SWARAN SIṄGH (1907-1994). Tall and wiry, Sardār Swaran Siṅgh, was born on 19 August 1907 in a farming family of the village of Shaṅkar in Jalandhar district. He was married to Charan Kaur (1925). The family laid much store by education. One of the two sons was sent up to attend the Government College at Lahore, where he picked a prestigious Master's degree in one of the sciences. That was Swaran Siṅgh who had a legendary career as a teammate of India's charismatic prime minister, Jawāharlāl Nehrū.
Swaran Siṅgh had taken his intermediate from Raṇdhīr College, Kapūrthalā. After his M.Sc. from Government College, Lahore, he worked as a lecturer in Physics at Khālsā College, Lyāllpur. In 1946, he was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly and secretary of the Panthic Party. After Sardār Baldev Siṅgh's induction into India's Interim Government he was called upon to join the Punjab Government as a minister. His experience at the bar was his best asset as a minister. He always prepared his brief with diligence and treated everyone with great politeness. He soon became famous for his very charming and immaculate personal manner. He never spoke loudly to anyone.
He spent 23 years of his life as a ranking Cabinet Minister in the Government of India. He was a brilliant debater never dropping a point in polemics. He was a most cool-headed and adroit negotiator. When he needed to do it for diplomatic reasons, he kept the entire international corps enthralled by the magic of his words for as long as he wished, actually having little to say or wishing little to give away. He handled with incredible calmness many a sizzling issue. He was familiar with several languages and could play them around his fingers with perfect ease. Once he kept the entire audience spell-bound with an uncommon display of his linguistic virtuosity. The occasion was the annual function of the Punjab Languages Department. Sardār Swaran Siṅgh was presiding at the conference. He turned it into a sparkling display of pyrotechnics. The occasion was for honouring Dr Gandā Siṅgh, the Punjab historian and savant. There were four conference languages and one had the choice to use anyone of these. Swaran Siṅgh who was presiding started off speaking in English. Midway he suddenly switched over to his polished Urdu. Then it was his precious Hindi, and finally his vintage Doābā Punjabi. He combined with his bon mots and witticisms his inborn wisdom and maturity. That was Swaran Siṅgh, at his oratorical best.
Speech was not Swaran Siṅgh's only forte. He was a deep-thinking, very level headed statesman. He could see through intricate problems with a clear, undimmed eye. He was Jawāharlāl's closest adviser on matters political as well as diplomatic. In the corridors of power, his advice was regarded with special attention.
Swaran Siṅgh joined Jawāharlāl Nehrū's Cabinet when it was formed after the nation's first general elections in 1952. He was minister for Works, Housing and Supply in that Cabinet, 1952-57 ; for Steel, Mines and Fuel,1957-62; for railways, 1962; for Food and Agriculture, 1963-64 ; for Industry and Supply in Lāl Bahādur Shāstri's Cabinet, 1964; for External Affairs, 1964-66 ; for Defence with Indira Gāndhī, 1966-70 ; and for External Affairs, 1970-74 and for Defence, again, 1974-75.
He assisted Jawāharlāl Nehrū in his talks with the Chinese leader, Chou-En-Lai, on the Indo-China border question in 1960. He was with the Indian delegation for its six rounds of talks with Pakistan, 1962-63. He led the Indian delegation to the United Nations several times. He attended all meetings of the Heads of Commonwealth nations and led the Indian delegation at all summit meetings of nonaligned governments during that period. He was named by Indirā Gāndhī her special envoy to Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria in 1980.
From 1976-81, he was president of Indian Council of World Affairs. He was a member of the Eminent Persons' Group constituted by the United Nations General Assembly. Most of his retired years were spent working for UNESCO where he again earned a great name for himself for his application and readiness of mind. He was Vice-Chairman of the UNESCO Board, 1984-86. The last years of his life were reserved for the Bhāī Vīr Siṅgh Sadan, an institute devoted to the study of Sikh letters.
The catalogue of portfolios held by him from time to time will show how indefatigable Swaran Siṅgh was. And how versatile : From Railways to External Affairs, he proved equal to anything that came his way. He never lost his natural cool or his human touch. In his personal life he was the cleanest of men, completely above personal aggrandizement. He was of very simple habits. Simple living was the overarching principle of his life. He drove his own car. Attending international meetings and conferences on behalf of the nation, he himself washed his personal linen. His daughters cycled to school. He joined most naturally occasions of sorrow and joy in his village. He was most informal of men. He never travelled to his village with the eclat of a Cabinet minister. He was a man of long-lasting friendships. His closest friend in the village was a paṭvārī, the aged Harbaṅs Siṅgh.
Swaran Siṅgh's virtues were those he had inherited from his father who had served as a non-commissioned officer in the Indian army. After his retirement his father, Jamādār Partāp Siṅgh, was a member of the Punjab Legislative Council. He was a man of strong character and possessed outstanding administrative talent. He diligently served the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee as president to which office he was called in 1933 : He was a man of strict personal rectitude and discipline. As president of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee he established a firm functional apparatus imparting viability to Gurdwārā legislation.
Swaran Siṅgh died at the residence of his daughter, Dr. Paramjeet Kaur, in Delhi on 30 October 1994. Cremation took place at the Lodhī Road Crematorium, New Delhi.
Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā