Akali movement in Punjab was a religious issue but ended up being an important part of the freedom struggle.
Gurudwara’s were under the control of the corrupt mahants. They treated temple donations as personal property and lived a life of luxury. After the British annexation of Punjab, some control was exercised by government-nominated managers who collaborated with the mahants.
The British government supported these mahants and directed them to preach to the Sikhs to stay away from the national movement. However Sikh reformers wanted to remove these mahants. Their actions had shocked the community like they had banned ghadarites and honored General Dyer.
Initially, the reformers met with success as the agitators formed groups to compel the mahants and managers to hand over control to the local devotees. The government supported the reformers as it didn’t want to antagonize the reformers.
But the real test was the gurudwara at Nankana. The mahants there had organized an armed band of mercenaries and had been responsible for killing peaceful Akali followers. The agitation turned violent and the gurudwara was wrested by force. Many leaders of the congress expressed solidarity with the Sikhs in this.
The government saw that the Akali movement was increasingly being integrated with the national movement. It passed legislation to hand over control of gurudwara to Akali’s to appease the moderates but used force to repress the extremist alkali.
Impact of the Movement
The Akalis emboldened by the support of the nationalist joined the non-cooperation movement. They even participated in the protest demonstration when Prince Charles visited India. The government arrested many of the top leaders but decided not to confront the Sikhs on this issue and released them. Thus the final victory was of the Sikhs.
The Akali movement roused political and national consciousness in Punjab. It awakened the Punjab peasantry.