LAST TAKSALI AKALI PASSES AWAY
(Obituary Jathedar Tota Singh-1940 to 2022)
AN AGGRESSIVE LEADER WHO USED TO KEEP REVOLVER IN A WOODEN HOLSTER; A BADALS’ LOYALIST WAS VOCAL IN PARTY CIRCLES BUT DISCIPLINED OUTSIDE
The passing away of Jathedar Tota Singh marks the end of the creed of quintessential Akalis referred as ‘Taksalis’.
Singh died at the age of 81, on Sunday, at a Mohali hospital due to deteriorating respiratory problem, and would be remembered for standing beside the party in thick and thin, his entire career spanning over 55 years and as belonging to the Badals’ camp.
He was vocal while in the company of party peers and leadership as Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) deviating from the ethos it was set up upon, but was disciplined and never crossed the fine line of discipline.
He would often dismiss the toughest of situations saying, “party is aware and things will be fine soon”, choosing not to utter anything in public.
A thorough bred Akali, Tota Singh remained member of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) his entire political career, (from 1978) and won last polls of the gurdwara-body from Moga. Despite a say in gurdwara matters, he could never make up for the top post as the president, his name though was floated a number of times to set-right the mismanaged affairs.
He was elected as MLA from Moga in 1997 and was made education minister, and later was elected to state legislative assembly in 2002 and2012.
Jathedar’s early days’ association with the then chief minister Surjeet Singh Barnala, kick-started his politics career when he was made the chairman of Mandi board in the 1980, while he was party’s circle head of Moga. Later, during his entire career he stuck himself on Badals side.
“I remember him as a genuine and loyal Akali who always stayed in party discipline. He was active since the days of Master Tara Singh,” said Prithipal Singh Kapur, a Sikh historian. “Punjabis in general and Khalsa panth in particular have lost a strong panthic face who possessed unflinching commitment…SAD will always be inspired by the indefatigable spirit of Jathedar Saab,” commented SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Jathedar Tota Singh used to often remember his early days in Akali Dal as driving a tractor-trolley transporting the peasants from his native village Didarsinghwala to the agitations for Punjabi suba morcha. He is remembered by old time Akalis as an aggressive students’ leader and peculiarly carrying a revolver in a wooden holster.
Tota Singh has recently penned a book on setting up of his villages, and its evolution around the partition in the 1940s. “Read about my village set up by family leaders,” he would say in pride while presenting the book. Infact all villages should have such books written to document the history, he would add.
Other than being an old-school Akali, he comes from the class of Jat-Sikh (Brars of Moga) peasant family, who believes in toiling hard in the agriculture fields and expanding the land holdings. He was known to have the pulse of agriculture in the state, however, as an agriculture minister in the tenure of SAD-BJP government (2012-2017) he was blamed to failing to handle the white fly attack on cotton crop leading to heavy losses to farmers, which many in the party say it was the bureaucracy at the helm, then, who pushed the entire onus on him.
Earlier he was charged in a recruitment scam as education minister in SAD-BJP government (of 1997-2002), by the Capt. Amarinder Singh led the government in 2003. However, later he was convicted of misusing an official vehicle. The case is pending in appeal in the High Court. As education minister he also earned criticism as anti-Punjabi, for introducing English in government schools’ curriculum, but he stuck to the stand.
His family wants him to be referred to as ‘Jathedar Ji’ and not his bare name, but personally the Akali leader used to take pride in the name given to him by his mother.
Tota Singh enjoyed strong connections among the Diaspora in North American countries US and Canada, which he often bragged about.
In 2016 when Aam Aadami party (AAP) was setting foot in the state and had sent a delegation to the foreign countries to woo non-resident Punjabis, Tota Singh who deputed by SAD to neutralize the impact. At a meeting in New York a shoe was hurled on him, but this gutsy leader held a series of meetings in the US and later in Canada.
As party’s senior vice-president he attended the last meeting of the core committee SAD’s top decision making body ahead of the state polls, and called upon everyone to fight with complete commitment.
Tota Singh faced some tough time as his son Barjinder Singh Makhan was involved in Moga sex scandal for which followed a long drawn trial involving Makhan and his accomplices who included senior police officers. Jathedar used to say in private that he never faced such embarrassment in his entire political life.