Surjit Singh Barnala passes away

He was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit of PGI and was shifted on Saturday to respiratory ICU where he breathed his last.

January 14, 2017 08:43 pm | Updated 08:43 pm IST - Chandigarh

Veteran politician Surjit Singh Barnala

Veteran politician Surjit Singh Barnala

Former Punjab Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala, who took over reins of the state in the difficult period when militancy was at its peak in the mid-80s, died here on Saturday at the age of 91.

Mr. Barnala, who served as Chief Minister from 1985 to 1987, was admitted to the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) here on Thursday. He was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit of PGI and was shifted this morning to respiratory ICU where he breathed his last.

Barnala authored Story of an Escape which was translated from English to Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. His second book My Other Two Daughters was also transliterated in braille by Kunwar Singh Negi.

Barnala had faced tragedies on the personal front. His youngest son Neelinder died in a road accident in 1996 and his daughter Amrit Kaur died of cancer in 2012.

He is survived by his wife Surjit Kaur and two sons Jasjit and Gaganjit.

Long political career

Born on October 21, 1925 in Ateli village in Gurgaon district of joint Punjab, Mr. Barnala did his schooling from Nabha and did his graduation in Ll.B from Lucknow.

He was also involved in the Quit India Movement of 1942 after which he practiced law for some years.

Mr. Barnala entered politics in 1952 and unsuccessfully contested from Dhanaula assembly constituency losing by just three votes.

He was a five-time member of Punjab Assembly — 1967, 1969, 1972, 1980 and 1985 — and twice a member of the Lok Sabha in 1977 and 1998.

He fought the Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 1977 and served as Union Agriculture, Irrigation, Water Resources, Forests minister in the Morarji Desai-led Janta Party government from 1977 to 1980.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Union Chemical and Fertiliser Minister Surjit Singh Barnala and Finance Minister of Punjab Captain Kamaljit Singh at Prime Minister House, in New Delhi on October 20, 1998.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Union Chemical and Fertiliser Minister Surjit Singh Barnala and Finance Minister of Punjab Captain Kamaljit Singh at Prime Minister House, in New Delhi on October 20, 1998.

Mr. Barnala was also Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Power, Chemical and Fertilisers and Rural Development and signed the historic Ganga Waters Agreement (Farakka Agreement) with Bangladesh. He was Education Minister in the Gurnam Singh government and was instrumental in setting of the Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar.

In 1998, Barnala was again elected to Parliament and became the minister for Chemical & Fertilisers and Food & Consumer Affairs in the Atal Behari Vajpayee Cabinet.

Following the rift with Parkash Singh Badal and bifurcation of the SAD, he resigned from the post of party president but was later on again made President. After his differences with Badal, he became patron of a four-party alliance and formed the “Sanjha Morch” in Punjab but it failed to make any impact.

Punjab in the 80s

When Punjab was rocked by militancy in the 80s, Mr. Barnala stood by another moderate Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal who signed the Punjab Peace Accord in 1985 with Rajiv Gandhi, months after he had become Prime Minister.

Mr. Barnala was elected from the Barnala assembly constituency during the 1985 assembly polls held after the signing of the Rajiv-Longowal accord.

He was unanimously elected leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislature party on Sept 27, 1985. He remained Chief Minister till May 11, 1987 during the peak period of militancy.

He was elected acting President of SAD on August 25, 1985 following the assassination of Longowal by terrorists.

Mr. Barnala being sworn in as Governor of Tamil Nadu by Madras High Court Chief Justice A.S. Anand on May 24, 1990.

Mr. Barnala being sworn in as Governor of Tamil Nadu by Madras High Court Chief Justice A.S. Anand on May 24, 1990.

The man who almost became Prime Minister

Mr. Barnala, who almost became Prime Minister in the mid-90s but for his party ditching him, was a moderate Akali politician and played a role in the Rajiv-Longowal Accord that catapulted him to the chief minister’s seat in Punjab during its worst period of militancy.

Painter, politician and author, the 91-year-old was among the few who held various posts including that of Chief Minister, Governor and Union Minister.

He was a candidate of the BJP and its allies in the election of the Vice President of India in 1997. But in the previous year, he almost emerged as a consensus candidate for prime ministership when motley combine of parties formed the United Front after defeat of Congress.

His party Akali Dal, however, did not support him as it chose to go with the BJP which had just lost power after 13 days in government.

Barnala was appointed Governor of Tamil Nadu a post he held from May 1990 to February 1991. He was Governor of Tamil Nadu for a second time from Nov 2004 to August 2011 holding two successive tenures.

Governorship

In his first term as Governor of Tamil Nadu, Barnala had famously refused to recommend dismissal of the DMK government in 1991 when the late Chandrashekhar was the Prime Minister for a short time. When he was transferred to Bihar following his refusal, he chose to resign as Governor.

The government headed by Chandrashekhar then dismissed the Karunanidhi ministry using the “otherwise” provision in Article 356 of the Constitution after Barnala’s refusal to make a recommendation.

He was also a former Governor of Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh besides being Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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