First Punjabi PM waived Rs. 8,500-crore debt the State incurred in fighting terror

In the death of Inder Kumar Gujral, Punjab has lost one of its sons who climbed the political ladder to become the first Punjabi ever to don the mantle of Prime Minister of India. It would remember him also for waiving a huge debt the State had accumulated in fighting terrorism.

People of all hues and across the political spectrum recall the historic May 1997 rally at Jalandhar, where he announced the waiver of the crippling special term loan of Rs. 8,500 crore.

Mr. Gujral’s family had a close association with Jalandhar city, where his parents Avtar Narain Gujral and Pushpa Gujral settled down after migrating from West Punjab, following Partition in 1947. WD 325 of Ali Mohalla on Grand Ruth road was their home for the next 20 years. The same building was also the home of the family of the former Pakistan President, Zia-ul-Haq, which later migrated to Pakistan. Mr. Gujral’s parents moved to a new house in Model Town in 1968-69.

On settling down in Jalandhar, Mr. Gujral’s parents started an orphanage. When the number of inmates increased manifold, they bought a piece of land near what is now known as Nakodar Chowk, to build more facilities. This was later converted into a Nari Niketan and named after Pushpa Gujral. In 1998, Mr. Gujral was elected MP from Jalandhar on Janata Dal ticket, with the Akali Dal supporting him, ignoring its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, his son Naresh Gujral could not retain the seat subsequently, but is now an Akali MP in the Rajya Sabha.

In his condolence message, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said: “Today, I am without one of my best and most trustworthy friends, a great and sensitive gentleman whose heart was always overflowing with love for Punjab and its people.” While the State lost one of its most illustrious sons, the country was deprived of one of its most brilliant and tallest leaders of the post-independence era, Mr. Badal said.

Mr. Gujral “was among the greatest champions of peace and friendly relations between India and Pakistan. His vision, commitment and ability to persevere with his efforts towards bringing the two countries together are just beginning to bear fruit. I wish he had remained with us at this crucial juncture in Indo-Pak ties.”

The Chief Minister said: “The moment in which Gujral Sahib as Prime Minister waived the entire loan [of Rs. 8,500 crore] with just a mild but firm stroke of his pen is still etched deep in my mind. We took 21 most difficult issues of the State to Gujral Sahib and he took just 11 minutes to resolve them through clear orders. That was one of the happiest moments in my public as well as personal life and a great moment for Punjab,” said the Chief Minister.

Mr. Gujral raised his voice courageously against injustice to the people of Punjab and wanted a peaceful resolution of all issues. “The role he played during and after the November 1984 massacre of innocent Sikhs will always be remembered,” Mr. Badal said.

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