|Saturday, November 25, 2000||
Prem Singh’s contribution to the building up of a strong Punjab — the sword arm of India — has been tremendous. While holding the portfolios of education, excise, revenue and rehabilitation, town and country planning, sports and culture, etc, he spared no efforts in streamlining the bureaucratic set-up, and initiating a number of development projects in the state, writes J.S. Bedi.
PREM SINGH PREM's story is worth highlighting not only for his significant role in streamlining the political and administrative set-up of Punjab on democratic lines but also for his invaluable contribution to modern Punjabi poetry.
A law graduate of
Panjab University, Lahore, he joined the Indian National Congress in
1936, and remained an active member of the Punjab Congress Working
Committee during 1940-41. In February 1941, he was arrested, convicted
and sentenced to one and a half year’s rigorous imprisonment by the
British for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement
launched by Mahatma Gandhi. In August 1942, Prem Singh was again
arrested for his unflinching support to the Quit India Movement. In
post-Independent India, he held important portfolios by virtue of his
calibre. He was first elected to the PEPSU Legislative Assembly in 1952
and was appointed Secretary of the Congress Legislative Party. In 1954,
he was inducted as Deputy Minister, and later in 1956, became a minister
of cabinet rank when PEPSU was merged with Punjab.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had been so fond of him that he had told him "Premji, aap jab chaho mujhe mil sakte ho" (you can meet me whenever you want). Lal Bahadur Shastri had said of him: "Makool aadmi hai" (he is decent man). About his relations with Partap Singh Kairon, Prem once said that despite his differences with Kairon, he was all praise for his nationalistic zeal and strong determination to turn Punjab into the most prosperous state in the country. "In politics, differences are natural but I always ignored them in the interest of the state’s welfare," he said.
About the role of bureaucracy in our country, which has been under heavy criticism for the past many years, Prem Singh said, "Persons who are invested with the insignia of IAS or PCS develop a superiority complex which ruins administrative efficiency as its basis no longer remains democratic". Exceptions, however, are always there, he added.
Prem Singh was once chased by an Indian police personnel under directions of the British officers from Lahore to Sialkot. What pained him was that his own fellow countrymen in the service of the British chased, ill-treated and tortured their own countrymen for their self-aggrandisement. He felt that even after more than 50 years of Independence, this evil persisted. Prem Singh Prem commented on slavery in the following lines :
Ghulaman de kehn vich na hovei rawani
Ghulaman te aa nahin sakdi jawani
Ghulaman de bootey di chhan koi nahin hundi
Ghulaman di kidhre vi thaan koi nahin hundi.
(Slaves can’t be spontaneous in saying; slaves can’t be young; the plants of slaves sans shade; slaves have no place anywhere.)
Since it is the need of the hour to restore the spirit of non-violence, secularism, communal harmony and emotional integration in Punjab and the country as a whole, the following lines from a verse of Prem Singh impart a meaningful message:
Saina waleo Panth waleo
Gita atei Granth waleo
Iss amrit de sagar chon vi
bhar ke vekho chullee.
(Of armies and Panth; Of Gita and Granth: have a sip of the nectar of love and see what you feel.)
With the inauguration of May Festival
in Shimla, in 1962, Prem Singh Prem ushered in a cultural revolution in
the region which gained momentum in the years that followed. It led to
the opening of the Punjab Arts Council in Chandigarh. Besides, he
initiated a scheme to honour eminent writers of the state. He also wrote
a number of books on poetry and fiction. His poetry has been widely
admired in the Punjabi world of letters.