As emergency was imposed in the country on June 25, 1975 by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of Punjab was the first to be arrested and brought to Ludhiana central jail (old). All other senior leaders of the Shiromini Akali Dal namely Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Jathedar Mohan Singh Tur, Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Surjit Singh Barnala were also detained under the MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and kept at different jails in Punjab and outside Punjab.
The Shiromini Akali Dal was the only party which launched morcha against the imposition of emergency and continued till the last day of the emergency. The morcha was initially headed by Jathedar Mohan Singh Tur who was president of the Akali Dal and followed by Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and finally Sant Harchand Singh Longowal till the end of emergency.
As the time passed, this writer tried to meet Parkash Singh Badal in the central jail at Ludhiana. Since there were restriction on meeting Parkash Singh Badal and other senior leaders in all the jails, the question was how to arrange a meeting with Badal in the jail.
There was a fear of the government and the CID officials were posted at the jail premises all the time. I tried to make a contact with the jail superintendent B S Sandhu a nice human being. I rang up Sandhu and told him that I wanted to visit the jail to do a story on jail workshop. He agreed and I alongwith another colleague late Karam Singh Musafir who was reporting for the vernacular newspapers of Jalandhar. We were ushered in the office of the jail superintendent and I explained to Sandhu that we wanted to meet Parkash Singh Badal. He readily agreed to take us to the barrack where Parkash Singh Badal had been put up. We first had a round of the jail and also visited the workshop of the jail where the inmates were working on caning of the chair, carpentry and other jobs. Finally the jail superintendent took up to the barrack of Badal. Badal was first surprised to see us and then was very happy to meet us. We were with Badal for about two hours. The jail superintendent left us with Badal and went to his office.
After exchanging pleasantries, we discussed the political situation in Punjab. I asked Badal about his daily routine, He gave the details including morning exercises and reading of newspapers and playing volleyball with the inmates daily in the evening. Badal had been provided a cook who was a popular ‘kulfa seller’ of Ludhiana and had been convicted under the pure food act. Since there was censorship and no news could go to the newspapers.
As I developed good equation with the jail superintendent, there was no difficulty in meeting Badal whenever we wanted. I would just ring up the jail superintendent and reach the jail without making any entry into the visitors register. But our visits were registered by the CID keeping a watch on the visitors to Badal. I alongwith my colleague Karam Singh Musafir met Badal more than half a dozen times during his stay in the Ludhiana jail.
Akali Dal leadership has always been faction ridden. Since the Central Government was keen on having a dialogue with the Akali leaders, Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra was shifted to Ludhiana jail just about two months before the lifting of the emergency. Our last visit to the jail was when both the leaders were together in one barrack. Immediately after the lifting of emergency in January 1977, all the leaders were released and they all collected at Patiala on January 7, 1977. From Patiala, they came to Ludhiana in a procession and on the way were given rousing reception by the people of Punjab. At Khanna they addressed a public meeting and appealed for funds for contesting Lok Sabha elections. I remember that Rs. 20,000 were collected on the spot by small contributions by the people. A chadar (sheet) was laid on the ground and people were asked to make their contribution.
The Akali Dal leadership decided that all the senior leaders of the Dal would contest Lok Sabha elections. Parkash Singh Badal was elected from Faridkot, Surjeet Singh Barnala from Sangrur, Jathedar Tohra from Patiala, Jagdev Singh Talwandi from Ludhiana and Jathedar Tur from Tarntaran Lok Sabha seats.
Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi who was acting president of the Akali Dal at that time in an interview with me declared that Akali Dal would not merge with the Janata Party but would extend support to it and would maintain its independent political entity.
When Janata Government was formed with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister Parkash Singh Badal was inducted as Union Agriculture Minister. But he fell sick and came back to his village Badal. He was replaced by Surjeet Singh Barnala as Agriculture Minister.
Badal later contested Vidhan Sabha poll in Punjab in 1972 was elected leader of the Akali legislature party and became the Chief Minister for the second time.
Since the jail superintendent at Ludhiana had served Badal very well, Badal was keen on repaying the debt and sent his name for nomination in the IAS. But he could not clear the UPSC test. However, Badal made him the managing director of the Punjab Tourism Corporation. Later Sandhu retired as IG (prisons).
Differences among the Akali leaders never ended and the Badal Government was dismissed by Indira Gandhi in 1980 and Jagdev Singh Talwandi separated and formed his own Akali Dal (Talwandi). Similarly differences between Badal and Tohra remained till the end of Tohra. At present, leadership of Badal is unchallenged and he does not face any threat from his colleagues.. rather they are at his mercy.
(June 25, 2015)
KS Chawla is a veteran journalist.
He can be reached at 9988644244