M A I N   N E W S

Punjab’s friendly troubleshooter
Prabhjot Singh/TNS

Chandigarh, November 7
Siddharth Shankar Ray was a man whom Punjab will not forget for a long time. It was in April 1986, he succeeded Shankar Dyal Sharma as Governor of Punjab-cum-Administrator of Chandigarh and continued here till the beginning of December 1989.

Since terrorism was at its peak in Punjab at that time, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi wanted an able politician-cum-administrator to be the Governor of the State. The choice fell on Siddharath Shankar Ray, who took up the assignment sportingly. At that time, the state was under President’s rule. Ray was given a mandate to restore normalcy and create a congenial atmosphere for a political dialogue that could pave way for installation of an elected government in the state.

A shrewd politician, an able administrator, a noted legal luminary, a diplomat, a sportsman, a great friend and a gentleman as he was, he had a clear brief as was evident by his immediate decision to throw open the doors of the Punjab Raj Bhavan to all those who wished to sit across the table to find an amicable solution to the vexed Punjab problem. Though the initial failure of the Rajiv-Longowal accord had complicated the problem with Akalis openly expressing distrust of the plans of the Central Government, Siddharath Shankar Ray never let any opportunity for political dialogue escape his attention. Since he realised that unless the core issues responsible for the growth and sustenance of militancy in Punjab were redressed, restoration of peace may not be easy. That was why Ray worked for economic regeneration of Punjab by encouraging industry besides pressing upon the Centre to announce special packages for the development of the state in general and the border belts in particular.

While Ray took effective steps to prevent state terrorism, he did not interfere in the working of the security forces in their fight against militancy continued. He was keen for restoration of rule of law and restoration of democracy. Though he came from a family of legal luminaries, his father Sudhir Kumar Ray was a barrister in the Kolkata High Court and sister Justice Manjula Bose, one of the first two women judges of the Kolkata High Court. Ray started his practice after his bar-at-law from England not long before jumping into politics.

After joining politics, he rose to be the Union Education Minister (1967-72) before returning to the West Bengal as its last Congress Chief Minister (1972-77). The people of Chandigarh would remember him for a long time as it was during his tenure; one of the major anti-encroachment drives was launched in the city. The then finance secretary Satwant Reddy and subdivisional magistrate Paramjit Aujla supervised the drive that continued for more than a week. Siddharath Shankar Ray did not allow any political pressure at that time to interrupt the drive. Unfortunately, some of the major projects visualised by him, including the botanical garden adjoining the Rock Garden, could never be completed.

Siddharath Shankar Ray and Maya continued their friendship with the people of Chandigarh even after they moved to their next assignment which was an ambassadorial assignment to the US. Kewal Dhillon, Congress MLA, recalls his close association with Ray, not only for inaugurating one of his major industrial units in Punjab but also for hosting him in Washington when he went there to call on him. “He was a great statesman, a thinker, politician-cum-administrator and above all a great human being,” says Kewal Dhillon.





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