Girdhari Lal Dogra
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Tribute to Girdhari Lal Dogra
Extra ordinary, optimist, dynamic and motivator, Girdhari Lal Dogra ji was one of the most eminent leaders of his times and one of the most influential enduring icons of Indian Politics. A ‘multitalented leader’ known for delivering results in the best interest of people and society, also known as “The People’s man” was a perfect blend of principle, honesty and equality.
It is said that the only way to know a man is to gain an insight into his roots. Born in a middle class family on 17th July, 1915 in a small village, Bhaiya, Hira Nagar in Jammu & Kashmir, Girdhari Lal Dogra left his mark with his continuous perseverance and his will to devote his entire life to public service. Despite hardships, he rose to prime in Jammu & Kashmir political scenario with his dedicated and committed service towards the welfare of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
When we think of great men, we often find it difficult to see beyond their public lives. Girdhari Lal Dogra was a husband, father, a brother, an uncle and a grandfather. He genuinely cared about his family’s well being and supported the family in all possible ways.
He was married to Shakuntla Devi and is survived by two daughters, Sangeeta Jaitely and Nidhi S. Sharma. Dolly and Nidhi, he would call them. His chest would swell with immense pride when he would talk of his girls.
Dogra Sahib started his education from Govt. Primary School Gurah Mundian, in a village near Bhaiya. After completing 5th from the primary school he got admission in Govt. Middle School Hiranagar where he studied up to class 8th. Thereafter, he joined Govt. High School Samba where he completed matriculation.
Dogra Sahib did his graduation from Hindu College Amritsar. He concluded his education with LLB degree from Punjab University at Lahore (now in Pakistan).
It was during the graduation days that he came in contact with Saifudeen Kichloo, a great revolutionary leader of Congress and a freedom fighter. Dogra Sahib also joined Indian National Congress and was elected as General Secretary of the Student’s Union of Hindu College, Amritsar. As a student he actively participated in freedom movement. He became media in charge of Amritsar Unit of Congress. He distributed Congress literature and pamphlets from door-to-door at Amritsar. He continued to take active part in the freedom struggle during the study of Law.
He came in contact with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and other political leaders of J&K who used to visit Lahore often. Dogra Sahib returned to Jammu after completing law and joined as a junior advocate to Lala Dina Nath Mahajan, a renowned Lawyer. He also became an editor of a weekly newspaper “Kidasn” which was published from Jammu. In 1942 he joined National Conference and started taking active part in J&K politics. He along with Moti Ram Baigra of Udhampur started the movement against Begari system being perpetuated by the Raja of Chenani which forced him to abolish it. This was his first pro-poor political accomplishment which motivated him towards enduring social service.
After partition, when India became independent on 15th August, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh delayed signing of Instrument of Accession with India. Pakistan attacked J&K by sending Army and tribal Mujahideens. Lots of Hindus were displaced from Pakistan and they started migrating to India. Hatred between Hindus and Muslims engulfed the whole country and communal riots began. This calamity engulfed our State as well. Lots of refugees started pouring from Muzaffrabad. At this point, Sheikh Abdullah appointed G.L. Dogra as Emergency Relief Officer for District Kathua. Dogra Sahib toured whole of the district and appealed to the people to live in peace and communal harmony. In the meanwhile, Sheikh Sahib took over as Prime Minister of J&K. During these days of turmoil, one day when Dogra Sahib was addressing a public meeting at village Rajpura, a border Village of Tehsil Hiranagar, he received a message from Sheikh Abdullah that he should immediately reach Jammu to take oath as Finance Minister of J&K. He held this post continuously for a record period of 27 years (except for 3 years break when he was in DNC) ever held by any other Minister in India. He was so pronounced a popular leader that he visited every village in J&K, even in Kashmir valley and border areas without any security.
In 1952, he was nominated to J&K Constituent Assembly from Hiranagar Constituency. Thereafter, he never looked back. The people of Hiranagar elected him as MLA in 1957, 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1975, always with a thumping majority. He was so popular that he never lost any election. He also won the parliamentary elections twice, first from Jammu-Poonch Constituency in 1980 and later from Udhampur- Kathua Constituency in 1984. He was the only politician who had been elected from both the Parliamentary constituencies of Jammu region. He was offered the post of Speaker by Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi which he politely declined. He recommended the name of Sh. Balram Jakher which was accepted by Mrs. Gandhi. She appointed him as the Chairman of Khadi and Village Industries of India. He shared a very special bond with the Nehru’s. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Smt. Indira Gandhi had instructed that Dogra Sahib could meet them any time without prior appointment. His remarkable contributions did not limit to the people of his constituency but his contributions extended and resolved around the development of the entire state. Strengthening of infrastructure primarily at border villages was his priority. His contributions as Minister of Planning and Finance were remarkable and served as a benchmark for development for years to follow.
Death came to Dogra Sahib at a time when he had a great deal more of life to live in the service of his people and the causes to which he was so committed to devote. He left for his heavenly journey on November 27, 1987, at the age of 72. Dogra Sahib will always be remembered as a quintessential gentleman, who endeared himself to large number of people due to his simplicity, affable manners and lively and futuristic outlook. Dominating the political horizon of Jammu region for nearly five decades with magnanimity and grace, he managed to win over his bitterest critics and political adversaries who approached him for guidance. His contributions would remain an inspiration for all of for many decades. May his soul guide us all to continue to follow his path for betterment of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the country.