GURDIAL SINGH DHILLON
GURDIAL SINGH DHILLON (1915-1992), parliamentarian, diplomat and statesman, was a scion of the Bhangi Sardars who had ruled over the central Punjab during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Born at Sarhali, in Jalandhar district of the Punjab, at his ndnke, mother`s village, on 6 August 1915, the son of Sardar Hardit Singh of Parijvar, in Amritsar district, Gurdial Singh was educated at the Khalsa Collegiate School, Amritsar, and at Government College, Lahore, from where he graduated in 1935.
He took the Law degree from the University Law College in 193`7 and set up practice under the apprenticeship of the well known nationalist leader of Amritsar, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew. He was selected for a commission in the army and, though he completed the training, he did not join the service owing to his patriotic proclivity. The pull of the nationalist sentiment proved decisive and, in spite of his aristocratic birth, he was led to join the ranks of the Indian National Congress. Soon after passing out of the university`s portals, he faced his first political test.
A mass demonstration by students was then rocking the Punjab and it offered Gurdial Singh a ready passage into activity which remained his lifelong passion. For his participation in the students` agitation he was awarded a brief spell in jail. Soon thereafter, he was participating in a much larger protest which came to be known in the annals of the Punjab as Harsa Chhina morchd and which cost him a whole year in jail. This established his reputation as a youth leader of true calibre. After this active brush with politics, Gurdial Singh did a stint in journalism.
He became editor of two newspapers, the daily Varlmdn (Punjabi) and the daily Sheri Bhdrat (Urdu). This gave Gurdial Singh an opportunity to broaden his political contacts. He earned close kinship with politicians of the weight of Udham Singh Nagoke and Darshan Singh Pheruman. At the younger level were his comrades of the vintage of Ishar Singh Majhail. At the First general elections in Independent India, in 1952, Gurdial Singh was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. After a brief spell as Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, he was elected Speaker.
In 1965, he became a memeber of the Punjab cabinet holding the portfolios of transport and rural electrification and irrigation. Translating himself to Delhi, after his election as a member of the Lok Sabha, lower house of Indian Parliament, he maintained his position as an ace parliamentarian, leading to his election as speaker of the Indian Parliament. This office he relinquished to become a member of Indian cabinet in which he was assigned to the portfolios of transport and shipping. He then carried a diplomatic assignment as India`s High Commissioner in Canada.
Gurdial Singh Dhillori`s parliamentary career was studded with the highest national and international honours. As chairman of the conference of leaders of legislative bodies of India, he attended 17 of their annual conferences, seven of which he presided. He was awarded the Medallion of the Parliament of Canada. He was a familiar, muchhonoured figure in world parliaments including the mother of parliaments, the British House of Commons. He was elected acting president of interparliamentary Union Conference at Geneva in 1973 and president at Tokyo in 1974. Dr Gurdial Singh was very lively and humorous man and some of his bon mots continued to reverberate in parliamentary halls of the world long after he had left them.
His family house in the village of Parijvar, in Amritsar, bore the evocative name, Missal House. Missal was the term for 12 eighteenth` century Sikh chief ships into which Punjab had become divided before it was consolidated into a unitary power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Gurdial Singh Dhillori valued his association with the academic forums in his own country more than anything else. He was a member of the syndicate and senate of the Panjab University, Chandigarh, for many years. He also served as a member of the syndicate and senate of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. He carried a D. Lilt. (honoris causa) from Punjabi University, Patiala, which enjoyed pride of place on the roster of his academic honours.
He was a trustee of Guru Nanak Engineering College, Ludhiana, and a member of the board of governors of the Punjab Public School, Nabha. He was president of Mata Gariga Girls College, Guru Arjan Dev College and Khalsa Higher Secondary School, Tarn Taran. He was a member of the managing committee of Bir Baba Buddha College and a trustee of the Shahid Pheruman College. He was chairman of the trust subcommittee and managing committee of Jallianvala Bagh National Memorial Trust, 197381. He held doctorates from international universities such as Humbolt (Germany) and Sung Kyun Kwan (Korea).
He was plied with offers of honoris causa degrees by universities in India such as Punjabi, Chandigarh and Kurukshetra. This bare account of his career tells but part of the story. Much more important than the offices he reached and held was the man himself. He was a person of great charm and wit and of great nobility of mind and purpose. Dr Gurdial Singh Dhillori throughout maintained an independent and statesmanlike course. He was a man of acknowledged personal dignity and honour. He was known for his frankness and for his integrity of word and character.
As a politician, he claimed the cleanest reputation. He was much in demand in Sikh literary and social forums. He was especially attached to his alma mater, the Punjab University and remained a member of its senate and syndicate for more than three decades. He was known not to have missed a single meeting of these bodies during his long association with the university. Sardar Gurdial Singh died at Delhi, on 23 March 1992, following a heart attack.
1. Fifth l.ok Sabha: Who`s Who. Delhi, 1971
2. The Tribune. Chandigarh, 24 March 1992
3. The Hindustan Times. New Delhi, 25 March 1992