The Delhi Durbar of 1911, with King George V and Queen Mary seated upon the dais. | Source – Wikipedia
Run … you can
In 1911, at the Delhi Durbar, George V announced that the capital of the British Raj would be shifted. Tired of regular killings, assassinations and explosions in Kolkatta, the Raj decided to shift the capital from Kolkatta – to New Delhi.
The very next year, on 23 December 1912, a 17-year old Basanta Kumar Biswas, dressed as a woman, exploded a bomb at Lord Charles Hardinge during the Viceroy’s parade in Delhi.
Cut to today
One hundred years later, the Indian government decided to celebrate the shift of the British Raj capital from Kolkatta to Delhi.
Nine months ago, the Indian Prime-Minister, Manmohan Singh acted on a request by a certain ‘interested’ group for naming a prominent place in New Delhi in memory of Sir Sobha Singh.
The Delhi government proposed to
rename the Capital’s Windsor Place area after Sir Sobha Singh, following a request from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sobha Singh was a key building contractor in the early to mid 20th Century, and with his father Sujan Singh is credited with landmarks like India Gate and Connaught Place.
Prime Minister Singh wrote to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on June 28, citing a request by a private organisation to rename the area – to mark (Sir Sobha Singh’s) contribution towards building the national capital (and) to mark the 100th anniversary of Delhi being declared the national capital.
The government has since consulted the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) which informed the government that most places and roads in the area have already been named after important people; the only options open were Windsor Place, which falls on the roundabout near Le Meridien Hotel, and South Avenue.
“The places are close to where Sir Sobha Singh’s family lives now, Sujan Singh Park, which is named after his father. We eventually narrowed down on Windsor Place,” the official added.
Sobha Singh and his father Sujan Singh moved to the city as building contractors when the British administration declared Delhi as the national capital, to coincide with the Coronation Durbar that was to be held in December 1911.
The renaming of Windsor Place, however, may not be an easy option, a senior NDMC official said, as the civic agency has in the past rejected proposals to change its name. (via Let’s name Windsor Place after Sir Sobha, PM tells Sheila – Indian Express).
The rehearsal of the state entry: Passing the Jama Masjid from the book ‘The historical Record of the Imperial visit to India 1911. Photo: central news agencyThe rehearsal of the state entry: Passing the Jama Masjid from the book ‘The historical Record of the Imperial visit to India 1911. Photo: central news agency | Courtesy – thehindu.com
Sir Sobha Singh?
You might ask, who is that.
Sobha Singh’s son explained
You can’t be blamed for not being aware of this because free India’s rulers did nothing to perpetuate their (Sobha Singh’s and his group) memory. Not a single road, bylane or round-about was named after any of them.
Whether the new rulers were from the Congress party or the BJP, they were more concerned with giving credit to their party members than recording the truth. At times it appeared like anti-Sikh communal prejudice. Perish the thought. (via Give the builders of New Delhi their due – Hindustan Times).
The minefield of public memory
This story would have ended with Indian Independence.
But for the fact that Manmohan Singh proposed to honor ‘Sir’ Sobha Singh. That is when the media caught on to this story. A forgotten chapter in Indian history came alive again.
An angry journalist suggested that
the proposed national history mission should visit 7, Race Course Road to tell the Prime Minister the story of the Bhagat Singh trial.
The greatest youth icon of India’s struggle for independence was betrayed by a contractor, Sobha Singh.
In what appears to be false testimony, Sobha Singh identified Bhagat Singh during the trial as the person who threw the bomb down from the visitor’s gallery of the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi. Sobha was not a legislator, nor a journalist, nor an official, and had no business to be there at that very moment.
But this extremely dubious testimony was accepted by the court. And Sobha became the biggest contractor in Delhi and was knighted by the Empire.
Now, Manmohan Singh wants to honour the memory of this man who betrayed the nation’s biggest hero. Singh has asked Sheila Dikshit to rename Windsor Place after Sir Sobha. Hope he doesn’t write to Parkash Singh Badal to get Jalianwala Bagh named after Dyer. (via Teach royals their history : COLUMNS News – India Today).
Some in the media are questioning Manmohan Singh’s ‘integrity’ on this question.
Now we have Sardar Manmohan Singh as prime minister – who sports a light blue turban in honour of ‘Cambridge Blue’ and Sardarji No. 2, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, totally imitates him. Just as Robespierre was the ‘sea green incorruptible’ of the French Revolution, Dr Singh is the ‘light Cambridge Blue incorruptible’ of India in the 21st Century.
Now we have another Sardar, a known toady of the British, being honoured by a government of free India. Does this not leave the ‘light Cambridge Blue incorruptible’ open to a charge of partiality to a particular community, in this case, his own? (via Shadow of British rule seen in every nook of Delhi; text edited for brevity and relevance.).
This Sir Sobha Singh, OBE (1890–1978) is not to be confused with Sir Sobha Singh (1901–1986), a prominent painter whose paintings of the Sikh gurus (and other Punjabi and nationalist) have become famous.
So, who was Sobha Singh – and how was he involved with Bhagat Singh?
Bhagat Singh lives …
The prosecution by British Raj of Bhagat Singh succeeded with evidence from some Indians.
Not that Bhagat Singh ever claimed ‘innocence’.
Sobha Singh was one such collaborator – who simply ‘told the truth’ to the British authorities. Sobha Singh’s son wrote,
Some weeks ago I had written about the builders of New Delhi, naming five of them as the best known. I had complained that not one road or by-lane had been named after any of them. Unknown to me, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that Windsor Place be named after my father Sobha Singh. This was reported by the media.
It was followed by a storm of protest describing my father as a stooge of the British. I made no protest. But when some papers linked his name with the death sentence passed by the courts, I felt deeply hurt because there is not an iota of truth in the insinuation.
The death sentence on Shahid Bhagat Singh and his companion was passed for the murders of Inspector Saunders and head constable Channan Singh. They had killed the two policemen for having assaulted Lala Lajpat Rai when he was arrested in Lahore. Then they wanted to do something which would give worldwide publicity to India’s freedom movement. They chose to fire shots in the Parliament and then surrender to the police. And so they did. They took their seats in the Visitors’ gallery. So did my father. The debate going on was very boring; so he started reading a newspaper he had brought with him.
His attention was distracted by firing of pistols and explosion of bombs. Others in the visitors’ gallery fled leaving my father and the two revolutionaries. They did not put up any resistance when the police arrested them. My father’s ‘crime’ was to identify the two in court. He told the truth and nothing but the truth. Is telling the truth a crime? (via When telling the truth becomes a crime – Hindustan Times).
Talking of truth, a
noted historian and lawyer – who has various books on freedom struggle and Bhagat Singh to his credit – said the journalist-writer had been unnecessarily attempting to convince people against the facts etched in history. Historian and Bhagat Singh’s relative Waraich contested (this) assertion saying Sobha Singh never spoke the “truth” about the British atrocities.
For not pointing out the unpleasant truth about British atrocities, and wishing to publicly reward this collaboration, Sobha Singh, with his family and relatives, were amply rewarded by the British Raj.
Sobha Singh’s son explains
I had no intention of writing about my father in my own columns. I do so because he has been maligned and implicated in the death sentence passed on Bhagat Singh and Dutt for killing two police officers in Lahore. I repeat, he had nothing to do with these killings. All he did was identify them as the two men who fired pistol shots and hurled bombs in the Parliament when it was in session. However, it does not deter men from maligning him for reasons best known to them. I would like to tell readers what he did for the city in which he spent most of his long life (he lived to be 90) and gave it more than anyone I know. (via Clearing the air on the man who ‘owned’ half the Capital – Hindustan Times).
Built by profiteers from Bhagat Singh’s death. Built to perpetuate the memory of the British Raj | Cartoonist – Ajit Ninan | 2010 Dec 29 | The Times Of India Hyderabad | Click for image.
In the next less than 20 years, the British rewarded Sobha Singh and his group with prime real estate in New Delhi. The British Raj rained construction contracts in the construction of Lutyen’s New Delhi on this group.
Sobha Singh’s son informs us that Sobha Singh
was the biggest builder of New Delhi and the single largest owner of real estate. It was a pardonable exaggeration when Dilliwalas referred to him as Aadhi Dilli ka Malik – owner of half of Delhi. (via Clearing the air on the man who ‘owned’ half the Capital – Hindustan Times).
This group came to known as aadhi dilli ke maalik. These five sardarjis were derisively called the panj pyaare – as they seemed to get all the contracts from the British Raj.
Sobha Singh’s son explains
It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of New Delhi was built by a coterie of sardar contractors of whom five did the lion’s share of building. In Sikh circles they were known as Panj Pyare – the five beloved after the first five followers of the last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.
The top five builders were Sobha Singh, Basakha Singh, Ranjit Singh, Mohan Singh and Dharam Singh Sethi. The British gave them due credit by inscribing their names on stone slabs. You can see them in the alcoves of South and North Blocks. The South Block has five names starting with my father, Sobha Singh, the North Block has a list of architects and engineers including my father-in-law, Teja Singh Malik, who was the first Indian head of the Central Public Works Department. The British did more.
Before quitting India, they conferred knighthoods on Teja Singh Malik and Sobha Singh. (via Give the builders of New Delhi their due – Hindustan Times).
Sobha Singh’s son running down Bhagat Singh – and his memory in the minds of Indian people. | From the column: punjabi by nature – COCK-A-DOODLE-DO | By Khuswant Singh | Accessed on 2012-03-18 15-01-22Sobha Singh’s son running down Bhagat Singh – and his memory in the minds of Indian people. | From the column: punjabi by nature – COCK-A-DOODLE-DO | By Khuswant Singh | Posted on 8 Aug 2010 | Accessed on 2012-03-18 15-01-22
Sobha Singh’s family
One of Sobha Singh’s son is Brigadier (Retd) Gurbux Singh.
Another is Saran Singh, I.A.S. (Retd.). Former Secretary to Govt. of India & Chief Secretary, Bihar; an ex. adviser to Governor of Assam.
Sobha Singh’s grandson Rahul Singh, was an ex-editor with the Indian edition of Reader’s Digest.
Saif Ali Khan’s ex-wife, Amrita Singh, an Indian film actress, is the great grand daughter of Sir Sobha Singh – daughter of Shivender Singh and Rukhsana Sultana.
Mohinder Kaur was the daughter of Sir Sobha Singh.
And the son, who has been quoted above, was an ex-editor Illustrated Weekly of India, a press assistant to PM JL Nehru, a supporter of Indira Gandhi and Emergency. He is also a writer of some repute. Mostly as a writer of ‘dirty’ sex-jokes.