At the pinnacle, without enemies!
With a vast reservoir of political expertise gathered over four decades, Surjeet Singh Barnala once again steps in for a larger role in central politics.
Firmly entrenched in Punjab politics, the Akali Dal leader
has proved himself to be an astute politician who has sailed in many troubled waters and emerged stronger after each experience.
Now entering the Lok Sabha from Sangrur, Barnala rides at the crest of victory as the head of an eight-member Akali Dal group. He was earlier a minister in the Janata Party government in 1977.
An accomplished lawyer and painter, Barnala was the co-architect of the Rajiv-Longowal Punjab accord and instrumental in establishing peace in the trouble-torn state after Operation Bluestar.
Born on October 21,1925 at village Atali in Gurgaon, now in
Haryana, Barnala has the distinction of heading Punjab during its most difficult period.
In September 1985, when he became chief minister, Punjab had suffered massive bloodshed and turmoil.
Operation Bluestar in June 1984, the killings in its aftermath and the arrest of hundreds of innocent Sikhs were over. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated, thousands of Sikhs were killed in riots and Sant Longowal shot dead for signing the peace accord.
It was at this time that Barnala took over as the man of the moment.
A firm believer that Article 356 is no panacea for the problems
of any state, Barnala opposed the Chandra Shekhar government's move to impose President's rule in Tamil Nadu in 1991. He was then the Tamil Nadu governor.
Despite his protest, the M Karunanidhi government was dismissed and Barnala was transferred as governor of Bihar.
Taking it as blatant misuse of constitutional provisions, Barnala resigned with great dignity.
Earlier, in April 1987, Barnala had faced the wrath of the same
provision when then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi dismissed his
government in Punjab on the grounds of escalating terrorism. Ironically, just a week before his ouster, the Congress had praised him on record for fighting terrorism.
Born in a middle class family, Barnala did his early schooling in Nabha and did his graduation and law from Lucknow University. Although not well connected, he steadily worked his way
upwards. He started his career as a public prosecutor in 1950 in
Barnala entered politics in 1952 and contested the election from
the Dhanaula assembly constituency, but lost the contest by just four votes. But he became an MLA in 1967, and two years later the state's election minister, a post he held till 1971.
A year later, Barnala was appointed general secretary of the
Akali Dal -- a post he held during the Emergency, when the Akali Dal was the only party to openly oppose Indira Gandhi.
In 1977, Barnala became Union agriculture minister.
The soft spoken septuagenarian returned to Punjab in 1980 and became close to sant Harcharan Singh Longowal and was elected to the legislative assembly despite the Congress wave.
Deeply religious, Barnala is an astute Sikh politician. In religious matters, he bowed to the Akal Takht. But in matters of the State, he was on the side of the law and the Constitution, battling militants.
Barnala is an amiable man who has many friends and no enemies.
But his brave stand of ordering the police into the Golden
Temple after the constitution of the first Panthic Committee and its subsequent declaration of Khalistan earned him the Akal Takht's wrath. He was declared a thankhia or traitor to Sikhism for his sacrilege and subsequently excommunicated.
Barnala bowed to the Akal Takht's dictates in December 1988. Thereafter he unflinchingly took his punishment of dusting pilgrims's shoes and cleaning dirty utensils in the Golden Temple.
This act of self-abnegation facilitated his re-entry into
the mainstream of Sikh politics.
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