Unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Third Lok Sabha, Sardar Hukam Singh endeavoured to follow and enforce the rules, procedures, practices and conventions of the House. His legal background and a stint as a Judge stood him in good stead in the years that he occupied the office of the Deputy Speaker and later the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Suave and soft-spoken but firm and forthright, he was widely acclaimed and respected for his clarity of thought, fairness and charming personality. He strove hard to facilitate smooth and orderly conduct of the business of the House; at the same time, he also made sure that members got every opportunity to perform their grievance redressal role to the maximum extent possible.
Hukam Singh was born on 30 August 1895 at Montgomery, now a part of Pakistan. After the completion of his matriculation from the Government High School, Montgomery, Hukam Singh did his graduation from the Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1917. Thereafter, he studied Law at the Law College, Lahore and after passing out in 1921, started practising in his home town Montgomery. He was the President of the Montgomery Bar Association for a number of years.
Hukam Singh was initiated into politics through the Shiromani Akali Dal and was its President for three years. He was also a member of the Montgomery Singh Sabha and its President for three years. Hukam Singh was arrested in 1924 in connection with the Gurudwara Reform Movement and was sentenced to about two years of imprisonment.
Partition forced Hukam Singh to cross over to India in August 1947. He became a refugee overnight. However, his talents were soon recognised and he was appointed Puisne Judge of the State High Court, Kapurthala in December 1947, a post which he held till November 1948.
Hukam Singh was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India in April 1948 as a member of the Akali Dal. He was also a member of the Provisional Parliament (1950-52) and was later elected to the First Lok Sabha in 1952 from PEPSU constituency, representing the Akali Party. His name was placed in the Panel of Chairmen by the then Speaker G.V. Mavalankar. The way he conducted the proceedings of the House whenever such opportunity came his way was admired by all cutting across party lines. On 20 March 1956, Hukam Singh was unanimously elected as the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha even when he was a member of the Opposition. This was a testimony to not only his popularity but also confidence of the members in his ability to run the House in an efficient and impartial manner.
Hukam Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time in 1957 from the Bhatinda parliamentary constituency. He was re-elected as Deputy Speaker on 17 May 1957. He also functioned as the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, Committee on Private Members' Bills and Resolutions, Library Committee and Committee on Subordinate Legislation.
In the General Elections held in 1962, Hukam Singh was returned for the third time to the Lok Sabha, this time on a Congress ticket from the Patiala parliamentary constituency. His credentials having been tested and fully confirmed, it was only natural that Hukam Singh was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Third Lok Sabha. It was the considered view of the House that the office of the Speaker was safe in the hands of Hukum Singh who could zealously uphold the dignity of Parliament and the rights and privileges of its members.
A democrat as he was, Hukam Singh believed that for the proper functioning of Parliamentary democracy it was necessary that the members conducted themselves in the House in a dignified manner. He felt that it was also essential that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution was used in a proper fashion. Therefore, he had his own plan to enforce discipline on those who erred. It was his view that if a member stood up and began speaking without being identified by the Chair, he would not catch the Speaker's eye. If the member persisted in continuing, would not catch the Speaker's eye in future also. In extreme cases, the Speaker would instruct the reporters not to record such speeches. Such was his conviction in maintaining discipline and decorum inside the House.
As Speaker, Hukam Singh was convinced of the importance of the rules and conventions in ensuring a smooth functioning of the House. He had a progressive bend of mind and was always in search of methods and devices to improve the effectiveness of the House. When the Third Lok Sabha met, he suggested to the House met, that a convention might be established not to move any adjournment motion on the day the President addressed members of both the Houses of Parliament assembled together in the Central Hall. The House approved the suggestion and it was agreed that the adjournment motion tabled, if any, might be taken up the next day. As Speaker, Hukam Singh also tried to dispose of all the Calling Attention Notices on the day on which they were tabled.
Hukam Singh firmly upheld the supremacy of the Legislature vis-a-vis the Executive. On 28 April 1965, when discussions on the consideration of the Seventeenth Constitution Amendment Bill were completed, there was a Division. The Amendment failed to get majority support of the House and, therefore, the Motion to amend the Constitution could not be carried. The Government demanded a fresh Division. But, Speaker Hukam Singh rejected the demand and observed that he could not interfere in the Division and that had to be accepted by the House.
During his Speakership, for the first time in the history of the Lok Sabha, a Motion of No-Confidence against the Council of Ministers was admitted and discussed in August 1963. During his term as Speaker, as many as six Motions of No-Confidence against various Councils of Ministers were admitted and discussed. Through all these stormy debates, Hukam Singh ensured that decorum and discipline were maintained in the House.
Hukam Singh presided over debates on many important subjects. The Defence of India Act was one of the major legislations passed by the House in the wake of the Chinese aggression on India. The remarkable way he conducted the proceedings of the House when such a sensitive issue was being discussed profoundly elevated his position as Speaker.
Hukam Singh was also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the two Houses which had been formed in October 1965 to find out a solution based on goodwill and reasonable approach to the issue of the Punjabi Suba.
As Speaker, Hukam Singh led the Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conferences in Lagos (Nigeria) in October-November 1962 and in Kuala Lampur (Malaysia) in November 1963. He also led Indian Parliamentary Delegations on goodwill visits to the USSR and Mongolia in September-October 1962, to U.K. and West Germany in October 1964 and to the Philippines in May 1965. At the invitation of the Government of the United States of America, Hukam Singh also led a Parliamentary Delegation to USA in June 1963.
Hukam Singh did not contest the General Elections in 1967 and laid down the office of the Speaker on 16 March 1967. Thereafter, he was appointed as Governor of Rajasthan on 15 April 1967 and stayed in office till June 1972. As Governor also, he won widespread acclamation for upholding the high tradition of the office.
As, in politics, Hukam Singh was brilliant in many other fields also. During his college days, he was a recognised sportsman and was a member of the Punjab University Hockey team during 1914 – 16. He also took keen interest in education and was the manager of the Khalsa High School , Montgomery in 1941 and again from 1943 to 1945. He was the Chairman of the Governing body of the S.G.T.B. Khalsa College, Delhi. Besides, to his credit, he had a few books in English and Punjabi such as Sikh Case, The problems of Sikhs, Russia as I Saw It and Russia Today. In 1967, he was awarded honorary degree of LL.D. by the Punjabi University, Patiala.
Hukam Singh passed away on 27 May 1983 at the age of 88.
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