A ‘summer storm’ has gone, leaving in its wake an enduring army of the hopefuls. The political ‘storm’ was perceived to be serious as the three contenders — the Congress, AAP and SAD-BJP — came out in full battle gear in the battle of the ballot. The AAP was threatening to sweep the other two off their feet. One man stood his ground, believing in himself and the people he trusted. At the end of the day, Captain Amarinder Singh won, keeping his word he gave to The Tribune in these columns on January 29 this year. “We’ll win at least 70 seats,” he had told this newspaper. The Congress has won seven more. A triumphant Captain smilingly said of his rival: ‘Arvind Kejriwal is like a summer storm which came and has gone.”
The victory marked the second innings for the Maharaja of Patiala. How did he pull it off, how did his war machine work and who are the men the new Chief Minister trusts the most? The Tribune takes you through to the inner circle — the ‘magnificent five’ of the CM, who calls them by their first name and leans on them through thick and thin.
A 1983-batch IAS officer. Kumar has been appointed Chief Principal Secretary to the CM. He has known the Captain for 30 years. A post-graduate in Commerce from Delhi University, Kumar was posted as SDM at Talwandi Saboo in the mid-1980s when the Captain contested Assembly elections from there and won to become a minister in the Barnala government.
Known as an effective administrator, Kumar retired as additional chief secretary (development) in April, 2016. His colleagues recall him as a man who quickly cleared official files. Kumar worked as Principal Secretary for about three years during Captain’s first term (2002-2007).
Suresh Kumar is an open-minded officer and takes his team along. Though known as a hard taskmaster, he does not believe in confrontation. When the Congress government in its previous tenure faced criticism because of lackadaisical functioning of the Chief Minister’s office, the Captain made him his Principal Secretary. Kumar is said to have stabilized the system and run the CMO virtually singlehandedly.
Associated with the CM since 2002. During his first term as CM, MP Singh remained his secretary. He is now Officer on Special Duty(OSD). A retired PCS officer, Singh also remained Additional Private Secretary to Preneet Kaur when she was minister of state for external affairs in the Manmohan Singh government. Post retirement, he has been working with the Captain and Preneet Kaur at their camp office at New Moti Bagh Palace.
“Working with the royals has been a very pleasant experience. They are a wonderful people and yet ‘uncommonly common’ — very generous and always helpful. I have given them my 100 per cent and got back much more,” says Singh.
He belongs to Dhanula village in Barnala district. He is a post-graduate in English Literature from Panjab University. Singh was the first one to be appointed as OSD even before the Captain assumed office on March 16.
As a government officer, he worked first with Giani Zail Singh in the early 1970s and then with 14 governors from 1983 to 1993. He was elevated to the PCS cadre from the ministerial staff in 1997 by then chief secretary RS Mann. When the Akali Government took over in 2007, he was posted at Ferozepur, where as SDM, he handled charge of more than a dozen offices.
“Whenever Rajmata (mother of Capt Amarinder Singh) comes to Moti Bagh Palace, she always invites me for lunch. She is a great soul,” he says. “They trust you and it is for you to be worthy of it.”
A third generation loyalist of the erstwhile Patiala royal family. Karan has been with the Captain since 1992. He studied at Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, and later at the Government College Chandigarh. He was an OSD to the Captain during his first term as Chief Minister.
“Our family has personal relations with the royal family,” says Karan, who originally belongs to Kal Banjara village in Sangrur district. Karan’s grandfather Ishar Singh was a Nazim in the Patiala state. His father was in the IIIrd Regiment of Patiala State and was absorbed in the Army post Independence.
Karan served for about seven years in a corporate house in Delhi. He has been accompanying the Captain to almost all places and has also been attending family functions. He is in-charge of liaison work for the CM.
Capt Sandeep Sandhu
He first studied at PPS Nabha and later at the Government College, Chandigarh, and has been associated with the CM as a member of his personal team. “A school friend who was posted as IPS in Delhi once took me to the Captain’s residence there. That was the beginning of my association with him,” says Capt Sandhu. He quit Merchant Navy in 2003.
Capt Sandhu comes from Bhag Singh Wala village near Faridkot. He managed Amarinder’s election war room during Lok Sabha elections in 2014, when he defeated BJP’s Arun Jaitley at Amritsar with a big margin. That election marked the political return of Amarinder Singh. When he became state Congress chief replacing Partap Singh Bajwa, he made Capt Sandhu general secretary of the party and also gave him charge of the Congress office in Chandigarh.
“As a member of the personal team, my job was to give all the required feedback, which I got from party leaders and others to Amarinder and arrange his visits to rural areas for campaigning,” says Sandhu.
Major Amardeep Singh
The retired Army officer served in the same Sikh Regiment of which Capt Amarinder Singh was a part in the 1960s. He is from Manepur village in Gurdaspur. He served for a while in the CMO during the previous tenure of Capt Amarinder Singh.