Unlike a politician or a royal, both of which he is, Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh does not hold back on sharing information about himself. This is reflected in his just-released authorised biography. “Amarinder emerged as a model for a dispassionate biography, which many political leaders would find hard to emulate. Amarinder never ducked answering a personal or awkward question,” author Khushwant Singh (not to be confused with the late veteran writer), who has penned Amarinder’s authorised biography ‘The People’s Maharaja’ (Hay House India/Rs 699/pp 392), said in an interview in Chandigarh.
While the idea of the biography emerged at a time when Amarinder was down politically, after leading his Congress party to its second successive defeat in Punjab’s assembly elections in 2012, the timing of its release was extremely apt — coming just 20 days ahead of Amarinder leading the Congress’ revival in Punjab by sweeping the assembly polls and becoming Chief Minister for the second time.
“I will not hesitate to state that he was the frankest of all the people that I interviewed while doing the spadework of this biography. Also, never during the writing of the text did he request that any insertion or deletion be done. Neither did he seek adulation,” Khushwant, who has authored four books earlier, including the gripping ‘Turbaned Tornado: The Oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh’ (2011) and the novel ‘Maharaja in Denims’ (2014), pointed out.
“Usually political leaders would try to control an authorised biography. In an authorised biography, there is always a fear that it will be compromised. Nothing of the sort happened here. As a subject and the author, we both understood the sanctity of not pushing a false narrative,” said Khushwant, who has varied interests from horticulture and agriculture to journalism
Even events like Amarinder’s difference of opinion with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, when he came close, in late 2015, to quitting the party over a year ahead of the assembly polls that he eventually won and started the process of Congress revival in a state; realistic acknowledgement of him and his wife Preneet Kaur (former Union minister of state for external affairs) “drifting apart after two decades” of marriage but still standing “united in politics”; taking his detractors head-on over the issue of his friendship with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam; or his taking a stand and quitting the Congress in 1984 over Operation Bluestar ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to root out heavily-armed terrorists from the Golden Temple complex (where the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Harmandar Sahib, is located).
“You took any question to him and he frankly replied to it. The onus was on the biographer to ask questions based on research. It is not a normal biography of a political man. There is ancestry, a very action-packed early life, a military life, a writer’s life, and his social and personal fronts,” Khushwant pointed out.
Asked about Amarinder as a person, Khushwant said: “He is quite belligerent as a person. If he has decided on something, it’s very difficult to convince him the other way. He is a man who is very particular about his personal space, about protocol and conduct in the public space.”
The book mentions that hardly has anyone around Amarinder ever heard him use cuss words or really get angry. Even in situations where Amarinder disagrees with someone during a discussion, he would withdraw instead of being impolite or rude to the other person.
With the book going into a reprint within 20 days of its launch and Amarinder back at the helm of affairs in Punjab, Khushwant pointed out that “the election proves that he is really the ‘People’s Maharaja’. The idea to take this project and the title of the book have been vindicated with this election”.
“If I have to add a chapter (later), I would like to see him make a shift from ‘People’s Maharaja’ to be the captain of modern Punjab,” the author said.