Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir

Poet, politician, and freedom fighter

Giani Gurmukh Sing Musafir – A Homage – I.K Gujral

My relations with the Late Giani Gurmukh Singh Jee Musafir spanned two generations. He and my father – Avtar Narain Gujral, were jail mates in every Gandhian movement for liberation of the country. This built a bond of close camaraderie between them. I saw Giani Jee – with a graceful grey beard, for the first time in Gujarat Special Jail where leading personalities of the then Punjab and Delhi were incarcerated. Our family used to go every week some thirty miles from Jhelum to spend a couple of hours with my father. The jail rules were not so stringent and the jail authorities would not mind free movement of the prisoner’s to the outer offices where interviews were held. Very often my father’s jail friends would come out to share a cup of tea and eats that we would carry along. It was then I saw Giani Jee as a young boy, but this left a mark on my mind.

My father admired him as a poet and he would often recite his couplets to us. As time passed and I moved to Lahore for my University education, my involvement in the liberation movement intensified. I came closer to Giani Jee and some other friends of my father. The Student’s movement wherein I came to occupy important positions, was in several ways, in the vanguard and so a new type of bond was built particularly because of my own and Giani Jee’s leftist leanings. All his life he continued to admire the Soviet Union and its Socialist Society.

My association with him was further intensified when I entered the portals of Parliament in the early sixties . This was now a relationship of a different nature. I was the son of his friend – whom he continued to value and also a budding colleague in the legislature.

Mrs. Gandhi’s emergence as Prime Minister added one more bond between Giani Jee and myself. Both of us sided with her during her political struggles and trails. Since I was a member of Indira Jee’s so-called ‘Kitchen Cabinet,’ I interacted a great deal with Giani Jee in handling the Punjab affairs where he continued to be a leader of high stature.

His good office was used to wean away Babu Jagjivan Ram from the ‘other’ side to ours. This story is worth recalling. As the battle for vote in the party ascended, we had counted Babu Jee as a backer of Morarjee Bhai since both of them were victims of the Kamraj plan that had pushed them out of the ministerial offices. Giani Jee came over to my residence one morning to say that he had just met Babu Jee who was willing ti support Mrs.Gandhi if she promised to induct him again in the Cabinet.

Both of us – Giani jee and myself went over to Indira Jee to convey this. She would not in those days, take any major decisions regarding the elections to P.M.’s office without consulting D.P. Mishra who also had direct channel with Babu Jee. Giani Jee was asked to convey back the message of affirmation but without any promise of portfolio. Babu Jee-I learnt later, was not too happy but he had no other options. Vagueness was a chosen weapon since Mrs.Gandhi could not disturb other contenders for the important portfolios that had already thrown their lot with her.

Split of the Punjab State was an issue that confronted Mrs.Gandhi soon after her election to the high office. The Akali agitators and the Hukam Singh Committee Report had already favored split of the state. With Comrade Ram Kishen at the head, no leading Congressman favored “weakening, of the Punjab”. My viewpoint, which did not tally with that of Giani Jee, was different.

Formation of the two States – the Punjab and Haryana ni 1966, brought forth-new challenges that required tall leaders at their helm. Who could be the next Chief Minister? Giani Zail Singh was a serious contender. Indra Jee liked him but she respected Musafir Jee far more. He was her natural choice. She assigned me the task of sorting it out particularly because she did not want herself to say “No” to Zail Singh. That – as time passed, came to be her style of dealing with affairs of State and the Party. Giani Zail Singh – like many others, took time to appreciate that steel in Mrs. Gandhi was hard and could not be influenced by lobbies or pressures. To the last day of his life – and he often said so, he was under the impression that he would have been Mrs. Gandhi’s choice but for me.

Of course, I was for Musafir Jee, for reasons of seniority and maturity of intellect but in this case it was a collective decision of the ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ that Kamraj endorsed. He too held Giani Gurmukh Singh Jee in high esteem.

But option in favor of Musafir Jee was very different and even easier than persuading him to don the mantel. His residence told me that afternoon that he ahd gone to the Chelmsford Club tp play his favourite weekly game of cards. I got him on phone in the Club and requested him to come over to my residence. He was hesitant to snap the game. I told him it was urgent matter but his mind remained in the game. He came an hour later and was in a hurry to go back.

Outright and without a minute’s thought, he rejected my proposal. I told him that the Prime Minister wanted it so. “Oh, No,” he begged me to persuade her to think of someone else and he was gone back to the Club. Never in later years, did I come across such an indifference to power or promise of a high office.

I drove to Safdarjung Road to convey the gist of our talk to Mrs. Gandhi in the presence of Uma Shankar Dikshit. She was amused. It added to her admiration for him that sealed her decision.

As directed, I phoned Giani Jee again in the club and asked him to come over to the Prime Minister’s House. His voice sank on the phone. He came looking dismayed. When Indira Jee told him “Giani Jee Yeh to Aap Ko Karna Hi Hai”, he seemed distraught as if he was being sent to the gallows. He agreed but his heart was never in.

When I narrated details of this incident to my father he was not surprised. He had always known the ‘Tyag Bhavana’ in GIani Jee’s psyche. This became more evident when he lost his office because of set backs in the polls. The ‘Giani ‘ in him was true that kept him at peace with himself in all circumstances.