On June 6, 1984, as an army jawan tied his hands behind his back and pushed him towards a truck, all 21-year-old Harminder Singh Gill could think of was of Waheguru as he looked at the Golden Temple, from where he heard only the din of gunfire, not the soothing Gurbani.
Even after 29 years, the trauma of Operation Bluestar continues to haunt Gill (50), now the Congress candidate from Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha constituency.
Recalling the day he was picked up by the army, Gill said, “I thought I would be taken to a secluded place and shot dead.”
However, he survived to tell the truth, which unfortunately most politicians often distort to suit their vested interests. “Operation Bluestar was painful for all Sikhs and cannot be easily erased from memory. But we must learn to move on and focus on serious issues, such as growing drug addiction, unemployment, education and health,” feels Gill, while squarely blaming Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for raking up the Bluestar issue in every election instead of focusing on serious issues concerning the state.
Gill’s first brush with politics was as a student at the prestigious Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1981. His father, a ‘katha vachak’ (narrator of verses from the Gurbani) with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, wanted his son to be a doctor. But destiny had something else in store for him as the young Gill while studying in the pre-medical class joined the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF). Despite being a brilliant student, he did not make it to the medical college and continued with his studies at Khalsa College, where he became active with the AISSF.
“Those days, the AISSF was a major force, with its leaders often challenging the then SAD leadership. When the Akalis launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha from the Golden Temple, the AISSF leaders took an active part,” recalled Gill.
However, his political career received a jolt when he was ar rested during Bluestar. During his detention in Jodhpur from 1984 to 1989, he did MA (economics) and MA (history).
After coming out from detention, the AISSF, for the first and only time, fought an assembly poll on its own platform in 1991. Gill, then general secretary of the federation, was fielded from Patti, but unfortunately the election was aborted. In 1995, Gill became the president of the AISSF. The appointment was announced at Patti by Badal himself. He remained at this post till 2004, when he joined the Congress at the instance of then chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
During the tenure of Amarinder as chief minister, Gill remained a member of the Punjab Subordinate Selection Board. A general secretary of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) since, Gill contested the 2007 assembly polls from Patti and lost to Badal’s son- in- law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon by more than 7,000 votes. In the 2012 polls, he caused a scare among the Akalis when he came close to defeating Kairon, only to lose by just 59 votes.
“It was an honour for me that my name was in the first list of Lok Sabha candidates that the Congress announced,” said Gill, who is close to Amarinder besides also being in the good books of PPCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa.
During the election campaign, Gill will lay stress on drug addiction in his area and the growing unemployment. “The Tarn Taran area is the Kabul and Kandahar of India. Drugs are available at doorstep and many a young life has been cut short by the menace,” he says.