Akali leader and former Punjab education minister Tota Singh passes away
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and former Punjab education minister Jathedar Tota Singh, who is credited with making English a compulsory subject from Class 1 in state government schools, died at Fortis Hospital, Mohali, on Saturday morning.
The 80-year-old, a trusted lieutenant of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, was battling a liver-related ailment and was hospitalised for the past few days, SAD spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said.
Tota represented Moga assembly segment twice and was once elected from the Dharamkot seat.
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bathinda Lok Sabha MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal mourned the death of the party’s vice-president.
Tota was on the panel of the SAD core committee and a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
In 1997, Tota, a grassroots-level leader and native of Didar Singh Wala in Moga district, fought his first election from Moga constituency and then chief minister Badal inducted him as education minister in the SAD-BJP government. He was elected MLA again from the Moga assembly constituency in 2002 but remained in the opposition as the SAD-BJP alliance lost the assembly elections.
He was elected for the third time from Dharamkot in 2012.
His tenure as the education minister was a mixed bag of his political life.
Tota’s initiative to introduce English in schools invited criticism from pro-Punjabi supporters but he did not succumb to the protests. He was a strong votary of modernisation of the education sector with an emphasis on computer literacy.
It was during his tenure as education minister that Tota courted several controversies including the allegation of recruiting teachers in the department with illegal gratification. He was later acquitted in the case.
In May 2012, Tota, then agriculture minister, was convicted by a Mohali court for misusing his position as education minister. It was alleged that he misused the car of the Punjab School Education Board.
He was sentenced to a year in jail and faced a penalty of ₹30,000.
According to documents submitted before contesting the assembly elections this year, Tota had stated that his appeal against the conviction was pending before the Punjab and Haryana high court.
Tota Singh, a Taksali or the old guard of the Akalis, had to bear a lot of embarrassment in the state and within the party when the name of his son Barjinder Singh, alias Makhan Brar, also an Akali leader, cropped up in the Moga sex scandal along with some senior Punjab Police officials of Moga for allegedly blackmailing the rich.
Tota was once a confidant of former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala and in 1986, Barnala appointed him the chairman of the Punjab Marketing Board.
When Barnala lost political grip in Punjab and Badal gained SAD space, Tota Singh reposed faith in the emerging centre of power in the party.
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