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Tarlochan Singh: A Chequered Career


The Hindustan Times, Mar. 1, 2003

[Minority-bashing] has been going on ever since the partition of the country. Quite understandably, the main target was our largest minority, the Muslims, who were held responsible for the division of India. Christians came next because large sections, mainly tribals and lower castes, converted to Christianity to escape cruel discrimination. Even Sikhs who were close to Hindus were not spared.

At last, in 1978, the government agreed to set up a National Commission for Minorities (N.C.M.) under Minoo Masani (a Parsi) comprising a Muslim, a Christian and a Sikh. As was proper, thereafter, most chairmen were Muslims because their community was targeted by anti-Muslim goondas [hired goons]. Unfortunately, the notion that a Muslim would be best suited to safeguard the interests of his community proved to be wrong. Though many eminent Muslims, including retired chief justices, judges and governors, were made chairmen of the N.C.M., without exception they were keener to avoid being branded communalists and did little to highlight the unfair treatment meted out to Indian Muslims. For the first time, a Sikh, Tarlochan Singh, hitherto the vice-chairman looking after his own community's interests, has been made chairman. I have little doubt he will watch Indian Muslims' interest better than his Muslim predecessors.

Tarlochan Singh had a chequered career. He was born in Dhudial village (Jhelum district). On Partition, his family had to fight its way out of Pakistan, losing some of its members. They settled in Patiala where he completed his education. He was active in student politics and once prevented then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru from addressing a gathering in a gurdwara. He was jailed many times. Later, he joined government service and made his mark as a master of public relations. He served under Punjab chief ministers, helped set up museums and art galleries. He was director of publicity of the 9th Asian Games, director of tourism of Delhi State (Dilli Haat is one of his creations). For four years, he was press secretary to President Giani Zail Singh. If there was one person who saved Gianiji from being ostracised by the Sikh community by being declared a tankhaiya [excommunicated] by jathedars [high priests], it was Tarlochan Singh.

Immediately after Operation Blue Star, he went to Amritsar and persuaded the jathedars that Gianiji was kept in the dark about the military action in the Golden Temple sanctioned by Indira Gandhi. (Later, he decorated officers who had taken part in it.) When violence erupted all over northern India following Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, Gianiji did not stir out of Rashtrapati Bhawan and refused to take telephone calls from friends under siege: Tarlochan Singh bore the burnt of their anger.

Members of Tarlochan Singh's family deserve mention. His wife, Uttamjit Kaur, is the daughter of Balwant Singh Anand who spent 15 years in jail during the freedom movement. His son, Pawandeep Singh, played polo for India. His elder daughter, Preeti, is vice-chairman of the Haryana State Women Commission. His younger daughter, Jyotika, and her husband practise medicine in London. His granddaughter, Sehaj Lamba, has just brought out a book of poems and short stories. So the saga of service runs in the family.