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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The ‘British citizen’ who was a Punjab minister

Henry’s defence is that that he had submitted an application for Indian citizenship in 1970

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Published: September 25, 2012 2:23:31 am

Going by a recent home ministry ruling,Avtar Henry wasn’t an Indian citizen during either of his two terms as a Congress minister in Punjab or on any of the six occasions that he contested Assembly elections.

Following a complaint by Henry’s estranged son that his father holds a British passport,the ministry’s foreigners division has ruled that Henry has not been an Indian national since 1981. That is when the earliest records are available. Henry had acquired an Indian passport that year and renewed it in 2004. This meant he was holding two passports,his son has been alleging since 2009.

Henry’s son,Gurjit Singh Sanghera,has been cut off from his father’s property. Henry had married Gurjit’s mother in the UK; she died this year.

Henry’s defence is that that he had submitted an application for Indian citizenship in 1970. The ministry sought an update from the Punjab home department which reportedly found no record of any such application with the Jalandhar DC’s office.

Born in Kakkarkalan village of Jalandhar district,Henry,now 66,had gone to London in 1960 with his brother and started a career as a taxi driver. He adopted the name Henry and it was in the UK that he married Surinder Kaur,who hails from Shankar village in Jalandhar. He acquired British citizenship in 1968.

He returned to India in 1969 and charted a phenomenal rise in his career. The former taxi driver is today the owner of Kartar Buses and Transport Company,Moga,which runs a fleet of hundreds of buses and trucks in Punjab.

On arrival,he started working as an inspector and then became manager in the company,which was owned by an NRI and later bought by Henry. He married a second time in India.

He was appointed chairman of the district transport cell in 1982-83 and contested the Assembly election on a Congress ticket in 1986,losing by just 1,200 votes. He went on to win three straight elections — 1992,1997 and 2002 — from Jalandhar (North) and served as minister for excise and taxation,industry,and food and supplies.

He lost in 2007 and 2012,partly because of overconfidence and partly because of increasing crime in his constituency,particularly drug peddling. Yet he continues to wield a lot of influence in Jalandhar.

For years,he had been on good terms with his son. When the rift came,Gurjit accused his father of possessing two passports and said he had acquired an earlier one under a false identity.

Gurjit says that when his father,born Avtar Singh Sanghera,went to England,it was on a passport he had procured from the passport office in Delhi by identifying himself as the son of Lakhbir Singh Sanghera,who was actually Avtar’s elder brother and died in 2006. In Jalandhar in 1981,Avtar,who was by then Henry,got his passport as the son of Joginder Singh,his real father who was born in what is now Pakistan,Gurdip alleges. According to Gurdip,his father used the Indian passport to travel to England in 1997 but used the UK one to avail of medical facilities.

Henry stresses he is an Indian by birth and has been living in India for 43 years. He has filed an appeal with the joint secretary (immigration) in the home ministry against the order.

Henry,who has disowned Gurjit from his property,says that is his son’s motive. Henry recalls the lavish reception he threw for his son’s wedding,the guests including former prime minister I K Gujral and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. “Gurjit is doing this to get a share of my property,” Henry says.

He throws the allegation back at his son,saying it was Gurjit who had illegally procured an Indian passport in 1999. He says his son is by birth a British citizen.

Gurjit says,“I am not eyeing his property but I want justice for my late mother,who suffered from cancer and died a painful death in July this year. He got married without divorcing his first wife. I was separated from my mother and brought to India when I was three years old,which depressed my mother.”

Gurjit says he will complain to the Election Commission and the Regional Passport Officer,Jalandhar,seeking action against Henry.

Punjab Principal Secretary (Home) D S Bains says legal opinion will be sought before initiating any action against the former minister.

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