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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Tracing Indian PM's Punjabi roots
By Aijaz Mahar
BBC correspondent in Gah, Chakwal district

Manmohan Singh receives flowers as he arrives at the prime minister's residence
Mr Singh (left) was among millions of Sikhs who migrated
Indians may be expecting economic benefits under the leadership of new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But in the village where Mr Singh was born, in what is now Pakistan, residents are hoping their lives will get better too - particularly if he helps bring peace between South Asia's bitter rivals.

Gah, a small village in Chakwal district, 100km (62.5 miles) south-west of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, has been firmly under the media glare ever since Mr Singh was catapulted into the limelight.

Journalists have been visiting in droves to see for themselves the place where India's new leader was born in 1932.

Nickname

Gah's primary school still has the register in which the name of Manmohan Singh, son of Sikh businessman Gurmukh Singh, was recorded in 1937.

Manmohan Singh's name in the register
Manmohan Singh's name in the Gah village register

The date of birth is 4 February, 1932.

Mohammad Ashraf, a former classmate, remembers Manmohan Singh playing marbles with the other children, and taking part in contests of kabadi (a physical team pursuit sport) and gulli danda (a game of sticks).

Mr Ashraf says in those days Manmohan Singh was known by his childhood nickname, Mohana.

While Mr Ashraf failed exams in fourth class, the bright Manmohan passed.

He left to pursue his studies and the two never met again, Mr Ashraf told BBC Urdu Online.

The Singh family went to the nearby town of Chakwal, where a better education was on offer.

By the time of partition in 1947, when British-ruled India was divided, they were in Amritsar on the Indian side of the new border.

They escaped unscathed from widespread communal bloodshed in which hundreds of thousands died.

Mohammad Ashraf says he longs to see his former classmate again.

"I would throw a party in the village if Manmohan Singh came back," says Mr Ashraf.

Partition trouble

Another resident, Gul Hussain, 90, says Sikhs and Hindus made up almost 50% of the village's population until partition, and lived peacefully with Muslim inhabitants.

Mohammad Ashraf
Mohammad Ashraf never saw his school friend again
The village has been rebuilt over the years and few signs of its past remain, but there is still the well where women fetch drinking water in pitchers.

Before 1947, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women all used to gather at the well, but from different sides.

The village's Hindu temples were all destroyed in the partition violence, but the gurdwara where Sikhs used to worship remains - as a dilapidated local government office.

Villagers are proud that one of their sons has done so well.

But residents admit that Sikhs and Hindus were badly treated by Muslims in 1947.

Baz Khan, who was 12 at the time, said he was in fields herding his goats when he learnt that nearby villagers had attacked Gah.

He says the Muslims of Gah shielded the non-Muslim villagers, and provided them safe passage for migration to India.

Basic facilities

Manmohan Singh is in fact the second Indian prime minister to come from this part of what is now Pakistani Punjab.

IK Gujral, who took office in 1997, was born nearby a little over a decade earlier. He survived in India's top job for just 11 months. Only time will tell if Manmohan Singh can do better.

Gah's residents desperately hope his rise to prominence might focus attention on the village.

Village of Gah
Gah residents say the village needs basic amenities
They are near a motorway and have electricity, but lack all other modern facilities and the road is in bad shape.

If Manmohan Singh were to visit, villagers say, the Pakistani government would take note of their plight and provide basic facilities urgently.

They remember the precedent of Neherwali Haveli in old Delhi, birthplace of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

Like Manmohan Singh, he too migrated at the time of partition.

And when he made a historic visit to India in July 2001, Neherwali Haveli was given immediate government attention.

Gah would like nothing better than to welcome back its most famous son.




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