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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Crowds bid Sikh leader farewell
By Asit Jolly
BBC correspondent in Chandigarh, Punjab

Gurcharan Singh Tohra
Mr Tohra was accorded a state funeral in his ancestral village
Tens of thousands of mourners have attended the funeral of Sikh leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra in the north Indian state of Punjab.

Mr Tohra, who passed away early Thursday morning, was accorded a state funeral at his ancestral village.

He was a member of the upper house of India's parliament and president of the powerful committee of Sikhs that runs many Sikh institutions in north India.

People came from all across Punjab to bid farewell to the veteran leader.

He died in hospital in Delhi following a prolonged heart ailment.

Tears

Ordinary people, who regarded Mr Tohra as the last among a vanishing breed of simple and fiercely honest politicians, stood silently in the blistering sun around the common cremation grounds at Village Tohra.

Many of the mourners had tears in their eyes as a group of religious singers sang verses from the Sikh Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Led by India's Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, numerous political leaders from across north India queued up to lay floral wreathes around the funeral pyre before it was lit.

The leaders included central government ministers Arun Jaitley, Vinod Khanna and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Jammu & Kashmir's National Conference party chief Omar Abdullah, Punjab's chief minister Amarinder Singh and members of his cabinet, as well as the entire leadership of Mr Tohra's own party, the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Just as the pyre was lit, a ceremonial squad of Punjab Police guards fired a volley of shots and buglers sounded The Last Post in a final salute to the departed leader.

And almost on cue, the swelling crowds of common people broke into slogans in praise of Mr Tohra.

Final memorial

Earlier, talking to reporters at his residence in Patiala City, chief minister Amarinder Singh told reporters that his government would build a suitable memorial for Mr Tohra after consulting his widow and other family members.

The state government has also agreed to a request by Mr Tohra's supporters to sponsor the publication of a book on their leader's life and work.

A final memorial service will be held in accordance with Sikh custom, at Village Tohra on 11 April.




SEE ALSO:
Sikh leader suffers heart attack
25 Mar 04  |  South Asia
Main parties allied to the BJP
22 Mar 04  |  South Asia
Tight contest in Punjab poll
12 Feb 02  |  South Asia


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