It takes one controversy to lay bare a politician's past. And when it's a murder case, skeletons tumble out of the cupboard thick and fast.
On February 23, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leadership was busy with the Moga byelection, the party got a rude shock when its mayor from Patiala, Jaspal Singh Pardhan (61), was booked on murder charges. The death of Pardhan's 'daughter-in-law' Parampreet Kaur (29) brought to light the 'second' marriage of the city's first citizen, giving the opposition Congress a new handle to target the ruling party.
Sailing in two boats
Pardhan, a businessman-turned-politician, was already married to Surinder Kaur for about a decade when he began a relationship with Paramjit Kaur, wife of his friend Tarlochan Singh, in the early 1980s. Pardhan and Tarlochan were also business partners who imported video cassette recorders (VCRs), colour TVs and cordless phones, all coveted goods in those days.
As the lax customs rules of that time allowed people to bring duty-free VCRs or TVs from abroad, Pardhan and Tarlochan started taking Paramjit along on their trips to Singapore, Thailand and other countries. As their business flourished, the frequency of their tours also increased. Paramjit even got the tag of 'Singapurni' in city circles. Her live-in relationship with Pardhan forced Tarlochan to part ways with her. The latter began a new life with Gurmeet Kaur and moved to Russia.
Meanwhile, Pardhan and Paramjit started living as husband and wife in her house in Toba Kashmiran here (his own house is in Phulkian Enclave). He was shown as the father of her son Harpreet (deceased Parampreet's husband) and daughter Mani. Pardhan went on to organise the siblings' marriages. Both wives were aware of his 'bigamous status', but the arrangement apparently suited them.
As per Parampreet's father Amarjit Singh Sodhi, she was murdered because her husband Harpreet was having an extra-marital affair and wanted to remarry.
After the murder, Pardhan initially claimed that Paramjit was not his wife but his friend's widow. But Sodhi came up with pictures of Harpreet's marriage to show that Pardhan had performed the father's role.
Sodhi even declared that a DNA test would establish that Mani is Pardhan's daughter from Paramjit. He also produced a voter list which showed Pardhan, Paramjit, Harpreet and Mani as residents of the same house in Toba Kashmiran. His 'lie' nailed, Pardhan eventually had to step down from the mayor's post.
Rising from the ranks
The start of Pardhan's 'double life' uncannily coincided with his entry into politics, though it took him almost three decades to graduate from being an ordinary Akali worker to becoming the mayor.
Swayed by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's speeches, he took part in the Dharamyudh Morcha movement launched by the Akalis for the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolution in the early 1980s. In 1982, he was appointed state president of then newly-constituted Naujavan Khalsa Dal.
Pardhan contested the terrorism-hit Patiala civic polls in 1992 on the ticket of Simranjit Singh Mann-led SAD (Amritsar) and became a councillor (the Badals' SAD had boycotted the polls). Later, he withdrew from politics for several years to focus on his business interests.
It was on the persuasion of current rural development minister Surjit Singh Rakhra that he rejoined the SAD in 2004. Pardhan was re-elected councillor in the 2007 polls.
His ties with Rakhra became stronger in the January 2012 assembly elections, when he helped the SAD leader defeat former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh's Raninder Singh from Samana.
In a payback gesture, Rakhra persuaded him to contest the June 2012 municipal corporation polls, despite the fact that Pardhan wanted to field his son Preetinder Singh, Patiala district president (city) of the Youth Akali Dal. Pardhan won again, achieving the distinction of being elected councillor unopposed for the third time.
However, after becoming the mayor, Pardhan got close to the SAD's Patiala district incharge, education minister Sikander Singh Maluka. On Sunday, Maluka had told HT, "A murder charge has been registered, but only on the basis of facts, prime facie. It is yet to be established if Pradhan is involved in the entire episode."
However, his closeness to Maluka as well as Rakhra failed to prevent him from losing the mayoral chair.