A writer on history, he wants to make his own. One part of it may write itself — in two months, Capt Amarinder Singh would be the longest living descendant of the Patiala royalty!
Among the princely states of Punjab, Patiala was the only one to enter politics. And Punjab Congress chief Amarinder, who traces his roots as the 13th generation of the first Patiala king, Ala Singh, even went on to be anointed as the state’s chief minister, the only erstwhile royal to become one after former Odisha CM Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo.
He traces it back further. “Our dynasty was set up by Baba Phul Singh at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and they then moved towards Bathinda in Punjab. We are his 15th generation.”
“Ala Singh was born in 1691 and died in 1765. Two months from now, I will outlive him. Most others in the dynasty died in their late thirties or forties. My father died at the age of 61 in Holland (Netherlands),” says Amarinder.
At 74, he has announced the 2017 Punjab elections as his last hurrah. It comes after 46 years in politics, 11 parliamentary and state elections. His father, Yadvindra Singh, the last independent head of the princely state of Patiala, did not find politics appetising enough, and resigned as Punjab MLA from Dakala to leave for Holland. It was Amarinder’s mother, Mohinder Kaur, who was nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962, who carried the family legacy until Amarinder took the baton. But he doesn’t just talk of kings and politics.
When the bug bit him
“I was an armyman in 1967 when both my parents were contesting elections. I was on leave, and went around meeting people with them. My father won the Dakala assembly seat and my mother, the Patiala parliamentary seat. The bug of politics bit me then, I guess.”
He left the army in 1968 and first contested a bypoll from Dakala after sitting MLA Basant Singh was killed by Naxalites in 1970, he reminiscences.
He lost that battle. And then couldn’t redeem himself even from his mother’s parliamentary seat of Patiala in 1977, when Akali Dal heavyweight Gurcharan Singh Tohra defeated him.
Chandigarh-based journalist Khushwant Singh, who is penning a biography of Amarinder, says, “Once the princely titles were taken away, royals who wanted to stay relevant, have a leadership role and be centrestage, opted for politics. But they faced a big challenge as they had to now go out to people to seek a mandate. The fact that Amarinder went on to become CM shows his connect with the people.”
But Amarinder sees his dynasty’s foray into politics not as quest for power but call of duty. “People have been with our family for centuries. Unless you keep it going, you will get cut off from them. We have responsibility and commitment towards them,” he says.
More than the people, it was proximity to the Gandhis — former PM Rajiv Gandhi studied with him at the prestigious Doon School in Dehradun — that saw him script a success story after a losing start.
In 1980, Amarinder won from Patiala. He resigned as MP to protest former PM Indira Gandhi’s decision to allow army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 under Operation Bluestar. He dabbled with the Shiromani Akali Dal, quit as agriculture minister after Operation Black Thunder, formed his own party and suffered two more defeats until Rajiv’s wife and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, passed on the reins of Punjab Congress to him in 1998.
Family first, or not
As Amarinder found his moorings in state politics, wife Preneet Kaur went on to become a three-time MP from Patiala and a Union minister. The family ties also involve radical Sikh leader Simranjit Singh Mann, who is married to Preneet’s sister, Geetinder Kaur Mann. Amarinder’s sister
But the couple’s dream to see son Raninder Singh carry forward the family legacy has so far been just that — a dream. Raninder lost a prestige battle from Bathinda in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls against CM Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter-in-law, Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
Preneet then attempted to resurrect her son’s political career by getting him the Samana ticket in the 2012 assembly polls, but he failed to win. Preneet too lost the family seat in the 2014 LS polls but was able to retain the Patiala-urban assembly seat in a bypoll after Amarinder became Amritsar MP.
Bitter at not being able to steer his party to victory in last two elections, Amarinder has this time tried to lead by example. Notwithstanding that his own dynasty will also be a casualty, he has imposed a ‘one family, one ticket’ rule. “We cannot give others a chance till we have only sons, brothers and wives in the contesting list,” he says.
But, in doing so, he has put Preneet, Raninder and his brother, Malwinder Singh, all out of the race. His mother, Mohinder Kaur,is 94. This raises questions on who will take the family legacy forward.
Heir and hope
A winner of five state elections and two parliamentary polls, Amarinder is more proud of his son’s accomplishments. “Raninder is the president of the National Rifle Association of India. Youngsters who represented India in the Olympics have been coached by him at his shooting range in Patiala. He won the national championship without being able to practice himself,” he says.
But is Raninder a reluctant politician? “No, he is not. But politics is not something that can be done part-time. I hope Raninder will consider getting back into politics after his stint as the president of the rifle association is over. After all, both I and his mother are on the verge of retirement.”
Of Amarinder’s two sisters, Roopinder Kaur is married to Major KS Dhillon from the Armoured Corps, while Heminder Kaur is married to former Union minister K Natwar Singh. Their mother is now 94.
On why not his grandsons and granddaughters, he says, “Of my daughter Jai Inder Kaur’s two sons, the younger, Nirvan Singh, is working with me closely in this election. But he is not interested in politics. He is one chap who doesn’t speak much. He is not cut out for politics. He wants to get into a job at the United Nations.”
Raninder’s son is still in high school. “One of his daughters has completed college and the other too will be completing this year. But the girls are not interested in politics either,” he adds.
As for his own last election, Amarinder is no more the ‘maharaja’, and that’s by design. Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor has centred the campaign around ‘Captain’, a catchword that fits into the bid to woo young voters. The royal tag, for once, has been shed.