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Remembering Giani Mahinder Singh (1908-2013)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Giani Mahinder Singh:
Grand Old Man of the 20th Century Sikh Political Scene




Giani Mahinder Singh, the oldest surviving Sikh political leader, concluded his earthly journey of 104 years and left for his heavenly abode on January 3, 2013.

Giani ji’s funeral and cremation was attended by many Sikh leaders and admirers. He is survived by his three sons, five daughters, daughter-in-laws, son-in-laws, and a large number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Giani Mahinder Singh was born on September 1, 1908 in the town of Tarn Taran in Punjab in the family of Giani Mangal Singh who was a renowned Sikh scholar and exegetist.

Giani Mahinder Singh was serving as an official in the secretariat of the Sikh mini-parliament, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (“SGPC“) when I was a student first in Ambala and then in Amritsar.

It was my good fortune to be introduced to him at an early age.

Giani Mahinder Singh lived to serve the nation for so long on account of an unbelievable coincidence that he often used to retell.

Recalling the tragic times of the Partition of Punjab and India, Giani Mahinder Singh told journalists how he survived the atrocities of partition. Only a week before Pakistan’s independence (August 13, 1947), Giani ji, along with many more Sikhs and Hindus, was abducted by the Baloch Army, who took them to the Police Station in Mujang, Lahore. There they were readied to be shot dead when a senior Muslim Army officer spotted him and interceded, thus sparing their lives.

During that period, he served at Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, Lahore as a Secretary from 1933 to 1947.

I had the privilege to regularly visit Giani ji until the day I left Punjab for Bombay and then to Delhi, and eventually to USA. His narrations about his involvement in Sikh affairs, his counseling to panthic leaders, and his insight into the Guru’s teachings were interesting and inspiring.

I always longed to bicycle to his home near Harmandar Sahib whenever I had a free evening. If it was time for Rehras Sahib, I joined him for the paatth before we had a the evening meal together at his home. Sometimes we went out for a walk while reciting the prayer.

To celebrate his life, let me narrate a few of his numerous contributions that I recall.

Giani Mahinder Singh worked with the legendary Shiromani Akali Dal and SGPC Presidents like Jathedar Chanan Singh, Master Tara Singh, Jathedar Udham Singh Nagoke, Jathedar Mohan Singh Nagoke, Sardar Ishar Singh Majhail, Sant Fateh Singh, Sant Chanan Singh, Jathedar Gurcharn Singh Tohra, Jathedar Darshan Singh Pheruman and many more. Thus he was very knowledgeable about the day-to-day workings of Sikh politics; leaders depended on him for his insight on various issues. It was a privilege for me to listen to his memories of the intrigues that went on behind the scene in Sikh politics.

Soon after the Sikh holocaust of 1984, I visited Punjab when it was still bleeding. It was the time when the Indian Government machinery in New Delhi was beginning to abolish the SGPC. It proposed to replace SGPC with an appointed Managing Board.

Knowing his resourcefulness and intimate experience of working with Sikh leaders and Sikh institutions, the Punjab Government marked Giani Mahinder Singh to head the new Board and lead the change. The Punjab Governor and the Deputy Commissioner came to Amritsar to personally offer the position of the Chairman of the Board to Giani ji and seek his help to appoint its other members.

Upon hearing the Government plans, Giani ji became visibly disturbed and not only instantly turned them down but also harshly warned the officials against it. He told them that the SGPC was created as a result of unprecedented Sikh sacrifices. None other than Sikh Panth itself could decide if it needed to be replaced; and the Act under which it was formed must not be repealed pursuant to the wishes of India’s rulers.

The Government was shocked with this frank dose of opinion against their plan. The plan was disbanded.

Giani Mahinder Singh was an eye-witness to many key Sikh events. They included the Akali struggle for the independence of Sikhs and that of India; Sikh morchas to liberate Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib, Gurdwara Punja Sahib; the Guru-ka-Bagh and Jaito morchas (struggles); the Gurdwara Reform Movement in total; the Jallianwala Bagh massacre; and the goings-on on the subcontinent during World War II.

Giani ji’s experience with the Gurdwara Management figures was unparalleled. He was not relieved of his duties as Secretary because of his experience and his exceptional commitment to serve the Panth. Even after achieving retirement age, he was given extensions year after year for the next eleven years.

He was also Secretary of the PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) Gurdwara Board.

Other organizations that he was actively associated with included the Nankana Sahib Education Trust, the Khalsa College Governing Council, the Singh Sabha and the Chief Khalsa Diwan. He always supported the All India Sikh Students’ Federation and the Sarab Hind Sehajdhari Sikh Organization. I remember long conversations with him about the scope of these organizations.

According to Tribune reports, Giani Mahinder Singh held his fort when the gurdwaras were being attacked by the frenzied Muslim populace in and around Lahore, during the Partition mayhem.

“Vallabhbhai Patel once suggested retaliating in a big way, but I refused to accept his suggestion since the situation was virtually out of control in Lahore at that time,” he recounted.

He still remembered the “black day,” as he called it, when the historical Gurdwara in Mujang, in memory of Guru Hargobind, was set ablaze by a frenzied mob. Being Secretary of the Lahore Gurdwara Committee, he went on to press the then Army’s Major-Gen Rahis to deploy his forces to protect the Sikh shrines.

Giani Mahinder Singh is said to be responsible for saving priceless murals during the plans to demolish the Akal Takht. Sikhs were not accepting of the rushed Indian government sponsored reconstruction of the Takht designed to hide its destruction by government troops in June 1984. It was his intervention that the original podium of Guru Hargobind was saved from destruction. The Guru used to be seated on it to address the sanmgat.

There was no one else around to be familiar with the importance of the key features of the Takht. It was on Giani ji’s recommendation that the SGPC then took charge to preserve these historical portions.

Giani Mahinder Singh was a revered religious leader. His residence was frequently visited by top granthis, Akali stalwarts like the SGPC President Jathedar Gurcharn Singh Tohra, and famous raagis who visited Amritsar.

Giani ji was still active and full of dynamism even in the final days of his life. He did his daily prayers, listened to the live gurbani kirtan from Darbar Sahib, read newspapers and stretched to keep his body healthy.

Asked about the secret of his longevity, he always said, “Honesty and simplicity.”

A vegetarian, he credited his long and healthy life to clean living, good genes and regular amrit-vela cold showers.

Giani Mahinder Singh and his wisdom for the betterment of the panth will be missed by all of us and by the Sikh leadership. His youngest daughter-in-law Jaswinder Kaur told me that he used to recite the nitnem every day. His final prayer to Waheguru before taking his last breakfast was that all the panthic bodies may be united and be guided to work together.

We can pay tribute to this great soul by working towards the unity of all Sikhdom.

January 5, 2012

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
I have about 3 dozen letters form this man to my late dad Gyani darbara singh daler...and back in those days..when a letter took 15 days back and forth...Each letter has a reference number, dated, etc...Maximum 12 letters in a YEAR !!....Today i can send out 1200 letters in half an hour !!

Today..in the IT world when an EMAIL can go round the world in a split second...just try to send one to the SGPC...asking a question...you will likely lose all your teeth and hair waiting for a reply !!

Back then..IT was DHARAM over politics...Today its POLITICAL OCTUPUS and "dharam' is a tiny lifeless fish deep inside it...each mail has to go to so many POLITICAL MASTERS for the "politically correct" answer..that NONE end up being answered !! (even the purely DHARMIC queries" get LOST/BURIED..because the correct answer may not be politically correct !! so why take the risk.???

Gyani mahinder singh was a True Man of SUBSTANCE !! Old Model....life time guarantee...NO MORE..now a days all you get are PLASTIC MODELS..good for one use only...
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