Manmohan Singh Bedi (1924-2014): the first Sikh Mayor of Bombay

Caption from The Times of India, April 5, 1983. “The new mayor of Bombay. Mr Manmohansingh Bedi, cheered by Bhangra dancers in a victory procession in the Fort are on Monday. Photo by Girish Dikshit.”

On 30 October 2014 Manmohan Singh Bedi, the first Sikh Mayor of Mumbai (then Bombay) died, weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was a restaurateur and the founder of Sher-e-Punjab Restaurant chain in Bombay in 1937, and the President of Hotel & Restaurant Association of Western India. But it was his Bombay mayoral victory in April 1983 that caught my eye. Below are three articles from The Times of India. They cover the victory of Bedi. 

Bedi is city’s first Sikh mayor By A Staff Reporter, April 5, 1983.

R. Manmohansingh Harnamsingh Bedi of the Janata Party today became the first Sikh mayor of Bombay, amid unprecedented scenes of jubilation. Mr. Bedi polled 102 votes, the first time that a mayoral candidate crossed the 100-vote mark, against 32 of his lone opponent, Mr. Rameshkumer Mataprasad Dube of the Congress-I. No sooner was the 58-year-old Mr.Bedi declared elected by the outgoing mayor, Dr. P. S. Pai, than the house broke into thunderous cheers. Councillors and scores of supporters who had waited in the public gallery surged on to the dais with garlands end bouquets. A large number of Sikhs bad turned up to greet the new mayor, whose election was a foregone conclusion,

GARLANDS GALORE

Dr. Pai was the first to embrace and garland Mr. Bedi, followed by the municipal commissioner, Mr. D. M, Sukthankar, Mr. Dube, leaders of civic political groups, other councillors and the general public. Slogans hailing the Janata Party and the ruling Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) were raised to the accompaniment of the chant, “Bole So Nihe! Sat Sri Akal”. Security men, who had initially screened visitors to the corporation hall, relented in the face of popular enthusiasm and threw open the gate for streams of visitors carrying bouquets and garlands. As the crowds surged forward to greet him, Mr. Bedi was pushed back and the security men held on to the ornate mayoral chair to prevent it from toppling over the dais. Mr. P. H. Sehgal, a councillor, appealed to the crowd in Punjabi to disperse quickly. The new mayor was garlanded on behalf of a host of organisations, including the Guru Singh Sabha, the Punjab association, taxi-men’s unions and the association of automobile spare parts traders. The candidature of Mr. Bedi was submitted by the Janata Party last Thursday, after the party got the mandate from the PDF’s six-party constituents comprising 76 members in the house of 138. Of these, the Janata Party’s councillors total 40, followed by 20 of the BJP, 11 of the Congress-S, three of the Muslim League (Bukhari group) and one each from the CPM and the RPI. Mr. Bedi got the support of the Shiv Sena, a non-PDF group, with 20 members. The Sena decided support Mr. Bedi to prove its bonafides as “a truly anti-Congress-I organisation”.

“UNHAPPY FINANCES”

Two Muslim League councillors from the Banatwalla group, three from the CPI and an independent voted in favour of Mr. Bedi. The election was boycotted by three other independents-Mr. B. K. Boman-Behram, former mayor. Dr. (Mrs.) Bhaktawar Mahajan and Mr. G. B. Dutia—who said they resented the “bargaining” of the mayoralty and chairmanships of committees. Mr. Dube’s 32-strong Congress-I group stood firmly behind him. Delivering his first speech as mayor Mr. Bedi said the city of Bombay had honoured the Sikh community by electing him to the position. Hailing the old ties between Maharashtra and Punjab, he recalled the visit of Sant Namdeo to the Punjab region and the establishment of Sikh Centre at Nanded in Maharashtra by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru. Mr. Bedi described the financial condition of the corporation as “not that happy” and said inflation was to blame. The corporation’s wage bill which was Rs. 39 crores in 1978-79. had risen to over Rs. 100 crores for 1983-84. The financial resources available to the corporation were limited and almost static. The new mayor called upon both the Central and state governments to assist in slum clearance. He said the state government was in arrears of Rs. 9.13 crores in the matter of slum improvement dues. He reminded the house that slum improvement formed part of the government’s 20-point programme. He also focused on water supply projects and said the government had yet 10 fulfil its commitment of Rs.23 crores for the first phase of the Bhatsai project which has been completed. Mr. Bedi pleaded for the implementation of the middle Vaitarna project for augmenting the water supply. He also called for the release of surplus lands under the Urban Land Ceiling Act to co-operative housing societies to ease the city’s housing problem.

Born on December 27, 1924 at Sargodha, now in Pakistan, Mr. Bedi’s family migrated to Bombay before the partition. Educated at Bharda New High School in Bombay, Mr. Bedi’s academic career was cut short by the “Quit India” movement. A councillor since 1957, Mr. Bedi represents the Bori Bander (VT) Constituency. He has served as the chairman of the markets and gardens committee (1961-62), of the works committee (1963-64), improvements committee (1967-68) and the BEST committee (1980-81). Now a treasurer of the state Janata Party, Mr. Bedi was a prominent Congressman in the past, holding the position of general secretary of the BPCC in 1968. A successful hotelier, owning a chain of restaurants, Mr. Bedi is a soft-spoken man, but a popular member of the house.

Moments after his maiden speech as mayor, which was delivered in English, Mr. Bedi garlanded the statues in the corporation hall, including those of Mahatma Gandhi, Shivaji, Sir Phirozshah Mehta and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was taken in a procession to Hutatma Chowk where he paid a floral tribute at the Martyrs memorial. The procession included Bhangra dancers. Mr. Manohansingh Bedi is the third Janata Party mayor in the present house, after Mr. Raja Chimbuikar and Dr. A. U. Memon. Mr. Baburao Shete, who served as the first mayor in the present house was elected on the Congress-(S) ticket but later joined the Congress-(I). Dr.P. S. Pai whom Mr. Bedi succeeded, is a BJP councillor.

Vasantrao – was for unanimous election of mayor By S. T. Almeida, Bombay April 6, 1983

The chief minister, Mr Vasantrao Patil, was in favour of the Congress (I) candidate withdrawing from the race for the mayoralty as a gesture to enable Mr. Manmohansingh Bedi to become the first Sikh mayor of Bombay unopposed, it is reliably learnt. Mr. Patil had conveyed his feelings to the Congress (l) candidate, Mr. Rameshkumar Dube. saying that he was sure to lose and that gesture towards the Sikh candidate would be well-appreciated. Mr. Bedi had intimated to chief minister his wish that he be elected unopposed. But Congress (I) members in municipal corporation felt that mayoral election was too politicised an affair and that such a gesture would have been appropriate if Mr. Bedi was an independent candidate. They disapproved of Mr. Patil’s logic in supporting a candidate from minority community by recalling that when Congress (I) put up Mr. Zail Singh for presidency. Janata party went ahead in its support for Mr. Justice H. R. Khanna opposition candidate. Ironically, Mr. Bedi had lost the mayoral election to the Shiv Sena’s Mr. Wamanrao Mahadik in 1978. At that time. Mr. Bedi was a Congressman, but Mr. Vasantrao Patil, who was chief minister then, had instructed Congress (l) councillors to vote for Mr. Mahadik. Mr. Patil’s action had offended Mr. Bedi and other Congressmen, prompting them to leave the party.

Electing a mayor, by a Staff Reporter, April 11, 1983

Close on the heels of the election of the country’s first Sikh President, the city fathers voted Bombay’s first Sikh mayor and 54th in line, Mr Manmohansingh Bedi (59), at one of the noisiest mayoral polls in recent history. A huge gathering of the turbaned fraternity had ridden in their beflagged cars to the venue of the corporation meeting and rolled out three-metre-long chai crackers to announce the Sikh leader’s triumph. Not even the police could dampen their enthusiasm after warning them of the likely danger the crackers could cause to nearby cars and offices. The lane between the two MBC buildings and the main thoroughfares were choked with a major traffic snarl as vehicles continued to stream towards the civic building, reflecting the popular esteem in which Mr Bedi is held by a vast cross-section of the people. A troupe of bhangra dancers bedecked in their colourful regalia of bright yellow salwar-kameez topped by black tunics pirouetted to do a jig or two to celebrate the mayor-elect’s victory. The proceedings were redolent of the feisty nature of the Punjabis, extroverts to the core with their earthy style of living.

Epilogue

The dominant party in present-day Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, was established in 1966 and in 1971 the party had its first victory under the mayoral candidature of Dr H. S. Gupte. Since 1985 the Shiv Sena has more or less dominated the mayoral seat of Bombay. In 1983 the BJP, the present ruling party in India had barely any presence, having only been established in 1980. This was also the year before Operation Blue Star in Amritsar, Punjab, when under PM Indira Gandhi the Indian security forces were sent into the Sikh’s sacred Harmandir Sahib to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in June 1984. This eventually culminated with the assassination of the prime minister, followed by the anti-Sikh pogroms in Delhi in November 1984.  

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