BJP’s Amritsar candidate Ambassador Sandhu: An envoy of Sikh legacy at the centre of Sikh faith


His association with Amritsar couldn’t be more historic.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s former Ambassador to the United States, was born into a family credited with building iconic Sikh institutions and for its role in freeing up gurdwaras from British-appointed administrators through movements intertwined seamlessly with India’s freedom struggle.

For those acquainted with Sikh history, being a grandson of Teja Singh Samundri itself invokes high regard.

WHO WAS TEJA SINGH SAMUNDRI?

Rewind to 1882: Teja Singh, born to parents in Burj Rai Ke in what was then a Tarn Taran tehsil within Amritsar district, came to be known as Teja Singh Samundri after he moved to Samundri in Lyallpur district in undivided Punjab.

Teja Singh Samundri, iconic Sikh leader and grandfather of Ambassador Sandhu.

Teja Singh Samundri’s own formal education ended at the primary level, but his role in founding Sikh institutions after serving in the British Indian army as a Dafadar (Junior Commissioned Officer) in 22 Cavalry for three-and-a-half years is written in golden letters.

A promoter of Sikh religious and social reforms, especially at a time when colonial powers had gurdwaras under the stranglehold of government-appointed non-Sikh mahants or custodians, Teja Singh Samundri returned to his village and joined the Chief Khalsa Diwan, a premier Sikh educational and social institution established in 1902.

The young reformer then went on to set up two Khalsa schools in Sarhali, then in Amritsar district.

Teja Singh Samundri, iconic Sikh leader and grandfather of Ambassador Sandhu

Samundri was also one of the founders of a daily newspaper, Akali.

In 1921, a British-appointed mahant controlling Sri Nankana Sahib, the gurdwara commemorating the birth of Guru Nanak Sahib, unleashed his 400 thugs on a peaceful Akali jatha, killing at least 168 Sikhs.

A day after the Saka Nankana Sahib, as the massacre came to be remembered, unfolded, the British authorities rushed to the site and handed over the shrine’s administration to the Akalis.

Samundri was appointed to the new managing committee of Sri Nankana Sahib.

His stature in Panthak (community) circles grew phenomenally for his anti-colonial resistance and Sikh institutional reforms during British rule.

Samundri was a founding member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the top Sikh religious administration which came into being in 1920.

He rose through its ranks to become a Vice President of the SGPC.

Samundri was imprisoned for his role in an Akali Morcha aimed at securing the keys of the treasury of Sri Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple) from November 1921 to January 1922. The three-month peaceful Chhabian Da Morcha, as it was called, forced the British to surrender the treasury keys.

He was arrested again on October 13, 1923, in connection with another Morcha spearheaded by the SGPC and the Akalis in support of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha, who was excommunicated by the British for his defiance.

The SGPC and the Akali party were declared illegal, and 59 of their leaders were sent to jail, Samundri included. “They were charged with conspiracy to wage war against the King and were taken to Lahore fort for trial,” writes Khushwant Singh in his book, A History of the Sikhs.

Teja Singh Samundri died in custody on July 17, 1926, of a heart attack.

The SGPC headquarters on the Sri Darbar Sahib complex is housed in what is known as the Teja Singh Samundri Hall.

The SGPC headquarters housed in the Teja Singh Samundri Hall on the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar.

AMBASSADOR SANDHU’S PARENTS

Sandhu’s father, Prof. Bishan Singh Samundri, was the founding Vice-Chancellor of the Guru Nanak Dev University. The institution was set up in 1969 in Amritsar to mark the 500th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib.

Prof. Bishan Singh Samundri also served as the Principal of Amritsar’s Khalsa College.

Ambassador Sandhu’s mother, Jagjit Kaur Sandhu, served as a teacher and later Principal of the Government College for Women in Amritsar, after completing her doctorate in the United States.

Ambassador Sandhu’s spouse, Reenat Sandhu, is a senior IFS officer, currently serving as Ambassador of India to the Netherlands. They have two children.

AMBASSADOR SANDHU’S ACADEMIC JOURNEY

Ambassador Sandhu studied at The Lawrence School, Sanawar, and graduated with honours in history from New Delhi’s St. Stephens’ College.

He earned his master’s degree in international relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital.

AMBASSADOR SANDHU’S DIPLOMATIC JOURNEY

Ambassador Sandhu, a 1988-batch IFS officer, retired as India’s Ambassador to the United States on February 1, 2024.

Before his ambassadorial post, he served twice in the Indian mission in Washington DC: first as Deputy Chief of Mission from July 2013 to January 2017, and earlier as First Secretary (Political) handling relations with the United States Congress from 1997 to 2000.

Ambassador Sandhu also worked at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York from July 2005 to February 2009.

Prior to his tenure as Ambassador to the United States, he held the position of High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka from January 2017 to January 2020.

Ambassador Sandhu also served as Consul General of India in Frankfurt from September 2011 to July 2013.

AMBASSADOR SANDHU’S POLITICAL DEBUT

Ambassador Sandhu’s entry into the Lok Sabha race as a BJP candidate from Amritsar makes him the third former diplomat, following Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and S. Jaishankar, to debut in politics during the Modi administration.

Published On:

Mar 30, 2024



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