The ‘People’s Captain'
Amarinder Singh Chief Minister, Punjab, India
Amarinder Steps into a Military Life
After having passed a series of stringent tests, both written and physical followed by extensive interviews, Amarinder set foot on the hallowed campus of the NDA at Khadakwasla (near Pune) and was allotted the George (now Delta) Squadron.
Those years of rigorous academic and physical training, underscored by the NDA’s motto of ‘service before self ’ and followed by training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, chiseled the Yuvraj into a fine soldier befitting the uniform. The metamorphosis, from the scion of Punjab’s most influential royal family to an officer of the Indian Army, is still vivid in Amarinder’s memory.
It was indeed a proud moment for the entire family when, on 15 July 1963, the Yuvraj joined the illustrious Second Battalion of the Sikh Regiment, the same battalion his father (Maharaja Yadavindra Singh) and grandfather (Maharaja Bhupinder Singh) had served with distinction. The British had raised the 2 Sikhin 1846 as a regiment in Ludhiana. It later went on to become 15 Ludhiana Sikhs, 2/11 Royal Sikhs and, finally, 2 Sikh post-independence.
Second Lieutenant Amarinder Singh’s first posting was in the Sugar sector located on the Indo–Chinese border, where 2 Sikh was part of a brigade. One of the battalions was guarding Shipki La (the pass between India and Tibet high in the Himalaya), close to where the river Sutlej enters India. Amarinder’s battalion was positioned where the river Parchu entered India from Tibet through Kaurik Pass (now in Himachal Pradesh).
Amarinder’s next assignment, in 1964, was as Aide-De-Camp (ADC) to Lt General Harbaksh Singh, the army commander, Western Command headquartered in Shimla. When offered the position by the general, Amarinder initially hesitated but then accepted the position as a matter of honor and pride. His innings as ADC to an officer as distinguished as Lt General Harbaksh Singh was not just an enriching experience; it was edifying too as he received a ringside view to the critical moments of the Indo–Pak war of August-September 1965.
Interestingly, family pressure had forced Amarinder to quit the army in August 1965. No sooner had hostilities with Pakistan broken out that every month, the patriotic soldier was back and found pleading with Lt General Harbaksh Singh at the Chandigarh airfield for a recommission in the army. ‘There is no returning from here,’ the general is supposed to have warned him. A determined Amarinder, not wanting to miss out on the action, jumped into the general’s helicopter, ready for his stint as ADC as soon as he got the green signal. Amarinder Singh eventually left the army for good, a career he had coveted since childhood, in 1968. The young captain resigned at his father’s behest and returned to take charge of family and state affairs.
Though a short stint, the years spent in the army had a significant bearing on Amarinder’s life and personality. You could take Amarinder out of the army but not the army out of Amarinder.
Amarinder’s Personal Life
In the decade of the 1960s Amarinder Singh was one of India’s most eligible bachelors. He had it all going for him. A crown prince, an army officer, single, handsome, standing tall at five feet eleven inches, humble, courageous, kind-hearted and generous. A name going around in the family circles was that of Preneet Kaur (aka Neeti), the daughter of Gian Singh Kahlon (an officer of the erstwhile elite Indian Civil Service or ICS) and Satinder Kaur.
The wedding of Amarinder and Preneet on 31 October 1964 was an elaborate affair, but not quite in Maharaja style. In force during the wedding was the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, which restricted the number of guests and dishes that could be served at a wedding. The law managed to lower only the celebrations by a few notches, not the spirit. Countless traditional functions marked the run-up to the grand day.
The two were soon blessed with a daughter, Jai Inder, on 15 January 1966, and with a boy, Raninder, on 2 August 1967. Amarinder adapted to his new role rather well. He was a doting father, especially to his daughter, and was always around for his children. Much has been said and written about the marriage of Amarinder and Preneet, which has gone through its tribulations; the couple, however, has stood solidly together in political life, into which Amarinder took his first step in 1968 on his return from the army. Much political upheaval had taken place during this phase, the most significant being the trifurcation of Punjab on a linguistic basis into Punjab, Haryana (which came into existence on 1 November 1966) and the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.