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Movers and Shakers

Several of those who arrived during the Partition left their mark on Delhi. They took up jobs otherwise considered menial. While Delhi was happy to live in the past, these immigrants didn’t fear the future. They grew wealthy and powerful.

delhi Updated: Oct 19, 2011 02:11 IST

Several of those who arrived during the Partition left their mark on Delhi. They took up jobs otherwise considered menial. While Delhi was happy to live in the past, these immigrants didn’t fear the future. They grew wealthy and powerful.

How they broke new ground

For lakhs of refugees, Delhi was the first choice of destination. “Where else could we go? Amritsar was sulking on the border. Ludhiana was not developed. Ambala had no water supply. So, Delhi was the obvious choice as it was both the capital and the commercial centre,” historian VN Dutta wrote in Delhi Through Ages, quoting affluent Punjabi businessmen.

Many made the most of adversity with sheer enterprise. Dharam Pal Gulati had left behind a flourishing spice business in Sialkot. With virtually no capital to re-establish his business in Delhi, he bought a horse cart from Chandni Chowk. "I ferried passengers for two annas (1/16th of a rupee) per trip," he told HT in an earlier interview. Having made some money, Gulati bought a kiosk in Karol Bagh in 1948. With his trademark Degi Mirch (pot chilli) he launched Mahashiya Di Hatti in Delhi. Starting with Rs 9,700 in 1948, MDH is a the Rs 300 crore-plus company today. It is a market leader, selling 45 varieties of spices and exporting them to more than 50 countries.MDH founder Dharam Pal Gulati at his office in Kirti Nagar. Sanjeev verma/ht photo

Several refugees have similar stories. The late HP Nanda and his brother, founders of the Escorts Group, had to give up their flourishing business in Lahore. Their Escorts (Agents) Limited boasted of a capital of R1 million, a significant amount in those days. In 1947, they arrived penniless in Delhi. But they resurrected the business in no time and soon became independent India’s leading trading houses, selling tractors, farm implements and later motorcycles.

Politics wasn’t the same again

Refugees also changed political alignments in the city. While Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) already had a presence in pre-Partition Delhi, several leaders of the post-Independence Delhi Jana Sangh (a predecessor of Bharatiya Janata Party) were refugees from west Punjab who created a non-Congress platform.

A number of these prominent leaders — Balraj Madhok, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Bhai Mahaveer and Madanlal Khurana among others — held positions of power and provided an effective opposition to the Congress.Atal Bihari Vajpayee (left) with Balraj Madhok during a Jansangh Dharna in Delhi on September 21, 1968. Virendra Prabhakar/ht photo

Mehr Chand Khanna, another refugee, was a prominent face in Delhi Congress circles post-Partition. Appointed rehabilitation minister to deal with the refugee influx, he has Khanna market and Mehr Chand

market in Lodhi Colony named after him.