Thursday, August 6, 2015

Chaudhary Jagjit Singh – A Tribute

Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, a veteran Congress and Dalit leader of the
Chaudhary Jagjit Singh
Doaba region of Punjab passed away on August 4, 2015. He was 82 but was keeping good health and was an active politician and a social activist. For the last couple of years, I have been watching him at various social and community functions, particularly at the Guru Ravidass Jayanti Shobha Yatra in Jalandhar which he used to lead from Guru Ravidass Bhawan on Link Road, of which he was the mentor. Chaudhary Sahib was a successful and skilled politician and was the rightful inheritor of the political legacy of his father Master Gurbanta Singh. He started his political career as the Sarpanch of his ancestral village Dhariwal Kadian in the vicinity of Jalandhar city and rose, through the ranks, to the coveted position of Cabinet Minister in various Congress Party led Governments. Chaudhary Sahib, as he was usually addressed, was also the Leader of Opposition as the Leader of the Punjab Congress Legislative Party for many years.  His death has certainly created a void in the Congress and Dalit leadership. He was a master political tactician and was considered the “Man Friday” of Captain Amrinder Singh, former Chief Minister of Punjab. It is a co-incident that Chaudhary Jagjit Singh’s demise came on the birth anniversary of Master Gurbanta Singh.

Carry forwarding Master Gurbanta Singh’s mission, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh was fully engaged in some educational projects of the family starting from Guru Ravidass School at Kishanpura in Jalandhar housed at the Headquarters of Ad-dharam Mandal in the good old days, Janta School at Lambra and Master Gurbanta Singh Janta College at Kartarpur. Kartarpur remained the political citadel of the family from where Chaudhary Jagjit Singh became MLA for five times after his father Master Gurbanta Singh. One may assess the political importance of Kartarpur constituency that right from the Government of CM Partap Singh Kairon in the mid 1950s, the incumbent MLAs remained important ministers. Political standing of the family may be judged from the fact that whosoever defeated Master Gurbanta Singh and Chaudhary Jagjit Singh became a minister in recognition of the point that he defeated a poltical heavy-weight. Piara Ram Dhanowalia of the Republican Party defeated Master Gurbanta Singh in 1967 and became a minister in Justice Gurnam Singh’s first non-Congress government. Avinash Chander of Akali Dal, a political novice at the time, was rewarded with the position of Chief Parliamentary Secretary by CM Prakash Singh Badal, on defeating political stalwart Chaudhary Jagjit Singh. Again Sarwan Singh, an Akali, defeated Chaudhary Sahib and became a Minister in recognition of his success in trouncing a strong opponent. Let us see what happens in 2017 elections. Chaudhary Surinder  Singh, son of Chauhary Jagjit Singh or Chaudhary Vikram Singh, son of Chaudhary Santokh Singh who is the sitting MP from Jalandhar and brother of Chaudhary Sahib, may come forward to claim the political legacy of the family and contest from Kartarpur constituency.

During my school days in early 1960s, my association and interest with Master Gurbanta Singh and his family was through our fellow students from Dhariwal Kadian at Sain Dass School at Basti Nau, particularly Taras Ram, who subsequently joined Chaudhary Jagjit Singh as one of his personal staff and was still with him. Taras Ram used to take care of and ferry Chaudhary Surinder Singh, son of Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, when he was a small child. Taras Ram occasionally would bring him to our school and we enjoyed the young company. Chaudhary Jagjit Singh had all the trappings of a well to-do young man and was becoming famous (or infamous) on account of his activities. Though Chaudhary Sahib was slowly and steadily attaining political foothold and maturity yet sometimes juicy and spicy stories did appear in the elite company of the fellow young friends from the Kairon family. These stories obviously were of interest to the young minds.

My personal interaction with Chaudhary Sahib was limited except on an occasion in the winter of 1985-86, if my memory does not ditch me. I was spending my home leave at my native place at Bootan Mandi in Jalandhar. One fine evening, I was enjoying a drink with my friend Prem Shant and got a message that an up-coming young politician Surinder Mahey, who later became Mayor of Jalandhar with the blessings of Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, was giving a party in connection with his marriage, where many political big-wigs were expected. Surinder invited both Prem and me to join the celebrations. It was a pleasure to go and join the party. As expected, MOS Yogendra Makwana from Delhi, along with Chaudhary Jagjit Singh and Darshan Singh Kaypee, were already there and discussing matters of interest to the community. There was a discussion on Babu Kanshi Ram who was fast rising on the political firmament of India. He was an unknown entity to most of the Congress leadership and Chaudhary Sahib and Kaypee Sahib were not very appreciative of him. Prem Shant, who is an ardent follower of Babu Kanshi Ram, was not happy with the discussion and tried to argue with them. I also intervened once or twice particularly on Yogendra Makawana’s interest in knowing about the sports industry and role and status of dalits in the industry. He was appreciative of my views and said so but Chaudhary Jagjit Singh and Darshan Singh Kaypee were more interested in downsizing Babu Kanshi Ram. I observed that Kanshi Ram was an up-coming leader by his own right. They did not like it, I could feel and guess. Towards the end, when these worthy leaders were about to leave, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh remarked somewhat sarcastically, “Indian Foreign Service Wale Satisfy Hue Hain Ya Nahin?” In response, I gave a big smile and shook his hand to pay my respect. Chaudhary Sahib was a clever man and understood the pulse of the people.  

With this, I pay my humble tributes to Chaudhary Jagjit Singh. His contributions to the Punjab politics, welfare of dalits, affordable education, and affiliation to the mission of Guru Ravidass are laudable. May his soul rest in peace.

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