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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

From driver to foster son to SGPC head, Gobind goes a long way as Longowal

Gobind’s political career started with the 1985 assembly polls.

punjab Updated: Nov 30, 2017 11:26 IST
Vishal Rambani & Avtar Singh
Vishal Rambani & Avtar Singh
Hindustan Times, Patiala
SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal after his election in Amritsar.
SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal after his election in Amritsar. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

One-time staff of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) presidents have had remarkable luck with political power. The list got an addition on Wednesday as Gobind Singh Longowal, 60, who once used to drive a car for Harchand Singh Longowal and was his foster son, was elected president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

Also on the list are Zora Singh Mann, a driver of Parkash Singh Badal, who made it to the Lok Sabha; and Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, who was PA to Harchand Longowal and made it to the Union cabinet.

Gobind’s political career started with the 1985 assembly polls, when a screening committee of the SAD comprising Badal wanted to give a ticket to someone else but former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala decided to allot it to Gobind as he was “adopted as a son” by Harchand Longowal, who had died.

Gobind won on debut. Later, as a minister in the SS Barnala-led Akali government, now-CM Captain Amarinder Singh made him chairman of state agency Markfed.

In Badal camp

Gradually, as Badal emerged more powerful in Akali politics, Gobind left the others and sided with him. Essentially, as Harchand Longowal, a bachelor, was killed, Gobind emerged as his political heir because his family was not politically active and continues to live a modest life away from the limelight. Gobind is married and has a son and a daughter.

He lost in 1992, but was elected again to the assembly in 1997, upon which he became a minister of state for irrigation in the Badal government. He won in 2002, then lost in 2007 and 2012. After Congress MLA Arvind Khanna left the party and the assembly, Gobind won from the bypoll from Dhuri in 2015. This time, though, he lost from Sunam.

Commenting on Gobind’s personality during election rallies for the Dhuri bypoll two years ago, Amarinder said he had always remained “ungrateful to his masters”. “Sant-ji (Harchand Longowal) adopted him and brought him up. However, when he was shot dead, Gobind didn’t even give a statement to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against his killers. Is he worthy of the legacy?” Amarinder had said, underlining that Gobind had left him and Surjit Barnala, too, to side with the Badals.

Despite dera

Observers believe that, in the Badal-dominated Panthic politics of the SAD, the lower your individual political weight, the higher your chances of rising to positions virtually handed out by them. Except Gurcharan Singh Tohra, all SGPC presidents in the recent past have been propped up by the Badals. This time, Gobind was a lightweight among the probables that included former SGPC chiefs Avtar Singh Makkar and Jagir Kaur, besides former ministers Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Tota Singh.

A Jat Sikh, Gobind is from Sangrur in central Malwa, where the Akalis and Congress suffered a rout at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) early this year. It is apparent, thus, that Badal chose a Jat Sikh over Arora-Sikh Makkar and incumbent Kirpal Singh Badungar, to strengthen base among this community, which is considered a traditional vote bank of the SAD.

On Wednesday, his loyalty to the Badals paid off, despite the fact that he was among politicians who had approached Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda for votes ahead of this year’s assembly elections and was meted out religious punishment for violation of the Akal Takht edict against the sect.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 09:14 IST