Harchand Singh Longowal

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Harchand Singh Longowal (Dullat) (2 January 1932 − 20 August 1985) was the President of the Akali Dal during the Punjab insurgency of the 1980s.


Harchand Singh Longowal was born 2 January 1932, a couple 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 Harcharan Singh also imbibed the spirit of political activism at that time.

Moved to village Longowal

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 to 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 (Talvandi Sabo), but he took with him the suffix “Longowal” which remained with him for the rest of his life. He affectionately known as "Sant Ji"[1]

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, Harchand Singh 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 Harchand Singh Longowal took over the command of the agitation which continued till January 1977. Afterward the agitation was over, he remained at a low key from public life. In the 1978 bye election to Lok Sabha (the Lower House), Harchand Singh was given the Akali nomination for Faridkot constituency but declined the offer and got Balwant Ramuwalia elcted from the seat. [2]

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. Sant 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.[4] During the Central Government's ongoing campaign to discredit the Sikhs and paint them as seditious and bad for the country, Sant Longowal was several times called on to explain his vision of the aspirations of Sikhs in India: “Let me make it clear once and for all that the Sikhs have no designs to get away from India in any manner. What they want simply is that they should be allowed to live in India as Sikhs, free from all direct and indirect interference and tampering with their religious way of life. Undoubtedly the Sikhs have the same nationality as other Indians.” 11/10/82[5] In July 1982, Sant Longowal invited Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to take up residence at the Golden Temple compound. He called the tough-minded Sant “our stave to beat the government.” [3]

The peaceful campaign to achieve justice from the central Indian government began 4 August 1982 under the leadership of the Akali party president, Sant Harcharan 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 her ally, the Chief Minister of Haryana to harass and prevent Sikhs traveling by road or rail from neighbouring Punjab to Delhi. This the Haryana police did with great zeal and in the process humiliated and radicalized many distinguished and highly decorated Sikh civilians and army officers coming to the games. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs, Delhi, Manohar Books, 1983, pp. 356–59. 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 state-wide 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 hardliners led by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale and Jagdev Singh Talwandi and the moderates led by Harcharan Singh Longowal.

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 next day, the Indian Army began its long-planned attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Inside, were Longowal, SGPC head Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala and thousands of pilgrims. Longowal and Tohra and the rest of the Akali leadership were arrested and imprisoned. Bhindranwala and most of his followers in the temple were killed.

Punjab Accord

Finally, in March 1985, the leadership of the Akali party began to be released from jail 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 confidente, Arjun Singh, himself a Punjabi, 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 skilled hands. Then, after weeks of secret negotiations, Harcharan Singh Longowal met the Prime Minister in Delhi and on July 23, 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. Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer says that this was the most shameful and honour-less agreement ever signed by the Sikh leaders, as no demand of the Sikhs had been accepted. Those who had induced Longowal to sign this agreement included Prof. Atar Singh and Prithipal Singh Kapur.


Less than a month after signing the Punjab accord, Harcharan Singh Longowal was shot and killed on 20 August 1985 at the gurdwara in village Sherpur, not far from Longowal, Punjab.

External Links


  1. Kalia, D. R. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, 1932-1985: A Martyr for Peace (1985), p.50, New-Age Publishers & Distributors
  2. Sujit Singh Gandhi, “Harchand Singh Longowal, Sant”, The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, ed. Harbans Singh, Vol. II, Patiala, India, Punjabi University, 1996, p. 226.
  3. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839-2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 337.

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