Sardar Ajit Singh

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Sardar Ajit Singh, from his Memorial at Dalhausie

Sardar Ajit Singh Sindhu (1881-1947) was born in a military family from Punjab in India. His Grandfather was Sardar Fateh Singh Sinhu and his elder brother was Sardar Kishen Singh Sinhu the father of Sardar Bhagat Singh. Ajit Singh was one of the first men in the Punjab to openly show resentment of the high-handedness of the British rulers and publicly criticize the government. Even as a child he questioned the Salaaming (bowing in courtesy) that his elder grandfather did to younger men; British Sahibs (masters) who he thought were ill mannered and too stupid of being able to learn to speak Punjabi any better than a child.

He was declared a political rebel and deported to Mandalay for a while. He spent much of his adult life as an expatriot traveling the world. In Italy when WWII broke out, he was asked to teach Persian at a University in Naples. He also gave a number of speeches in Hindustani, broadcasting to Indian soldiers serving in the British Army in North Africa. His speeches were aimed at raising an Azad Hind Fauj to fight against the British in India.

At Nawashahr

He was born at Khatkarkalan village in Jalandhar District, the son of Arjan Singh and Jai Kaur. Educated as a child in the village school, he matriculated from his uncle's middle school at Jullundur (Sain Dass Anglo Sanskrit High School) then he studied at D.A.V. College, Lahore. Later he attended the Law College, at Barreily, but soon his childhood dislike of the British rulers of Punjab was rekindled and he plunged, heart and soul, into the freedom movement, dropping his law studies. Attending the Darbar of Lord Kurzon in 1903 he sought to organize the Maharajas (Rulers) of the Princely states to unite against the British. In an effort to fully understand the minds of his adversaries he started giving lessons in Urdu and Panjabi, many British officers became his students. After attending the 1906 Congress session in Calcutta, with the idea of replacing the Congress and changing its path, he returned to the Punjab.

Agrarian agitation in the Punjab

This was during the 1906-07 agrarian agitation in the Punjab, when the passing of the Punjab Land Colonization Bill (1906) that had increased the rates of land revenue and irrigation tax, had created widespread discontent in the rural areas. The Colonization Bill also aimed to stop any further fragmentation of land holdings in the Chenab Colony by introducing the idea of primogeniture (long the practice of British Royals, primogeniture passed everything from father to eldest son. The Colony was mostly inhabited by Sikh ex-soldiers. This, and some other clauses of the Bill, caused great resentment among the farmers, who regarded it as unjustified interference with their traditional rights related to the division of property.

Popular feelings were further aroused by the 1907 prosecution of the editor of the Punjabee, an English language bi-weekly newspaper, which often published anti-government views. Ajit Singh and his elder brother, Sardar Kishen Singh and Ghasita Ram formed the Bharat Mata Society, hoping to arouse the public. They also launched a campaign of agitation against British rule in India in the Punjab. To help with this they sought to enlist the assistance of Lajpat Rai, but he considered the idea rash, going so far as to call Ajit Singh a hothead. A large number of protest meetings and demonstrations against the Colonization Bill were held not only in villages but also in important cities such as Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, Lahore and Amritsar. Many of these were addressed by Ajit Singh who had become a virulent critic of the government. Besides referring to the immediate problems the peasantry faced, he exhorted the people to strive for the freedom of the country and work to end foreign rule.

In 1907, after giving one too many speeches in which the crowds grew unruly and threatened British citizens and businesses (it was the 50th anniversary of the Sepoi Mutiny and the British were growing very fearfull of their small numbers). After Lajput Rai was arreasted he learned that a warrant was out for his arrest, as well. Trying not to raise unrest any further he volunteered himself for arrest telling the British when and where he would be walking alone. On the recommendation of the Punjab Government, the Government of India deported him to Mandalay Jail in Burma along with Lala Lajpat Rai. After this on November 11th he returned to the Punjab amid much popular acclaim. He did not wait long to resume his anti-British activities.

He launched a newspaper, the Peshwa, with Sufi Amba Prasad as its editor. He also brought out a series of tracts and pamphlets, such as Baghi Masiha, Muhibbani Watan, Bandar Bant and Ungali Pakarte Pan/a Pakara, attacking British rule in India. Fearing prosecution for an article in the Peshwa, Ajit Singh, along with Zia ul Haq, escaped to Persia in 1908. There he continued to work for India`s freedom and succeeded in building up a small revolutionary centre at Shiraz.. The recruits to these groups included young nationalists like Rhishikesh Letha and Thakur Das.

In May 1910, he and his associates started, in Persian, a revolutionary journal, the Hayat. In September 1910, he shifted to Bushire, with a view to establishing contact with his comrades in India through Indian traders and seamen. His activities alarmed the British government. Considering further residence in Iran unsafe, Ajit Singh proceeded to Turkey via Russia where he met Mustafa Kamal Pasha, Turkish general and statesman who, better known as Atta Turk, became the father of modern Turkey.

Reports as early as 1910 indicated that the Germans were trying to unite Turkey and Persia and then proceed to Afghanistan to threaten British India. However, Ajit Singh's departure in 1911 brought the Indian revolutionary activities to a grinding halt, while British representations to Persia successfully curbed whatever activity that remained in the country. From there, he traveled to Rome, Geneva, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro.

Sardar Ajit Singh History at memorial

Towards the end of 1913, he departed from Turkey and shifted to Paris, France where working briefly with Indian revolutionaries, but he left soon after the outbreak of World War I, to go to Brazil where he remained from 1914 to 1932. From Brazil it was easier for him to be in touch with the leaders of the Ghadr Party in the United States. He also formed a society of Indians settled in Brazil to make them aware of their duty towards their mother country and also to raise funds to support India`s struggle for freedom.

In 1918, he came in close contact with the Ghadar Party in San Francisco. Later he shifted to Switzerland where he made the acquaintance of Lala Har Dayal and revolutionaries from other parts of the world; South America, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Egypt and Morocco. Here he also met the Italian leader and future dictator, Mussolini and the famous Russian revolutionist, Trotsky. From 1932 to 1938, Ajit Singh worked in France, Switzerland and Germany renewing his contacts with the Indian revolutionaries working in Europe.

He wanted to return to India where, he thought, he could work more effectively for the cause dear to his heart. But the government, viewing him as a "dangerous agitator" and an "undesirable foreigner" (he had secured Brazilian citizenship) , did not allow his entry into the country. In 1939, he returned to Europe and on the eve of World War II, Ajit Singh shifted to Italy where, in order to intensify his activities and mobilize Italian public and government support in favour of India, he formed the Friends of India Society. Later on he broadcasted rebellion to Indian troops in Africa and worked to raise troops from captured Indian soldiers emprisoned in Italy forming a revolutionary army of the Indian prisoners of war. His passionate speeches in Hindustani broadcast from Rome by Radio and his own example of sacrifice and suffering for the country made had made a deep impact on the Indian soldiers. He advised Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to learn to speak Hindustani as he had only been able to enlist 25 members in his Berlin Azad Hind Fauj (army) where he and his partners in Italy had raised more than 10,000 men.

After the fall of Italy, Ajit Singh was imprisoned and kept in an Italian jail and later, when the Germans surrendered, he was shifted to a jail in Germany. The British  intended to see that he was punished for his work on behalf of the Axis powers. Turned over at one time to the care of an American camp he shared the facts of why he had worked against the British in the war and was promtly freed and sent on his way by an American officer who had considered him a patriot like those who had worked to win America's freedom from British rule. But the British were quick to arrest him again. After suffering from imprisonment in bad, often cold, damp conditions with little food or medical treatment (one time, he thought that he was purposely mis-diagnosed with tubeculosis and then forced to sleep between two very ill tuberculosis patients. Locked up in Germany he was ventually released. He finally made it to Britain and the good care of his well wishers and admirers. 

In 1946, he came back to India at the invitation of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru reaching Karachi on 8 March 1847. After participating in the Asian Relations Conference which was then in session in Delhi, he came to Dalhousie. There in poor health he breathed his last breath, ironically on the very day that India got its Independence--the cause for which he had laboured his whole adult life.

Sardar Ajit Singh Memorial at Dalhausie

On August 15, 1947 His last words were, "Thank God, my mission is fulfilled."

A samadhi in his memory is located at Panjpula, a popular and scenic picnic spot in Dalhousie. Perhaps less well known than Bose, and not featured in films like his famous nephew Sardar Bhagat Singh, he was never-the-less a leading figure in the cause of India's independence.

References

1. Ganda Singh, ed., History of the Freedom Movement in the Panjab, vol. IV (Deportation of La/a Lajpat Rai and SardarAjit Singh). Patiala, 1978

2. Pardaman Singh and Joginder Singh Dhanki, ed., Bun`ed Alive. Chandigarh, 1984

3. Mohan, Kamlesh, Militant Nationalism in the Punjab 1919-1935. Delhi, 1985

4. Puri, Harish K., Ghadar Movement. Amritsar, 1983

5. Deol, Gurdev Singh, Shahid Ajit Singh. Patiala, 1973

6. Jagjit Singh, Ghadar Parti Lahir. Delhi, 1979

7. Yadav 1992, p. 29

8. ^ a b c Yadav 1992, p. 30

  • Yadav, B.D (1992), M.P.T. Acharya, Reminiscences of an Indian Revolutionary, Anmol Publications Pvt ltd, ISBN 8170414709.