Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir

Poet, politician, and freedom fighter

Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir- A Profile – Mubarak Singh

As the ancient land of Punjab used to frequent historical and political charges, and entered yet another phase of its career, a new leader was called upon to take charge of its destiny. On November 1st, when the new state came into being as a result of reorganization Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir took over as its first Chief Minister. Those who knew him and those who were in touch with the affairs preparatory to the installation of the new ministry vouch safe that he was least ambitious of this office. Yet it came to him unsought and unsolicited. No other name was so universally acceptable for Chief Minister–ship of Punjba as that of Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir’s was. Similar unanimity of opinion was responsible for his function in the Presidency of the Punjab Congress a few months ago. What is the secret of this massive support and goodwill that Giani Gurmukh Singh enjoys? An immaculate political record, unique sacrifices in the cause of the nation’s struggle for freedom, an uncanny understanding of men and affairs, and an innate sense of humor, courtesy, and culture make Giani Gurmukh Singh popular with surprisingly wide and disparate sections of public life.

Giani Gurmukh Singh’s impact on the Punjab conscience has been many-sided. There was a time in the early twenties when his stirring Punjabi poems rang through town and country rousing the people’s hearts to patriotic fervor. Besides providing stimulus to the national movement in this manner, he inaugurated a new style in Punjabi poetry and invested it with a social conscience. Throughout his hectic political years, he has retained his love of literature. As well as being a poet he is a recognized story writer. His short stories reveal his wide human sympathy, his love of the underdogs, and his intense patriotism. Literary societies compete for his patronage and no Punjabi poetical symposium is ever considered complete unless presided by him. His personal suffering and sacrifices in the national cause are gratefully remembered by his joie de vivre and his capacity for laughter is well known. He was one of the fewest of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s coworkers who could freely joke with him. His wit, heartiness, and humility are his most endearing traits.

Born on January 15, 1899 at village Udhowal in Dist. Campbellore (now in Pakistan) in a rural household, Gurmukh Singh received education to become a schoolteacher. He joined at the age of 19. His work in it for four years earned him the epithet of Giani. The Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy of 1919 left a  deep scar on his mind. In 1922 occurred a cold-blooded massacre of over 200 Sikh volunteers by paid assassins engaged by the Mahant of Nankana Sahib acting in connivance with the British bureaucracy. This ghastly act sent a wave of indignation through the nation. The Sikhs who were then locked in a desperate trial of strength with the Government with a view to reforming the Gurdwara administration were in a state of great agitation. Twenty-three-year-old Giani Gurmukh Singh threw himself, heart and soul, into this struggle and found himself singing of the sufferings of the people and calling them to action through his sensitive and ringing Punjabi poems.

The Akali movement in the Punjab was the source of political awakening amongst the Sikhs and its source ran parallel to that of the national struggle for independence. Some of the most prominent Congress leaders of Punjab were drawn to it through the Akali struggle of the 1920s. Soon after he gave up teaching to join the movement for Gurdwara reformation. Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir was arrested and thus began a long-drawn series of jail-going pilgrimages, which ended only in 1947 with the independence of the country. Giani Gurmukh SInghs’s spirit of faith, dedication, and sincerity of propose brought him to the front rank of the movement, and in 1930, he was appointed to the highest religious office of Sikhism i.e. Jathedar of Akel Takth.

Later he became the general secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and he worked with veteran leaders like  Baba Kharak Singh and S. Amara Singh. During this period of struggle against British authority, he came into contact with Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and their mutual affection and admiration grew over the years into a strong bond of friendship. Gianiji court arrested a number of times and in 1942 when he was in jail in connection with the Quit India Movement, his father and one of his sons and a daughter died. He refused to be released on parole even in face of such tragic personal deprivation. He touchingly described this experience in one of the most evocative short stories. Starting his career as a rebel poet of great talent and charm Giani Gurmukh Singh always eschewed idle indulgence in poetic fancy for its own sake. He marshaled his poetic gifts to the cause of awakening the people to a new awareness of their political destiny. In recent years his trend has been towards metaphysical experience and has published a number of poetic anthologies, the most important being  Musafrian and Sehj Seti. His short stories mostly related to his own experience of public life and a large number of them describe jail life with vividness and a charming sense of humor.

During the post-independence period,  Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir played a significant role in rehabilitating the Congress in Punjab. As President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee for 12 years and as an elected member of the Congress  Working Committee, he was the Chief Architect of Congress victory at the polls in 1952. His parliamentary association dates back to 1947 when he was elected to the Constituent Assembly. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and continued until he resigned upon his election as a member of the Punjab Legislative Council.

Apart from his involvement with political work, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir has actively participated in the literary and cultural renaissance in Punjab. He was President of the Kendri Punjabi Lekhari Sabha and Punjabi Sahitya Sameekhya Board, for many years. He was also a member of the General Council of the Indian Sahitya Academy. As a representative of the Indian writers, he participated in the world writers conference held in Stockholm(Sweden) in 1954. World Progressive writer’s Conference in Tokyo in 1961 and the world peace conference in Helsinki in 1965. In 1966, he led a three-member delegation of Indian writers to the Afro-Asian Conference on Vietnam peace. The other two members were Mulk Raj Anand and Sardar Jafri. At the poetical symposium, which was held during the conference and in which 30 countries participated, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir’s poem extracted the maximum applause. His journeys abroad have included visits to USSR, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Egypt, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Persia and Afghanistan.

On assumption of the Chief Ministership of Punjab, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir brought to his office the luster of an unblemished record of public life, a catholicity of outlook, political shrewdness, an amiable unflappable, and cheerful disposition and, a deep faith in the essential goodness of man. His upstanding, handsome bearing and sense of dignity and poise marked him out as a natural leader of men and he has ample reserves of energy and understanding to draw upon in the challenging days ahead. That the challenge is worth the capacities of a gifted and seasoned leader is obvious. The traumatic speed of political events was made all the more capricious by mounting socio-economic discontent, sharpening pre-election strifes and pressures, and the tremendous task of rehabilitating. Psychologically and politically the reorganized state must induce a sense of deep humility in the man chosen for high responsibility. The fact that the leader pitched upon by destiny happens to be a child of the Indian revolution is really reassuring. Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir whom circumstances have pushed to the very center of the stage belongs to that generation of patriots who emerged, as it were, out of the very bowels of the earth and came to command pre-eminence through selfless service and unswerving loyalty to the national cause. He belongs to the generation which blossomed into youth at a time when the whole atmosphere was charged with an unprecedented upsurge of national aspirations, the generation which came to maturity when the people of India themselves became after a heroic struggle, the masters of their destiny. It is highly satisfying that one of the noblest representatives of that generation has been entrusted with the charge of affairs in the Punjab.