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The Lasting Legacy of Prof. Prithipal Singh Kapoor: Scholar, Leader, and Friend – by KS Chawla

Veteran Journalist KS Chawla remembers his mentor Prof Prithipal Singh Kapoor

My mentor Prof. Prithipal Singh Kapoor a renowned Sikh Scholar and a great historian passed away on September 7, 2023, at the age of 91 after remaining sick for a brief period. Prof. Kapur was a well-known educationist as well and he remained a member of the UGC Committees and the State committees to bring reforms to the education system. He was full of energy throughout his life and was always ready to undertake arduous historical works.

I came in contact with Prof. Kapur in 1957, when he joined the Gujranwala Guru Nanak Khalsa College as a lecturer in history. Earlier Prof. Mohinder Singh Dhillon was teaching us history. Prof. Dhillon was the son of the great revolutionary Dewan Singh Kalepani. He left the job of a lecturer and joined the service of the Punjab Youth Welfare Department of the Punjab government.

Prof. Kapur soon became popular with his students as his way of teaching was very superb. While delivering the lecture in the class, he would become excited and the students could not ignore his lecture. Since history was my favorite subject, I soon developed a fancy for Prof. Kapur and we started meeting even after the college hours. I would often visit his house opposite the PWD resthouse in Civil Lines and we would discuss various subjects even politics. But our closeness was short-lived as Prof. Kapur left the GGN Khalsa College and went to Sultanpur Lodhi College as a principal.

We lost our contact but we never forgot each other. I became a small-time journalist in 1960 while I was still studying. I joined the profession of journalism as my elder brother S. Gurcharan Singh Chawla, who was a reporter for The Tribune and The Pratap Jalandhar. He moved to Delhi in 1959 and I joined the Pratap Jalandhar thus my career in journalism started. In 1968, I became the correspondent of The Tribune and was more in the limelight.

My reconnection with Prof. Kapur was in 1977 when he was the Director University State Text Book Board after the formation of the Akali-Janata government under the Chief Ministership of Parkash Singh Badal. Sukhjinder Singh a retired DSP was also inducted as Education Minister he was a close friend of Prof. Kapur and he appointed Prof. Kapur as Chairman of Govt. Book Depot. But Badal and Sukhjinder Singh fell out and Sukhjinder had to resign from the cabinet. Two more ministers Randhir Singh Cheema and Jaswinder Singh Brar also resigned in solidarity with Sukhjinder Singh.

I knew Parkash Singh Badal but was not aware of his subtle ways of dealing with his opponents. He framed Prof. Kapur in a false case being a friend of Sukhjinder Singh. Prof. Kapur was arrested but the case fell and Prof. Kapur came out clean. Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi was president of the Akali Dal were on the side of Sukhjinder Singh and there was a crisis in the Akali Dal. But this was sorted out soon.

Jathedar Tohra approached Prof. Kapur for his reinstatement as Chairman of the Text Book Board on behalf of Parkash Singh Badal. But Prof. Kapur refused the offer. He settled down in Chandigarh. I met Prof. Kapur in the district courts at Ludhiana during his case. During the emergency, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, who was the dictator of the morcha against emergency also came in touch with Prof. Kapur and soon Sant also developed a liking for Prof. Kapur.

As Punjab was plunged into darkness in 1980 when the militancy started and Operation Blue Star had taken place, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent Arjun Singh then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh as Governor of Punjab. Arjun Singh was a very shrewd and seasoned politician, he first found out who were the persons close to Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. He made contact with Prof. Kapur and sought his help in persuading Sant Harchand Singh to talk with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Arjun Singh also met some other politicians and journalists close to Sant Longowal.

Prof. Kapur exerted his pressure on Sant Longowal to talk with the Prime Minister. Sant Longowal had more faith in Prof. Kapur and the first meeting between Sant Longowal and Governor Singh took place at the residence of Prof. Kapur in Chandigarh, where it was agreed that the Prime Minister should invite Sant Longowal for talks. Both Jathedar Tohra and Badal were against holding talks with the Prime Minister. It was probably July 21, 1985, that Harchand Singh came to Sahnewal to address a rally and I was there to cover his visit.

After the rally, Sant Harchand Singh asked me if they (Akalis) should talk to the Prime Minister, I found makeout that Sant had received an invitation. Before coming to Sahnewal, Sant had met both Tohra and Badal at Chandigarh and sought their consent. On July 23, 1985, the Rajiv-Longowal Accord was signed in Delhi and Rajiv Gandhi accepted all demands including the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab by January 26, 1986. Surjit Singh Barnala had become Chief Minister after the 1985 Vidhan Sabha elections.

But Badal and Tohra did not cooperate with him and Barnala was left at the mercy of Congress. Prof. Kapur was appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University and after completing his term, he came back to Ludhiana and became the Principal of GGN Khalsa College. Our relationship again blossomed and we were meeting regularly and discussing Punjab politics and other topics of importance. He was always willing to help me in my writings about Akali politics. It was under his inspiration that I wrote my first book on Punjab politics. I am writing my second book on Punjab, which is under print.

Three months before, Prof. Kapur fell sick, I was sitting with him when he started talking about the partition of the country. He told me ‘Kashmir, our generation is also a victim of partition as with the migration of population we lost everything. We became refugees and had to work hard to become self-sufficient. You are also a part of this victimization’. This was the last discussion we had and after that, he never became the old Prithipal Kapur.

My salute to my political mentor and teacher.

K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
Can be reached at : [email protected]
Mobile : 99886-44244

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