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Sardar Ajit Singh

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Sardar Ajit Singh ( February 23, 1881- August 15, 1947 ) was a revolutionary, nationalist, and early protester in the Punjab region of India who challenged British rule and openly criticized the Indian colonial government. Ajit Singh’s most significant achievement was the founding of Azad Hind Fauj in Italy, establishing a revolutionary organization called Bharat Mata Society in 1907, Indian Revolutionary Association in Europe, and organizing agitation Pagri Sambhal Jatta by Punjabi peasants against anti-farmer laws in 1906. His brothers Sardar Kishan Singh ( 1878- July 5, 1951 ) and Sardar Swarn Singh ( 1887- July 20, 1910 ) were also freedom fighters. Sardar Ajit Singh was an inspiration for his nephew Sardar Bhagat Singh ( Kishan Singh’s son ). India lost Sardar Ajit Singh on August 15, 1947, who lived in exile for 38 long years fighting for India’s freedom.

Sardar Ajit Singh Sandhu was born into a patriotic Sikh family at Khatkar Kalan village in Jalandhar District ( now in Shaheed Bhagat Singh District ). He studied up to matric at Saindas Anglo Sanskrit School Jalandhar. He joined DAV College Lahore for higher education and later joined Law College Bareilly ( UP ). During this period he was intensely involved in the Indian freedom movement and he had to leave his law studies. Singh and his family were influenced by the Arya Samaj Philosophy. Ajit Singh with his brother Kishan Singh worked among the people in famine-stricken regions like Madhya Pradesh and Ahmedabad and in flood and earthquake-affected areas of Shrinagar and Kangra in 1905. His work among the poor during natural calamities and famines formed the backdrop of his later radical philosophy and politics.

Ajit Singh organized agitation by Punjabi peasants against anti-farmer laws known as the Punjabi colonization Act in 1906 and administrative orders increasing water rate charges. In 1907, he was deported to Mandalay jail in Burma along with Lala Lajpat Rai because of this agitation. After his release from Mandalay prison, Singh attended the Surat session of the Congress and went on to form a revolutionary organization called Bharat Mata Society in 1907. He fled to Iran via Karachi in 1909. He lived there under the name Mirja Hasan Khan earning his living as a teacher. He rapidly developed a center for revolutionary activities by groups led by him and Sufi Amba Prasad who had worked there since 1909. The recruits to these groups included young nationalists likes Rishikesh Letha, Zia-Ul-Haq, and Thaker Das Dhuri. By 1910, the activities of these groups and their publications had been noticed by the British intelligence. British representation in Persia successfully curbed the revolutionary activities. From there Ajit Singh traveled to Rome, Geneva, Persia, and Rio de Janeiro.

In Paris, Singh built a network of solidarity with people who were struggling for India’s liberation in different parts of Europe. During this period he also founded the Indian Revolutionary Association. From Paris, he went to Switzerland, where he became a close participant in the activities of a group of exiles from Turkey, Finland, Arab, Russia, Ireland, Poland, and Iran. He also met communist stalwarts like Lenin, Trotsky, and Mussolini. Singh continued to shift base from country to country, building network alliances.

In 1913, Ajit Singh moved to Germany and later headed to Brazil. There he developed close links with the Hindustani Gadhar Party and its leading members like Bhai Rattan Singh, Teja Singh, and Bhagat Singh Bilga. In 1932, he returned to Europe, where he met Subash Chandler Bose and tried for a while to get the support of Germany to the Indian nationalists, but then give up after realizing Hitler's real attention. While in Italy, Singh’s most significant achievement was the founding of Azad Hind Fauj. Ajit Singh tried to enlist Indian soldiers in the British army who were arrested by the Italian government. Following Italy’s defeat, Singh was arrested by the allied forces in May 1945. He was incarcerated in various jails across Italy and Germany till December.

Such a long period of incarceration damaged his health. Meanwhile, India was on the threshold of becoming independent. As the news of Singh’s failing health reached India, his colleagues mounted pressure on Nehru to demand his release. The efforts were successful and Singh reached London in 1946 and from there returned to Karachi. Upon his return after more than three decades ( 38 years ), he was received by applauding crowds.

The increasing communal violence on the eve of partition broken Singh’s heart which led to further deterioration of his health. Singh was taken to hill station Dalhousie, where he breathed his last on August 15, 1947, the day India gained independence. Sardar Ajit Singh was happy that he could breathe for few hours in an independent India for which he struggled for his whole life, but he was extremely sad due to communal violence and division of India.

In his last testament Ajit Singh wrote:

“Our poor India is unfortunate to get Balkanized. People living together for centuries were coming closer and closer to each other and had jointly contributed to the culture, civilization, and national thought. But ambitious politicians hankering after personal power, under the patronage of foreign rulers, through conspiracy, abuse of religious fanaticism, and ignorance of masses, have been busy in doing the greatest disservice to the future generations. The seed of disunion, sowed by the foreign rulers, have brought forth the tree which is now bearing its calamitous fruit in shape vivisection of the motherland. Solid foundations of future troubles have been thus laid down.”

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