgency of the 1980s. He had signed the Punjab accord, also known as the Rajiv-Longowal Accord along with Rajiv Gandhi on 24 July 1985. The government accepted most of the demands of Akali Dal who in turn agreed to withdraw their agitation. Less than a month after signing the Punjab accord, Longowal was assassinated by the Sikh groups who felt let down by the accord and opposed it.
Harchand Singh Longowal was born on 2 January 1932, in a family of modest means living in Gidariani, a village then in the princely state of Patiala, but now a part of Sangrur district of Punjab (India). Under the tutelage of Sant Jodh Singh at the seminary in nearby Maujo, he studied Sikh theology and Sikh texts and practised Sikh music. As his teacher was also a member of the Akali movement, it is likely that young Harchand also imbibed the spirit of political activism at that time.
Leaving Maujo at the age of twenty-one, Harchand Singh served as scripture-reader and custodian at the village gurdwara at Heron Kalan, moving the following year to Longowal, a small town 16 kilometers south-west of Sangrur. There, he raised a gurdwara in the memory of celebrated eighteenth-century scholar and martyr, Bhai Mani Singh. In 1962, Harchand Singh was named head of the important historical shrine at Damdama Sahib (Talwandi Sabo), but he took on the suffix "Longowal" which remained with him for the rest of his life. He was affectionately known as "Sant Ji"
Beginnings of political activism
Longowal's life of political activism began in June 1964, when he led a demonstration for Sikh rights at the historic site of Paonta Sahib in the present-day state of Himachal Pradesh. In 1965, Longowal became the president of the Akali organization in Sangrur district and a member of the working committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal. In 1969, he was elected to the Punjabi Legislative Assembly as the Akali candidate, defeating the Congress Party's Babu Brish Bhan, who had been chief minister of Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU).
In June 1975, the Allahabad High Court annulled election of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister; she, instead of resigning, imposed the Internal Emergency and arrested thousands of leaders of opposition parties. Although no Akali leader had been arrested but the organisation decided to launch an agitation against suppression of civil liberties. In July 1975, all the senior Akali leaders courted arrest and Harcharnd Singh Longowal took over the command of the agitation which continued till January 1977. In the 1978 bye election to Lok Sabha (the Lower House), Harchand Singh was offered the Akali nomination for Faridkot constituency but he declined the offer. He got Balwant Singh Ramoowalia to contest instead, who was elected from the seat.
1980s: Civil disobedience
In 1980, Longowal was recalled to preside over the Akali party. In this role, he organized large-scale campaigns of civil disobedience to win concessions from India's Central Government on the longstanding grievances of Punjab, and especially the Sikhs of Punjab. Longowal led the Akali side in years of frustrating negotiations with Mrs. Gandhi, talks that served to undermine public faith in the course of peaceful dialogue with the government. This, in turn strengthened the hand of extremists and separatists. In December 1983 Longowal invited sikh fundamentalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to take up residence in Golden Temple Complex at the Guru Nanak Niwas and later on in an adjacent building next to Akal Takht. He called the tough-minded Bhindranwale "our stave to beat the government."
The peaceful campaign to achieve justice from the central Indian government began 4 August 1982 under the leadership of the Akali party president, Harchand Singh Longowal and six other members of a designated high command, namely Parkash Singh Badal—former Chief Minister of Punjab, Gurcharan Singh Tohra—President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, Surjit Singh Barnala—former Union Agriculture Minister, Sukhjinder Singh—former Punjab Minister, and Ravi Inder Singh—former Speaker of the Punjab Legislature. All in all, it endured some twenty-two months and saw the arrest of more than 200,000 demonstrators in Amritsar. The overall campaign was marked by several individual demonstrations. One of the earliest had an unexpected outcome. When Longowal declared that Sikhs would demonstrate against the Central Government's injustices at the opening of the Asian Games scheduled to begin in Delhi on 19 November 1982, the Prime Minister called on the Chief Minister of Haryana to prevent Sikhs traveling by road or rail from neighbouring Punjab to Delhi. The Haryana police did this and in the process caused inconvenience to the civilians and army officers coming to the games. Harbans Singh, On 4 January 1983 there was a mass stoppage of traffic on the major highways. On 17 June 1983 rail traffic was halted by large-scale protests. A statewide work stoppage was held on 29 August 1983. On 26 January 1984, article 25(a) of the constitution, indicating Sikhs are Hindus, was publicly burned.
Finally, Longowal announced that as of 3 June 1984 would practice civil disobedience by refusing to pay land revenue, water and electricity bills, and block the flow of grain out of Punjab. The Sikh coalition in opposition to the Central Government held together until September 1983, when the increasing frustrations of negotiating with the Prime Minister began to take its toll in a growing division between Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Jagdev Singh Talwandi (refusing to pay land revenue, water and electricity bills, Harchand Singh Longowal.
During Operation Blue Star, the Indian army in 1984, killed the Sikh martyrs lodged inside the Golden temple complex. The army operation happened between 1–6 June 1984. During that time, the Army escorted Sant Longowal among other leaders out of the complex.
Finally, in March 1985, the leadership of the Akali party began to be released from prison under orders from the new prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. With a view to improving the situation and creating the conditions for a negotiated settlement of Sikh demands, the prime minister's confidante, Arjun Singh who was posted as the Governor of the state, also relaxed the censorship on the Punjabi press, withdrew army control over certain districts, announced his willingness to institute a judicial enquiry into the November 1984 killings, lifted the ban on the All India Sikh Students Federation and agreed to review the cases of thousands of Sikhs imprisoned since the army's arrival in Punjab the previous June. Within a few days, the first 53 were released. A few days later, Rajiv made an effort to address the economic woes of Punjab, with its diminishing acreages and burgeoning unemployment by announcing the establishment of a rail coach factory at Kapurthala, Punjab which would need about 20,000 people. Then, after weeks of secret negotiations, Harcharnd Singh Longowal met the Prime Minister in Delhi and on 23 July 1985 signed an eleven-point memorandum covering all the major issues which had defied resolution since the Akalis had first presented their list of demands. The accord attracted opposition from several orthodox Sikh leaders of Punjab as well as from the politicians of Haryana. Some of its promises could not be fulfilled due to the disagreements.
Less than a month after signing the Punjab accord, Longowal was assassinated by the Sikh soilders opposed to the accord. Longowal was shot and killed on 20 August 1985 near the gurdwara in village Sherpur, 90 km from Patiala in Punjab. Assassin Halwinder Singh fired bullets from a point blank range at Longowal. The bullets had pierced his abdomen causing his death. His cremation took place on 21 August.
- D. R. Kalia (1985) Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, 1932–1985: A Martyr for Peace. New-Age Publishers. p. 50.
- Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES, vol 6 (also 7, 8 and 9), published by The Sikh University Press, Belgium. [This book has Punjabi version too].
- Sujit Singh Gandhi (1996) "Harchand Singh Longowal, Sant", in The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol. II, Patiala. Harbans Singh (ed.). India: Punjabi University. p. 226. ISBN 978-8173805301
- Harji Malik (1984) "The Politics of Alienation", in Punjab – The Fatal Miscalculation: Perspectives on Unprincipled Politics. Patwant Singh and Harji Malik (eds.). New Delhi. pp. 36, 38–39.
- Singh, p. 355
- Singh, p. 337
- Khushwant Singh (1985) "The Genesis", in The Punjab Crisis: Challenge and Response, Abida Samiuddin, ed., Delhi, K.M. Mittal, p. 97.
- Harbans Singh (1983) The Heritage of the Sikhs, Delhi: Manohar Books. pp. 356–59.
- Devdutt (1985) "A Counter Paper on Punja", in The Punjab Crisis: Challenge and Response, Abida Samiuddin, ed., Delhi, K.M. Mittal, p. 242.
- Singh, p. 341
- Kuldeep Kaur (1999) Akali Party in Punjab Politics: Splits and Mergers, New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications Pvt. Ltd. pp. 81–85, 90
- Mark Tully and Satish Jacob (1985) Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle, London: Jonathan Cape. p. 91. ISBN 978-8129109170
- Singh, p. 394
- Singh, p. 395
- "Sikh Leader in Punjab Accord Assassinated". LA Times. Times Wire Services. 21 August 1985. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- "Sant Harchand Singh Longowal assassination suspected to be politically motivated". India Today. 6 January 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- "Sant Harchand Singh Longowal's assassin leads a quiet life". Hindustan Times. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
- Khushwant Singh (2004) A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi; Oxford University Press. p. 355. ISBN 0195673093
- https://www.deutsches-informationszentrum-sikhreligion.de/1984_de.php – The double role of Harchand Singh Longowal