It was in 1992 that a distinguished-looking gentleman came over and said that something should be written about Giani Kartar Singh. Though one had heard a lot of stories about the legendary political figure, one wanted to find some documented information before one could proceed further.
"That’s where I come in,” said Jasdev Singh Sandhu. "I have everything that you would want on him.” He proceeded to provide the documentation that resulted in an article and in learning a lot more that could not be printed at the time due to constraints of subject and space.
During the course of our subsequent discussions, one discovered that Jasdev Singh Sandhu’s grandfather, Bhai Gujjar Singh, was in charge of Burj Baba Attal Singh in Patiala where royal artefacts were stored. His bid of Rs 1 lakh in the 1940s for a village near Patiala had made waves at the time.
Jasdev Singh Sandhu always sought to enrich himself — by reading and spending time with litterateurs. He studied in Mahindra College, Patiala, where he was guided by the likes of Principal Teja Singh. While he was still a young man, Jasdev Singh wrote short stories and helped publish books written by others.
During Partition, he played a major role in the resettlement of many of families. No wonder, he also studied Partition and its effects on the politics and people of Punjab. After Partition, Patiala became a centre for displaced litterateurs and he would seek out such men, helping them in various ways with the considerable resources at his command. He was a law graduate whose extensive knowledge of political nuances of Punjab and legal acumen were often appreciated by his contemporaries.
Though he projected himself as an aide to Giani Kartar Singh, which he was, Jasdev Singh Sandhu was also a political leader in his own right. He had been first elected an MLA from the Dhuri constituency in the Sangrur district in 1957, at the age of 28 — perhaps the youngest MLA of the time. He was elected from the Raipur constituency in the Patiala district twice, in 1962 on the Congress ticket and in 1969 on an Akali Dal ticket. Not only that, his wife, the late Sardarni Jasdev Kaur, too, was a former MLA.
My parents Giani Gurdit Singh and Sardarni Inderjit Kaur knew the couple well and upon prodding, I too, recollected them visiting our house in Patiala. Not just a big landlord, Jasdev Singh Sandhu, was well-educated, fond of literature and also a writer. He was often seen interacting with authors and poets.
He was Minister of State for Public Health and Colonisation from 1970-1971. He had been an active politician for a long time. Whether in or out of office, he gained a reputation for being a helpful, courteous person of integrity. His house in Adalat Bazaar, Patiala, was a popular meeting place where persons from various walks of life would gather every day. Many people spoke about his personal library, and he kept extensive records of various newspapers. His soft-spoken, humble manner and a low-key approach were quite disproportionate to the influence he wielded.
A long spell out of office normally spells the doom of any political leader. Jasdev Singh Sandhu was a people’s politician and he weathered it well. He had an abiding devotion to his political guru, Giani Kartar Singh, and he made sure that every anniversary of Giani Kartar Singh was remembered through newspapers. He would get articles written by eminent people published and would make sure that every time there was something different and interesting to be published.
A veritable walking encyclopaedia of men and matters concerning undivided Punjab, specially those relating to Giani Kartar Singh’s role, he was someone who could be counted on to provide correct information.
Self-depreciating, he was full of anecdotes, especially those that involved his mentor. "Once the division of India became inevitable, Jinnah asked Giani Kartar Singh what he could do for the latter personally. Giani ji replied that he wanted the transfer of population to be effected with minimum bloodshed. At this, Jinnah wrote a letter to all his administrative officers, asking them to ensure the security of any kafla that Giani ji accompanied. This was done and many lives were saved by Giani ji who would accompany kaflas, make arrangements for settling down the refugees on this side of the border and go back into Pakistan to get more kaflas out.”
When he was out of the limelight of office, he maintained his contacts with the public and political leaders. He would often come to our home in Chandigarh to chat over a cup of tea. He stood out because he would always call to find out if we were free, and spend time with the family. My parents had many shared memories and a free-wheeling discussion on matters of religion, politics, and public life interspersed with humour of him and my father sharing jokes would liven up the evening.
Jasdev Singh Sandhu’s appointment as Chairman of the Subordinate Services Commission of Punjab was widely welcomed. Little did anyone know that he would be snatched away in a road mishap, on April 8, 2000, still in the saddle at 71.
Many remember Jasdev Singh Sandhu him for the work he did in his constituency, for getting schools upgraded and hospitals opened, getting financial and other help for dharamshalas and so on. For others, his gentle manner and many memories of crucial aspects of Punjabi political developments will be a reason for remembering him as well as missing him.
Students who pass out of educational institutions named after him and run by his son Tejinder Pal Singh Sandhu will not have to look far to see a role-model. It is not often that one comes across persons of honour among politicians. Jasdev Singh Sandhu was one. Punjab lost a gentleman who had made a place.
Pic : From Left: Jasdev Singh Sandhu, Inderjit Kaur and Giani Gurdit Singh at Patiala in the 1970s
(Courtesy : http://www.roopinder.com)