He came, he saw, he retreated to his house. That pretty much sums up the visit of Canadian defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan to his native village where fans from far and near had come to pay their respect to their son.
Respect and honour, these were the two words that villagers used as they waited patiently, sun beating down on their heads, with a sprinkling of listless policemen all the way from a marriage palace near Mahilpur to the family house of the Canadian minister.
Joginder Singh Khalsa of Jaitu village on the way to Bombeli, stroked his snowy beard with one hand and a marigold garland with another, as he said: “We are proud of the honour he’s brought to the state of Punjab.” A band of a dozen old men dressed in “kurta pyjamas” with marigold garlands in hand beamed their approval.
A little ahead on the uneven road made of gravel and pebbles, a group of students from SGGS Khalsa College, Mahilpur, waited eagerly, dressed in the traditional bhangra attire. “We want to show him how we have preserved our heritage,” smiled the hazel-eyed Gurpreet Singh as Prof Paramvir Singh Shergill let you know that the boys had been bagging the third position in the Panjab University zonal bhangra championships.
A bunch of well-dressed seniors tried to duck the sun under what appeared to be a cow shelter. “We are the VIPs,” grinned the suave Manmeet Singh Bains, a US citizen, who is visiting his native Pakhowal village. Bains was here to show solidarity for Sajjan. “He commands tremendous respect in the entire Hoshiarpur belt. All of us have a sense of kinship with him,” said Gurmukh Singh Sodhi of Jeevanpur Jattan village. The excitement surrounding his visit was evident on boards welcoming him for miles. He beamed down, mostly in his civvies, but also in uniform, as various bodies lauded him for bringing laurels to the Sikh community.
The Punjab government’s decision to cold-shoulder Sajjan dismayed many here. “It feels terrible,” said Bains, adding that the state government should have used the visit to leverage the interest of Punjab. He was in the middle of his sentence when the Canadian minister’s cavalcade appeared with its distinctive diplomatic number plates. The bhangra dancers began dancing to the beats of dhol. The crowd which had been waiting patiently suddenly swelled, taking Sajjan’s Canadian security by surprise. An officer stepped out to tell a Punjab police inspector, “Too many people.”
A few yards away in an enclosure next to the village gurdwara, Sajjan’s parents sat quietly as the emcee reeled out the names of several leaders and “jathebandis”, including Bhai Mohkam Singh, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and the Nihang sahibs among others waiting for the minister. There was a stir as the minister’s sister, Manjeet Kaur, who was accompanying him, made a dash to her parents, a camera slung around her neck. “I’ve nothing to say, please give us some privacy,” she implored as the media pounced on her. Meanwhile, the gathering waited to honour the minister.
Alas, they did not get to do anything of that sorts as Sajjan quietly made his way into the gurdwara, paid obeisance, and left for his ancestral house, a few hundred metres away. The emcee blamed it on the crowd, which looked visibly crestfallen. “It’s all because of the police,” fumed a villager who had been waiting patiently at the venue. “They didn’t want our function to succeed.”
Bains, who had managed to squeeze his way into the gurdwara, tried to cool the tempers. “He said he just wanted to be with his parents.” Outside the newly-built house, his Canadian security men said the same. “Please remember this is his personal time,” one explained. It took a while before the people got it. Sajjan, the son, had finally come home.