THE late Justice Gurnam Singh of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, who was Chief Minister of Punjab, and M Karunanidhi, DMK supremo and five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, are considered pioneers of seeking greater autonomy for states and federalism in the country.
The SAD had organised a conference in Batala in 1968, where a resolution was passed for the greater autonomy to states. The resolution was moved by Gurnam Singh.
In 1969, when Gurnam Singh was the CM, he invited Karunanidhi to Ludhiana to discuss the issue of autonomy to states. They held a meeting in the canal rest house and later held a press conference, declaring that they would soon convene a conclave of non-Congress CMs in this regard.
I had attended the press conference, but unfortunately, differences arose in the SAD over the nomination to the Rajya Sabha biennial election. Gurnam Singh wanted to support Giani Bhupinder Singh, who had served as jathedar Akal Takht and was a renowned scholar of Sikh scriptures.
Sant Fateh Singh, who was president of the SAD, was in favour of Santokh Singh of Delhi. Both Giani Bhupinder Singh and Santokh Singh contested and Giani Bhupinder Singh was elected RS member. Sant Fateh Singh was unhappy with the result. During the Vidhan Sabha session, Gurnam Singh asked Balwant Singh, who was finance minister, to present a vote on account on the finance Bill, but he refused, and the government fell.
Meanwhile, PM Indira Gandhi had found Gurnam Singh a capable politician and came to Punjab to address a rally in Ludhiana and extended support to him.
To quote Gurbir Singh, Gurnam Singh’s son, his father travelled to Madras in the plane of VV Giri, acting President after the death of Zakir Husain; and Gurnam Singh and Karunanidhi announced support for the candidature of Giri, who was nominated by Indira Gandhi as the presidential candidate against Sanjiva Reddy. Giri won the election and there was a split in the Congress.
Indira Gandhi appointed Gurnam Singh India’s High Commissioner to Australia. While flying to Delhi from Madras (union minister Kumaramangalam was also onboard), the plane crashed, killing all passengers. This was the end of a brilliant politician.
Surjit Singh Barnala, who served as CM of Punjab during militancy and was union agriculture minister in the Janata government, also had very good ties with Karunanidhi. The Centre appointed Barnala as the Governor of Tamil Nadu and sought an adverse report from him against the Karunanidhi government. But he refused. This act solidified their friendship. Barnala was given another term of five years in Tamil Nadu.
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