While serving as ADC to the Governor of Punjab in 1984, I recall an incident when the Chandigarh administration and police were sent running for cover, and a mob of farmers took positions all around the Raj Bhawan.
Summers had set in, and harvesting was in full swing all over Punjab. All the farmers were busy. The Bhartiya Kisan Union was asking for better procurement prices of wheat. Since Punjab was under President’s rule they approached the governor BD Pande, an ICS officer.
He was very quick in the disposal of files and decisions but very careful with his words. He had been the cabinet secretary for four long years and was well-versed with the way administrative wheel went around. He wrote to the Union Agriculture Ministry for a decision and meanwhile the message was sent to the Kisan union(Farmers union) to hold horses till a reply was received from Delhi.
Farmers erupt in anger
The seasoned white beard among the union was willing to wait for an answer from Delhi but a hot-blooded younger lot wanted immediate action and answers, which was not to be. A plan was devised in the night much like an army action. The young turks in the farmer union got into their tractor trolleys and moved towards the secretariat early morning. The police force was moved by and large towards the secretariat.
Meanwhile, the rest got into buses and moved towards Sector 7. With a thin police presence at the sector, the union members broke barricades and raced towards Raj Bhawan. Before the police could react and get the force together again, thousands of union members had gheraoed the Raj Bhawan. They were all over the golf club, the lake and the zoo. Some farmers had jumped into the Raj Bhawan premises but when I asked them to leave they complied and jumped over the perimeter wall.
The young turks in the farmers union got into their tractor trolleys and moved towards the secretariat early morning.
A flag meeting was held at the Raj Bhawan gate. It was decided to leave one route into and out of the Raj Bhawan. In the evening, women from the villages reached and huge cooking kitchens came up on the road in front of the Golf Club. Men and women were seen taking leisurely walks at the Golf Club and at the lake. The leaders said they would be around till their demands were met and they would not let the governor leave the Raj Bhawan.
Two days later, the governor had given directions for a state-level law and order meeting at Ludhiana. A lot of options were thought of. The Air Force refused to bite the idea of landing in the back lawn of the Raj Bhawan because of the bushy trees around. Many others adventurous tricks were shot down by the DG police and it was finally decided to go out with the governor wearing a shirt and trousers instead of a suit and go in an ambassador instead of the Raj Bhawan merc. It worked, the governor left for Ludhiana by road and held the meeting.
Taking a different turn
The return was planned through the Haryana Raj Bhawan as both Raj Bhawans had their rear gates open in front of each other. I spoke with my counterpart in Haryana Raj Bhawan and finalised the plan, but to my dismay, the Police ADC at the Haryana Raj Bhawan passed a message. The message said, “For security reasons, the Haryana Governor has turned down the request to escort BD Pande through the Haryana Raj Bhawan. “
This was at 4 pm. There was hardly any reaction time. Since there were no mobiles it was difficult to assess which route would the governor take. I got into one of the cars of the Raj Bhawan fleet and set off towards road leading to Ludhiana. Since the road had dividers I drove on the wrong side so that I could get hold of the governor’s motorcade and inform them of the change. The Chandigarh traffic police felt we were wilfully challenging the rules of traffic, so they tried to flag us down which we did not heed to, so we had a motorcycle and jeep chasing us with a siren.
With all eyes peeled out, we went back through lanes in front of official houses of sector 7 and reached the Raj Bhawan and before the farmers at the gate could look in, the car whizzed into the Raj Bhawan.
Fortunately, I encountered the motorcade not very far off. I informed the governor of the change in plan and asked him how would he like to go back. He said, “Let’s go back as we came.” I informed him that his meeting was reported in the news over the radio but he said, “Not many hear the news in the afternoon when so much is happening.” With all eyes peeled out, we went back through lanes in front of official houses of sector 7 and reached the Raj Bhawan and before the farmers at the gate could look in, the car whizzed into the Raj Bhawan.
Later that evening after the crowd heard the 6 pm news and learnt the governor had gone out of the Raj Bhawan for a meeting they shouted slogans against the governor. The gherao carried on for 10 days or so. Demands of the farmers and the union were amicably resolved but the memory of those days is firmly etched in my mind. A few years back, just before he died, I met BD Pande at his hometown Almora and spoke to me about this incident.