Have you ever heard of Bhim Sen Sachar? Surely not. In the elections to the last Punjab Assembly before independence, he was elected from the Lahore city seat in a predominantly Muslim constituency, and he won a resounding victory. The run up to 1947 was not all hate after all.
Our children are never taught this in their schools, and that is why you have never heard of this great man. In the vote for Punjab joining Pakistan, much to the amazement of Muslim legislators, he backed Jinnah. Once Pakistan was made, he stayed on and was elected a member of the first Legislative Assembly of Pakistan. The vote for Punjab joining Pakistan was tied, and the casting vote was with Punjab Assembly Speaker Diwan Bahadar SP Singha, a Christian of Lahore, but originally belonging to Pasrur. Mr. Singha got three Christians to vote for Pakistan, and their efforts brought Punjab we know today as part of Pakistan. In purely ‘legislative’ terms, the Pakistan we know today came about because of the contribution of these politicians who trusted Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
In the ‘charged and mutilated’ political environment that Pakistan has become, great Pakistanis like Sachar and Singha have no relevance. Current Pakistani intellectuals consider them the ‘untouchables’ of our history. Thus they have been erased from our books. No wonder great freedom fighters like Sachar left Pakistan when Jinnah died. Bhim Sen Sachar did not agree with the framing of the Objectives Resolution. “This is not the secular Pakistan of Jinnah” is all he said and crossed over. He was to move over to East Punjab politics, much against his own wishes for what options did we leave him. “The very people who opposed Pakistan have taken control of affairs.” He felt threatened, even in his home town of Lahore. The move helped him become the chief minister of East Punjab, not once, but twice.
It is a fact of history that Bhim Sen Sachar is among the top-ranking freedom fighters of the sub-continent. Born on Dec 1, 1894, he passed his BA and LLB degrees from Lahore, beginning his career as a lawyer in Gujranwala. He was the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee secretary in 1921. Dedicated to educating the people of his homeland, he was the Registrar in the National University in Lahore and later the Municipal Commissioner of Gujranwala from 1924 to 1933.
During the Civil Disobedience Movement led by Gandhi, Bhim Sen Sachar joined the Freedom Movement and was jailed from 1930 to 1931. After shifting to Lahore, he established the Sunlight Insurance Company, which had its office at Nila Gumbad. He was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1937. He was again imprisoned in 1940 for his involvement in the peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement.
In the 1945 general elections, he was elected from the Lahore constituency to the Punjab Assembly. In 1947, he was elected from West Punjab as a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. His views on the partition of Punjab were at variance with others, a view Indian intellectuals are finally now coming round to. He saw the whole concept of separate electorates as “basically flawed” when you think of equality. But if discrimination cannot be removed, then “in a peaceful manner let everyone live the way they like”. It was a secular view, and because of this he opted to vote for Pakistan.
But Pakistan was not to treat him the way they should have a great freedom fighter. Sachar even then thought that Jinnah was a far greater leader than those of the Congress, a man who desperately wanted peaceful co-existence. After 1947, the ground reality was so brutal that any theoretical view of events, no matter what it was, could not sustain itself. No one then was willing to listen. To be honest, even now no one is willing to listen.
In 1948, Bhim Sen Sachar decided it better to move across “this line of hate”. He jumped into East Punjab politics immediately and was elected the chief minister of Indian Punjab in 1949. In the 1952 general elections, he was elected from Ludhiana City to the Indian Punjab Assembly. From 1952 to 1956, he was re-elected chief minister of East Punjab. He was later appointed the governor of Orissa from September 1956 to July 1957. From 1959 to 1962, he was the Andhra Pradesh governor. During 1964-66, he was High Commissioner for India in Ceylon. He was chairman of the Guru Nanak Foundation. This great admirer of Jinnah and secular politics died on Jan 18, 1978.
From Bhim Sen Sachar let us cross over to Sataya Prakash (SP) Singha, the very first Speaker of the Punjab Assembly. He was also a great admirer of Jinnah, and it was on his urging that he decided to support the politics of Pakistan. It was the critical ‘deciding’ vote of this one man that West Punjab came to Pakistan. In ‘legislative’ terms, his vote won the day.
SP Singha was born on April 26, 1893, in Pasrur. His father was a schoolteacher. After getting record marks in his matriculation examination, he joined FC College in Lahore and graduated from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He returned to Lahore to become the Registrar of the Punjab University. His pioneering work on improving the examination system won him many admirers, and he was made a Dewan Bahadar.
In 1936, he became a leader of the All-India Christian Association and won the 1937 elections to the Punjab Assembly. Later in the Sir Khizer Hayat Tiwana government, he was elected the Punjab Assembly speaker. Thus history had placed him in a unique position when the vote for Pakistan was taken in the Punjab Assembly. The Resolution for Pakistan was short by three votes. Speaker SP Singha urged his Christian members to vote for Jinnah, which they willingly did. Even then it was a tied vote. After much though, and tension in the house, SP Singha voted for Pakistan. The deciding vote was cast. The resolution was passed. But do we today remember who this great Pakistani was? Certainly not. Let me be brutally honest, we are ‘ashamed’ that a Christian casting vote got us where we are today.
SP Singha died on Oct 22, 1949, and was buried in the Christian graveyard on Jail Road. His contribution to the education of his people and his contribution to Pakistan and to the Punjab Assembly is a thing legends are made of. But then our children know nothing about Bhim Sen Sachar, just as they know nothing about SP Singha. History, say the sages, can never be balanced. There is a need to bring to our children the reality of the great people who passed away unknown and unsung in the land of their birth. Instead of ‘lines of hate’, the new generation is surely capable of drawing ‘new lines of love’.