Former Punjab Higher Education Minister and former Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) honorary chief secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta passed away at a Amritsar hospital on Wednesday. He was 80 years old. Calcutta was treated for cancer last year. He had been admitted to private hospital due to low sugar level on January 4, but couldn’t recover and was declared dead on Wednesday morning. He will be cremated on Thursday.
He is survived by his wife Santokh Kaur, son Gurpreet Singh, and two daughters.
Born on June 13, 1938 in Kolkata, Manjit Singh went to University College of Law, Calcutta and joined Sikh Student Federation at the age of 15. In business of transportation and hotels, Calcutta entered Akali politics with launch of Punjabi Suba movement. He joined Shiromani Akali Dal and soon became its general secretary due to his grip on Sikh history and traditions. He was close to former SGPC president and Akali leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra. He also remained in jail after Operation Blue Star. He was appointed SGPC secretary in 1989 and remained on this post for around a decade. He was given credit for making SGPC self-dependent after the troubled period of 1984.
Calcutta got SAD ticket from Tohra’s quota in 1997 Punjab Assembly elections and won Amritsar (South) seat. Parkash Singh Badal then became Chief Minister and Calcutta was made higher education minister. His tenure didn’t last long due to tussle between Tohra and Badal and he had to resign. He was instrumental in arranging a closed door meeting between Parkash Singh Badal and Tohra in 2003 to reach a compromise. This compromise once again made Calcutta honorary chief secretary of SGPC.
Death of Tohra once again pushed Manjit Singh Calcutta away from main stream Sikh politics and he became critic of Badal family and it’s politics. He was held in high regard for his knowledge of Sikh history and tradition, which occasionally made Parkash Singh Badal consult him on complex religious matters. SGPC closed its offices on Wednesday to pay its respect to Calcutta.