Mahatma Sardar Budh Singh can easily be described as father of political unrest in Jammu and Kashmir State. He raised a voice of dissent and revolt against the then prevailing system much before any other organised political movement began in the State.
As early as in 1915, when Mahatma Gandhi give a call for wearing Khadi, Budh Singh was the first and only known person in Jammu and Kashmir to respons. Since then his association with the national movement started growing till he held the highest political office of that time in the State viz the president of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1942.
Budh Singh was born in May, 16, 1884 at Mirpur, a District headquarter in Jammu region now a part of Pakistan held Kashmir. His father Anant Ram was an Advocate. He studied in the Government High Schools at Mirpur and Jhelum-at 16, he was married to Maya Devi, a Sikh girl. In 1906, he joined service as a Camp Clerk to the settlement Commissioner, on /Englishman named Talbot, whose simple life greatly influenced the impressionable young man, it 28, he became a Tehsildar.
Budh Singh embraced Sikhism after joining service mainly under the influence of his Sikh mother and as a reaction to the treatment of the Harijans by the Hindi. He identified himself with the Akali movement, which was then in revolt against the British Government, by wearing a black turban and addressing Sikh congregations.
Budh Singh made his debut in public life when he was still in Government service. As a Tehsildar and latter as Deputy Commissioner, he made strong representations to the Maharaja and his senior officers against prevalent corruption, poverty and injustice. He was the first person to demand elementary political and social rights for the people.
Moved by the plight of the labourers whom he saw doing ‘beggar’ (work without payment), on his way from Jammu to Srinagar, he addressed two public meetings at Hazuribagh in Srinagar in 1922, Being the first ever expression of grievances of the oppressed, helpless and illiterate Kashmiris, it caused quite a few tremors in the official and non-oficials circles of the State.
Budh Singh was a non-confermist and defiant type of officer at a time when no dissent was audible under an autocratic regime. There are number of instances whom he defied the prevailing practice which were followed not only by the officers but also by the people. Once when he was posted at Kishtwar he received orders to get the bridal path repaired through ‘begar’ as Hari Singh (who was heir aprarent of that time) was to visit that area. He wrote bank asking for the funds for the purpose. He demand. But they had to sanction the grant in order to get the path repaired in time for the royal visit. Again, when Hari Singh wanted some horses to be shown to him out of which he could buy some,Budh Singh demanded three days wages from him for all those who had brought their horses for showing them to him.
On account of his reputation of integrity and saintliness and also his popularity among the people, Maharaja Pratap Singh took a generous view of his rather unusual actions. But the British officers took serious note of his activities and pressed the State Government for strong action against him. In 1925, he himself submitted his resignation from the prestigious post of Deputy Commissioner. However, as a special case the Maharaja sanctioned him a monthly pension of Rs 77/-.
Budh Singh led a simple and saintly life moving from village to village and spreading the message of freedom movement.
He earned some unique distinctions which no other public man of the State had earned so far. His own community i.e Sikhs of the country honoured him by selecting him as one of the Panj Piaras (the holy five) to lay the foundation stops of the renovated temple at Punja Sahib.
The Dorgras of Jammu honoured him by thrice electing him (starting in 1930) to the presidentship of the celebrated Dogra Sabha, the premier and first non-communal organisation of the people of the State.
Finally Kashmiris gave him the unique honour by electing him the President of their dominent political party i.e Natioal Confernece, first in 1942 and second in 1944. The only other person who occupied that august office before 1953 was no other than Sheikh Mohd Abdullah.
After the Dogra Sabha, of which he was the President was banned by the Maharaja for the pro-Congress leadings of its President, Budh Singh founded the Kisan Party in 1934. The same year he was elected to the first State Assembly from Mrpur-Poonch Constituency. Later he alongwith a number of other progressive Hindus got in touch with Muslim Policemen of Kashmir led by Sheikh MOhd Abdullah to persuade them to form a common political party of all communities. He made main contrubution to the conversion of the Muslim Conference to the National Conference in 1938. He remained its front rank leader till 1964 when he retired from politics.
Budh Singh was imprisoned for varying terms for three time His last imprisonment was in May, 1946 for participating in “Quit Kashmir’’ Movement. Though his earlier statements, memoranda and presidential addresses of the party which he headed were radical enough, he declared during his what was called treasn trial in 1946 that time had passed for tinkering with the system through reforms. Freedom and revolution were his new goals.
After independence Budh Singh joined the first popular Government headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. In less than two years, his portfolios were changed thrice from Relief and rehabilitation to Health and then to Information and Broadcasting Eventually he resigned from the Cabinet on October 14, 1950. It clearly indicated that he was a misfit in the politicsl of power.
Politically also he fell somehow mal-adjusted. He was elected the first President of the Provincial Unit of the Jammu National Conference when it was formed. But he records in his autobiography (Prem Khilari page 203) that it hurt him when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah accused him of regional bias in his new role.
Ideologically, Budh Singh moved close to the Communists. In a pamphlet entitled “Communist Bogey’ in 1954 he cited reasons which attracted people to communism. He said, “the speed with which refoms are being introduced does not satisfy the poor, They want a revolution right now.’’ His communist colleagues, however, left National Conference in 1958 to form Democratic National Conferenc which later became the State unit of the CPI (ML). He was thus isolated from the Commjnist movement also.
Budh Singh suffered “greatest shock of his life’’ when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – who used to call him (Budh Singh) his spriitual father- was “led astray’’ in August, 1953’’ disregardng all his past agreemnts, commitments, pledges, statements, speeches and announcements’’ (Hinduistan Standard Sept 10, 1953).
As a Member of the Rajya Sabha, he defended the action taken against Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, including his dismissal from power and detention.
When Budh Singh returned from New Delhi after completing his second term in 1964 he was the loneliest person in Kashmir politics. He retired to his hut in Khanpur village near Jammu.
He lead the life of a hermit, cut off from the social and political life of the State, till he breathed his last on May 16, 1975.
Budh Singh was a man of conviction and radical and somewhat rigid views with a capacity to undergo hardships. He was also a/brand orator. With his non-sectarian and cosmpoolitan outlook he sought to bridge cultural religious and regional diversities that abound in the State. Rightly was he called a Mahatma and a Tyag Murti.