Shiromani Akali (SAD) leader and former Punjab Education Minister Jathedar Tota Singh, who is credited with making English a compulsory subject from class 1 in state government schools, died Saturday morning at Fortis Hospital in Mohali.
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SAD spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said the 80-year-old trusted lieutenant of former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal had been suffering from liver disease and had been hospitalized for the past few days.
Tota has twice represented the Moga Assembly constituency and was once elected from the Dharmakot constituency.
SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bathinda Lok Sabha MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal have condoled the death of the party’s vice president.
Tota was on the SAD Core Committee and was a member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
In 1997, Tota, a grassroots leader based in Didar Singh Wala in the Moga district, contested his first election from the Moga constituency and later appointed Chief Minister Badal as education minister in the SAD-BJP government. He was again elected MLA from the Moga Assembly constituency in 2002 but remained in the opposition as the SAD-BJP alliance lost in the Assembly elections.
He was elected for the third time in 2012 by Dharmakot.
His tenure as Minister of Education was a mixed bag of his political life.
Tota’s initiative to introduce English in schools invited criticism from pro-Punjabi supporters but he did not yield to protests. He was a strong proponent of modernization in the field of education with an emphasis on computer literacy.
During his tenure as Minister of Education, Tota faced many controversies, including accusations of illegally employing teachers in the department. He was later acquitted in the case.
In May 2012, the then agriculture minister, Tota, was convicted by a Mohali court for abusing his position as education minister. He is accused of misappropriating the car of Punjab School Education Board.
He was sentenced to one year in prison and faces fines ₹30,000.
According to documents filed before the assembly polls this year, Tota said his appeal against the sentence is pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
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Tota was once trusted by former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala and in 1986 Barnala was appointed chairman of the Punjab Marketing Board.
When Bernala lost political control in the Punjab and Badal took over the SAD, Tota Singh believed in the party’s emerging powerhouse.