GURDIĀL SIṄGH ḌHILLOṄ (1915-1992), parliamentarian, diplomat and statesman, was a scion of the Bhaṅgī Sardārs who had ruled over the central Punjab during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Born at Sarhālī, in Jalandhar district of the Punjab, at his nānke, mother's village, on 6 August 1915, the son of Sardār Hardit Siṅgh of Pañjvaṛ, in Amritsar district, Gurdiāl Siṅgh was educated at the Khālsā Collegiate School, Amritsar, and at Government College, Lahore, from where he graduated in 1935. He took the Law degree from the University Law College in 1937 and set up practice under the apprenticeship of the well-known nationalist leader of Amritsar, Dr Saifuddīn Kitchlew. He was selected for a commission in the army and, though he completed the training, he did not join the service owing to his patriotic proclivity. The pull of the nationalist sentiment proved decisive and, in spite of his aristocratic birth, he was led to join the ranks of the Indian National Congress. Soon after passing out of the university's portals, he faced his first political test. A mass demonstration by students was then rocking the Punjab and it offered Gurdiāl Siṅgh a ready passage into activity which remained his life-long passion. For his participation in the students' agitation he was awarded a brief spell in jail. Soon thereafter, he was participating in a much larger protest which came to be known in the annals of the Punjab as Harsā Chhīnā morchā and which cost him a whole year in jail. This established his reputation as a youth leader of true calibre.
After this active brush with politics, Gurdiāl Siṅgh did a stint in journalism. He became editor of two newspapers, the daily Vartmān (Punjabi) and the daily Sher-i-Bhārat (Urdu) . This gave Gurdiāl Siṅgh an opportunity to broaden his political contacts. He earned close kinship with politicians of the weight of Ūdham Siṅgh Nāgoke and Darshan Siṅgh Pherūmān. At the younger level were his comrades of the vintage of Īshar Siṅgh Majhail.
At the first general elections in Independent India, in 1952, Gurdiāl Siṅgh was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. After a brief spell as Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, he was elected Speaker. In 1965, he became a memeber of the Punjab cabinet holding the portfolios of transport and rural electrification and irrigation. Translating himself to Delhi, after his election as a member of the Lok Sabhā, lower house of Indian Parliament, he maintained his position as an ace parliamentarian, leading to his election as speaker of the Indian Parliament. This office he relinquished to become a member of Indian cabinet in which he was assigned to the portfolios of transport and shipping. He then carried a diplomatic assignment as India's High Commissioner in Canada.
Gurdiāl Siṅgh Ḍhilloṅ's parliamentary career was studded with the highest national and international honours. As chairman of the conference of leaders of legislative bodies of India, he attended 17 of their annual conferences, seven of which he presided. He was awarded the Medallion of the Parliament of Canada. He was a familiar, much-honoured figure in world parliaments including the mother of parliaments, the British House of Commons. He was elected acting president of Inter-parliamentary Union Conference at Geneva in 1973 and president at Tokyo in 1974. Dr Gurdiāl Siṅgh was very lively and humorous man and some of his bon mots continued to reverberate in parliamentary halls of the world long after he had left them.
His family house in the village of Pañjvaṛ, in Amritsar, bore the evocative name, Missal House. Missal was the term for 12 eighteenth-century Sikh chiefships into which Punjab had become divided before it was consolidated into a unitary power under Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh.
Gurdiāl Siṅgh Ḍhilloṅ valued his association with the academic forums in his own country more than anything else. He was a member of the syndicate and senate of the Pañjāb University, Chaṇḍīgaṛh, for many years. He also served as a member of the syndicate and senate of Gurū Nānak Dev University, Amritsar. He carried a D. Litt. (honoris causa) from Punjabi University, Paṭiālā, which enjoyed pride of place on the roster of his academic honours. He was a trustee of Gurū Nānak Engineering College, Ludhiāṇā, and a member of the board of governors of the Punjab Public School, Nābhā. He was president of Mātā Gaṅgā Girls College, Gurū Arjan Dev College and Khālsā Higher Secondary School, Tarn Tāran. He was a member of the managing committee of Bīṛ Bābā Buḍḍhā College and a trustee of the Shahīd Pherūmān College. He was chairman of the trust sub-committee and managing committee of Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh National Memorial Trust, 1973-81.
He held doctorates from international universities such as Humbolt (Germany) and Sung Kyun Kwan (Korea) . He was plied with offers of honoris causa degrees by universities in India such as Punjabi, Chaṇḍīgaṛh and Kurukshetra.
This bare account of his career tells but part of the story. Much more important than the offices he reached and held was the man himself. He was a person of great charm and wit and of great nobility of mind and purpose. Dr Gurdiāl Siṅgh Ḍhilloṅ throughout maintained an independent and statesman-like course. He was a man of acknowledged personal dignity and honour. He was known for his frankness and for his integrity of word and character. As a politician, he claimed the cleanest reputation.
He was much in demand in Sikh literary and social forums. He was especially attached to his alma mater, the Pañjāb University and remained a member of its senate and syndicate for more than three decades. He was known not to have missed a single meeting of these bodies during his long association with the university.
Sardār Gurdiāl Siṅgh died at Delhi, on 23 March 1992, following a heart attack.