Beant Singh (1922–1995) was an Indian politician who served as the Chief Minister of Punjab from 1992 to 1995. A member of the Indian National Congress (INC), Beant Singh was assassinated in a bomb blast at the secretariat complex in Chandigarh on 31 August 1995.
Beant Singh was born in 1922 (age 73 years; at the time of death) in Bilaspur village, near the industrial town of Ludhiana, Punjab. When he was a child, his parents migrated to Montgomery district, Lahore, British India (now in Pakistan).
He did his schooling in Okara, British India (now in Pakistan). He pursued his graduation at Government College University, Lahore, where he studied English and Persian. It was during his college days that Beant Singh first became active in nationalist politics.
Born into an army family, Beant Singh followed the footsteps of his father and entered military service shortly after his graduation before joining the Congress Party. Later, the family migrated to the Canal colonies in the Western districts of Punjab. Beant Singh’s family was one of the many others who were uprooted from their homes during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. After the partition, his family settled temporarily in their ancestral village Bilaspur and then shifted to the village Kotli (Kotla Afgana) near Payal in the Ludhiana district of Punjab.
Family & Caste
He belonged to a Jat Sikh family.
Parents & Siblings
His father, Hazura Singh Jhaj, retired as a captain in the British army. His mother’s name is Sahib Kaur Deol.
Beant Singh had six siblings; three sisters and three brothers. One of his brothers died in his youth due to an accident while playing. His other two brothers had long distinguished careers in the British Indian army. His eldest brother was a Captain. His other brother Colonel Bhajan Singh earned an OBE for his services in the army.
Wife & Children
In 1944, he got married to Jaswant Kaur Toor. She died in 2010 following a cardiac arrest at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) at the age of 85. Together, they had 5 children, 2 daughters and 3 sons. The three eldest children were born in pre-partition Lahore and the youngest two were born in post-partition Ludhiana, India.
Beant Singh’s son Tej Parkash Singh is a politician who represented the Payal Assembly constituency from 2002 to 2012. His son Swaranjit Singh, who was groomed to be a politician since his childhood, died in a car accident in 1985. Beant Singh’s other son Sukhwant Singh Kotli died in 2016.
Beant Singh’s daughter Gurkanwal Kaur is a politician who represented the Jalandhar Cantt Assembly Constituency from 2002 to 2007. His other daughter’s name is Manjit Kaur.
Beant Singh’s grandson Harkirat Singh (Tej Parkash Singh’s son) shot himself with his licenced revolver at his residence. Harkirat was the sarpanch of the family’s native village Kotli. Beant Singh’s other grandson Gurkirat Singh Kotli (Tej Parkash Singh’s son) is a politician and was Cabinet Minister in the Punjab Government. His grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu (Swaranjit Singh’s son) is also a politician who was twice elected as a Member of Parliament from the Anandpur Sahib constituency in Punjab in 2014 and 2019.
After completing his formal education, Singh served in the British Indian Army for about 2 years. Beant Singh started his political career as the Sarpanch of Bilaspur in 1959. Thereafter, he became the Chairman of the Block Samiti (also called Panchayat Samiti).
1967 Punjab Assembly Elections
In 1967, Beant Singh, on a ticket from the SAD, contested the Payal Assembly seat, but he was defeated by the Congress candidate Gian Singh Rarewala.
1969 Punjab Assembly Elections
In 1969, Gian Singh Rarewala joined the Akali Dal party. Therefore, Beant Singh couldn’t secure a ticket to contest the assembly elections from SAD. Thereafter, Beant Singh, as an independent candidate, contested the Payal Assembly seat, which he won by defeating SAD candidate Gian Singh Rarewala by 5024 votes.
In 1970, he joined the Congress party. He became the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee in 1986.
1972 Punjab Assembly Elections
In 1972, Beant Singh, on a ticket from the INC, contested the Payal Assembly seat, which he won by defeating the SAD candidate Ramdayal Singh by 5808 votes.
1977 Punjab Assembly Elections
In 1977, Beant Singh, on a ticket from the INC, contested the Payal Assembly seat, which he won by defeating the SAD candidate Jarnail Singh by 5260 votes.
1980 Punjab Assembly Elections
In 1980, Beant Singh, on a ticket from the INC, contested the Payal Assembly seat, which he won by defeating SAD candidate Nirlep Kaur by 2936 votes. He was appointed as the Public Works Department (PWD) Minister and Revenue Minister in Darbara Singh Government (1980-1983).
1992 Punjab Legislative Assembly Elections
In 1992, Beant Singh, on a ticket from the INC, contested the elections from the Jalandhar Cantonment Assembly constituency. He won the election defeating Gulzara Ram of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by 10,113 votes.
Chief Minister of Punjab
Beant Singh sworn in as the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1992 in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. At that time, in the terrorism-ridden Punjab, well-armed Sikh separatists had been fighting for an independent homeland of Khalistan for nearly 12 years. In his speech, while assuming the CM’s office, Beant Singh said,
I see my job as enforcing law and order…Too many dangerous persons are carrying too many weapons. I have told the police to finish them and my government is with them.”
On 31 August 1995, at 5 p.m., Beant Singh was assassinated in a bomb blast which blew up his bulletproof at the secretariat complex in Chandigarh. Dilawar Singh Babbar of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), a Sikh separatist movement, acted as the suicide bomber. On the day of the assassination, Dilawar Singh, along with the backup bomber Balwant Singh Rajoana, reached the secretariat complex in a freshly painted white Ambassador bearing Delhi licence plates. Dilawar Singh wore his Punjab Police uniform underneath which 1.5 kg of explosives in a bandolier-shaped belt was tied around his waist. After a while when Balwant left, Dilawar scribbled a couplet in Gurmukhi script on a piece of paper which read,
Je mein shaheedan di yaad wich geet na gaaye, teh ohna diyan ruhan Kuralun giyan”
(If I don’t recite rhymes in memory of the martyrs their souls would be tormented).
At 5.10 p.m., three white Ambassadors pulled up near the VIP portico at the secretariat complex to pick up the CM. Just when Beant Singh was about to step into the car, Dilawar walked toward his bullet-proof car and pressed the button of the bomb. Along with Beant Singh, the explosion claimed the lives of 17 others including 3 Indian commandos and Beant Singh’s close friend Ranjodh Singh Mann. Later, BKI claimed responsibility for Beant Singh’s death claiming that they did it to put an end to the atrocities and gross human rights violations committed against the Sikhs during his tenure as CM.
Dilawar Singh Babbar (Assassin)
Dilawar Singh was a serving Punjab Police officer when he assassinated Beant Singh.
Balwant Singh Rajoana (Backup Bomber)
On 25 December 1997, Balwant Singh Rajoana, a former Punjab Police constable, confessed his hand in Beant Singh’s killing in the makeshift courtroom of Burail Jail, Chandigarh. The special CBI court gave the death sentence to Rajoana on 1 August 2007. Rajoana was jailed in Patiala Central Jail when the Chandigarh court issued the death warrant to the Patiala jail authorities for executing Rajoana scheduled on 31 March 2012. Rajoana’s execution, which was to be carried out at the Patiala Central Jail, was stayed after Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal met Pratibha Patil seeking clemency for Rajoana. In May 2022, The SC directed the Centre to decide within two months Rajoana’s plea that his death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of his long incarceration of nearly 26 years.
Jagtar Singh Hawara (Mastermind)
Hawara is considered to be the mastermind behind the plot to kill Beant Singh. A member of the BKI, Hawara arranged the explosives and finances to purchase the Ambassador car used in the assassination. In January 2004, he escaped, along with Tara and one another, from Burail jail after digging a 110-foot-long tunnel from inside a high-security jail in Chandigarh. However, he was rearrested in 2005 from Dehli. Later, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Jagtar Singh Tara (Mastermind)
Tara worked as a mechanic-cum-taxi driver in Delhi. An active member of BKI, Tara helped Hawara purchase the car and brought it to Chandigarh, where he got it re-painted to enter the secretariat complex. Tara was arrested in September 1995 in Delhi. However, he escaped with Hawara during the trial of the case in 2004 and was on the run for 11 years. He was later arrested in Thailand in 2015. In 2018, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lakhwinder Singh was a Punjab Armed Police constable attached to the official vehicle wing of the secretariat. Gurmeet Singh was a diploma holder in engineering, who worked for a Chandigarh service centre of a consumer electronics company. Shamsher Singh, Lakhwinder Singh, and Gurmeet Singh were given life imprisonment by the court of R K Sondhi in the makeshift courtroom of Burail Jail. Meanwhile, Naseeb Singh was given 10 years imprisonment, which he had already undergone during the trial spanning over 11 years. The seventh accused Navjot Singh was acquitted by the special court.
Accused of Murder
In 1983, Punjab CM Darbara Singh lodged a murder case against Beant Singh, who then held the position of Public Works Minister, lodged at Payal police station, Ludhiana. The FIR alleged that Beant Singh was been involved in the shooting of four young Sikhs by the police in Rara Sahib. Thereafter, Beant Singh resigned from the ministership and claimed that he had been framed. He immediately brought the false allegation news to the then prime minister’s notice and was proved innocent.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Sun of India Award
- Protector of Punjab award from the Ferozepur District authorities
- Yashwantrao Chavan National Award (Posthumously)
- Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration (2012) (Posthumously)
- Beant Singh’s success in minimising terrorism in Punjab changed the then-prevailing public perception that all Sikhs were terrorists and resurrected the overall respect for Sikhs in the country, which had been lost after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, he was often accused of approving fake encounter killings, abductions, and secret cremations during the insurgency in Punjab when the government was trying to get rid of Khalistani militants.
- During the partition, Beant Singh helped people to secure a safe passage on the treacherous border crossing. His family was unaware of his whereabouts for about 20 days and whether he was dead or alive.
- In an interview, his grandson Gurkirat revealed that Beant Singh was extremely fond of drinking tea. He said,
He loved chai a lot. So much that he drank 10-15 cups a day.”
- He was a teetotaler.
- He followed a vegetarian diet.
- During his college days, Beant Singh was a backward football player.
- A postage stamp featuring Beant Singh was released after his death to pay a tribute to him. On the release of the stamp, Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh, in the memory of Beant Singh said,
A great son of India and of Punjab – Sardar Beant Singh ji …. If our society is largely peaceful and secular today, it is only because of the courage and patriotism of people like Sardar Beant Singh ji. Our freedoms are built on the foundation of their hard work and sacrifices-Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh.”
- In memory of the late CM, Beant Singh Memorial & Chandigarh Centre for Performing and Visual Arts was set up in Sector 42, Chandigarh.