Kids Corner


An Officer and A Gentleman:
Chiranjiv Singh





Chiranjiv Singh, who retired more than a decade ago as a senior member of the Indian Administrative Service, has been conferred the high honour of knighthood (Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite) by the President of France.

This is of some relevance to the Sikh community because the Sikhs in France continue to have problems regarding the turban in educational institutions and on identity papers, etc.

ln his acceptance speech after the presentation of the medal by the Ambassador of France, Monsieur Alexandre Ziegler, at a ceremony which was held in Bangalore on August 24, 2016, Chiranjiv Singh said that on the subcontinent the French had two ailies against the British, Tipu Sultan in Karnataka and Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab, and that symbolically he therefore represented the historic links between the allies.

I think this was his way of subtly pointing out the historic links of the Sikhs with France, through Maharaja Ranjit Singh's French generals, to the modern era with the legions of lives lost by the Sikhs for France and the Allies in the two world wars.

I have known him since 2002 when he was Principal Secretary, Finance, to the Government of Karnataka and I was at the Reserve Bank of lndia. Before I met him in Mumbai I had heard about him from Sikh friends in the civil services that there was a senior Sikh civil servant with a flowing beard. I was intrigued.

And when we met, I felt as if I had known him for a long time. His Sikh faith and values are important to him.

He was born at Nankana Sahib and his naming ceremony was done at Gurdwara Janam Asthan. The name was chosen and given by the head granthi sahib himself. lt is but natural that he feels a mystic bond with Guru Nanak.

He recalls that when he was in the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, he had to fill the application form for a diplomatic passport and in the column “Place of Birth" he wrote, "Nankana Sahib." The protocol officer, Amar Singh, was delighted when he saw the words Nankana Sahib. He told the other Sikh staff. They all came to see  him. Such was the pull of Nankana Sahib.

On a tour of Sikkim he wanted to visit Chungthang, a place blessed by Guru Nanak. He was told that it was not possible to go there as the path was blocked by a landslide. He insisted on going and miraculously he was able to reach Chungthang and return safely.

On a visit to Bhuj, the then Deputy Commissioner, T.S.Randhawa, told him about Lakhpat. He went to Lakhpat. What awaited him there was an intense spiritual experience. ln a small old beautiful building, neatly kept, a Sindhi devotee had done parkash of Guru Granth Sahib and in front were the wooden kharravans (sandals) and wooden bairagan (arm rest) of Guru Nanak. When he read the hukamnama the names of both of Randhwa's children were present in the shabad.

On a visit to Leh he saw the rock on which Guru Nanak’s form is impressed when it was rolled down to kill him. Qn an official visit to lslamabad he prayed to visit Gurudwara Panja Sahib. Pakistan Government's officers-in-charge obliged, even though it was not listed in the visa.

The visit to Panja Sahib was an unforgettable experience. He feels he was guided to these places by Guru Sahib’s grace. New gurdwara buildings have been constructed at some of these places. His view is that places like Chugthang should be left in their pristine natural state. After all it was Guru Sahib who sang, “balihari kudrat vasya …”

The destruction of heritage by those who are supposed to be its guardians saddens him.

His devotion and faith are rooted in his inheritance. His parents, Sardar Hakim Singh and Sardarni Parkash Kaur, had strong backgrounds deeply embedded in Sikhi. His grandfather was known as a saintly person in the village who spent his time in bhajan-bandagi.

His uncle participated in the Jaito Morcha and suffered imprisonment for a year. His maternal great grandfather participated in the Singh Sabha Movement. His grandmother would narrate sakhis to him. His mother was one of the earlier students of the Sikh Kanya Mahavidyala set up by Bhai Takhat Singh. His brother Dr. Jogishwar Singh, has written a book of essays on Sikh history.

The parental house was a meeting place of scholars, poets, writers and singers. It was full of books in many languages and on many subjects, including fine arts. This shaped his personality.

Says author and music composer Akumal Ramachander, who has known Chiranjiv for over 40 years: "He is well-versed in the works of Kannada writers like Kuvempu, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Karanth and UR Ananthamurthy. Some days ago when I visited him, he was reading Leela Chitnis' biography in Marathi."

Chiranjiv is an expert in Gurmukhi, French, Urdu, German, Gujarati, Kannada, Bangla, Marathi, Hindi and English.

"It came about naturally because my parents read Persian, Urdu, Punjabi and English, so there were books in all these languages at home. When I was nine, I spent my summer vacation inventing new scripts," recalls Chiranjiv.

He owes his continued interest in languages to literature.

"I prefer reading books in the original. I wanted to read Tagore in the original so I learned Bengali," he says, having been taking lessons in Tamil for the past few years. He prefers classic over contemporary literature, and jokes: "I think Russian classics are the only books I have read in English translations."
While he shrugs off the 'Kannadiga among Kannadigas' term that is often used to describe him, Chiranjiv  says, "My parents came to East Punjab (now in India) from the part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan. Thereafter, my family and I moved from Punjab to Karnataka, and while we have lived here for over 40 years, I was recently called an outsider. And this made me question about who really is an insider and an outsider. It made me wonder where one really belongs."

The answer to that hypothetical question may be subject for another story but Chiranjiv’s active patronage of the cultural scene is not something to be sneezed at. From The Anad Foundation to Bangalore School of Music, Crafts Council, Dance DISCourse, Dance Heritage Society, Etymological Society, Film Club of India, Geological Society of India, Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, Historical Research Society, IFA, Indo-French Cultural Centre, he is on more than 30 boards and committees.

Evidently, culture is a subject that he takes very seriously.

"Culture should be the first thing on everyone's mind. not the corrupt politicians, not the kind of politics we have. Whether it is art, literature or music, it will serve you more because society's finest values are reflected in its culture," says Chiranjiv, who unhesitatingly admits that the culture-scape of the city has declined over the years.

"There is a coarsening of culture, a general coarsening of dialogue, and am appalled by the language used on the internet," he says.

Nevertheless, he remains a strong votary of Punjabi. It is his first love among the languages and his creative writing is done in Punjabi.

The present state of Punjabi dismays him.

During his career, his faith sustained him. In 1984 after the Indian Army’s assault on and massacre at the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, he led a protest march in Bangalore. That stopped the utterly offensive reports in the media that Sikhs were also welcoming the military attack. As a result, the Central government wanted action to be taken against him. But given his reputation, the Chief Minister, Mr Ramakrishna Hegde, and some senior officers protected him.

In his career, he held many important posts, including that of lndia's Ambassador to UNESCO, in Paris. A measure of his success in this role was that in the election to the executive board of UNESCO he secured over 91 percent for his nation’s nominee, a record. His knowledge of various languages played a role in this.

Whichever post he held he left a mark there.

As District Collector (“DC”) of Mandya he successfully handled the Varuna canal agitation, which is the longest agitation that Karnataka has seen without any loss of life. At a critical point he left the police force behind and walked alone to the angry stone-pelting mob, braving danger to his person, to talk to them. ln the process he had to even endure a stone hit, but it did not deter him. He was clear that there should be no loss of life, as ‘human life is invaluable and irreplaceable‘.

ln Mandya he initiated repair work of the canal system which is the lifeline of the district. Conseqrently, after his retirement 27 years later, the citizens of Mandya organized a public felicitation for him for the services rendered to the district.

The boldness that he showed in Mandya he had displayed as early as his very first posting. Just a few months into his posting as Assistant commissioner, his DC asked him to do something which he thought was not in the people's interest. Defying the DC's orders he did not do it. The DC wrote to him, "l am your DC, you are the AC. You have to obey my orders unquestioningly.“

He sent the DC a simple reply: "The last one who obeyed orders unquestioningly is still languishing in the Spandau prison“ (referring to the Nazi-Nuremberg  trials).

Such audacity carries a price. And he paid it.

ln Karnataka Chiranjiv Singh is known for his integrity. Once the Chief Minister of Karnataka had made a critical statement about a central minister in a press meet. Predictably it caused a controversy. The CM called a press conference and said that he was misquoted and that his director of information, Chiranjiv Singh, would issue a clarification.

But Chiranjiv declared that he would not be able to issue the clarification because he was present at the press meet where the CM had indeed made that statement.

Everybody was stunned. The CM then said that he himself would issue the clarification.

For his services to Karnataka he was awarded the "Rajyothsava Award" in 2005 by the Government of Karnataka.

"At this age, what do honours mean? I am about to turn 75, and start the phase of life that's known as sanyas ashram (meditative stage)," he says, sitting in the warm confines of his home.

A modest reaction is expected of Chiranjiv, one of the most respected IAS officers of the Karnataka cadre. His friends unhesitatingly call him 'a Renaissance man' owing to his multiple interests and knowledge of art, literature, music and languages.

But when Chiranjiv interacts with young people, he focuses on the importance of compassion.

"My mentor J C Lynn told me that 'qualities of the heart matter more than qualities of the mind'. That message stayed with me and I have, over the years, seen the truth of that statement," he says.

His wife Praveen Kaur says he's an even-tempered man.

"In the nearly 40 years I have been married to him, I have rarely seen him get angry. His tolerance is high. If he does not agree with something or someone, he just changes his path and lets the gods decide," says Praveen.

Looking back at his life which has had its share of ups and downs, Chiranjiv says, "It's been a bit of bevu (neem leaves) and a bit of bella (jaggery)."

Through his conduct and achievements, Chiranjiv Singh has done all of us proud.

About himself, he sums up: "gunhi bhareya mein phiran lok kehan darvesh.“

*   *   *   *   *


Chiranjiv Singh, former Ambassador of India to UNESCO in Paris, joined the Indian Administrative Service (“IAS”) in 1969. He retired in 2005 as Development Commissioner of Karnataka and Additional Chief Secretary to Govt. of Karnataka.

During his career he held various positions in the central and state governments, some of which are: Principal Secretary, Finance Dept.; Principal Secretary, Agriculture; Secretary, Culture and Tourism Depts.; Director General, Administrative Training Institute, Mysore; Divisional Commissioner of Belgaum and Mysore Divisions; Director, Mines and Geology; Director, Information, Culture, and Tourism, Govt. of Karnataka; Special Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, Food and Civil Supplies and Rural Development, Govt. of India; Chairman of Naval and Air Force Standing Establishment Committees in the Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India; Additional Director General of Tourism, Govt. of India; Chief Executive of the National Council of Hotel Management and Catering Technology Institutes.

He was also on the governing bodies of the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore and Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, as representative of the Govt. of   Karnataka . He was CMD of Mysore Lac and Paints; He was Chairman of the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation, and also of Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Was Chairman of Mysore Urban Development Authority and also Administrator,  Mysore City Corporation.

Since his retirement he is associated with numerous non-governmental organizations working in the fields of rural development, environment and culture. For his services rendered to the state he was awarded the “Rajyothsava Award” in 2005 by the Government of Karnataka. He is currently President of the Alliance Française, Bangalore.

*   *   *   *   *

The author, Prof Charan Singh, is Reserve Bank of India Chair and Professor of Economics.

[Courtesy: The Sikh Review and the Times of India. Edited for]
January 3, 2017


Conversation about this article

1: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachussets, USA), January 03, 2017, 4:29 PM.

In 1986 I had the honor of meeting Chiranjiv Singh ji in Bangalore as suggested by Ramaswamy Uncle. I met him along with my father in his study as a teenager. I was impressed with his collection of books ranging from philosophy to WWII. I was left with an image of a very learned Sikh who is not afraid to speak up. I don't know if Chiranjiv Singh ji remembers me or not but I have not forgotten about him.

2: Harjinder Singh (Oshawa , Ontario, Canada), January 06, 2017, 1:58 AM.

I do not have enough words at my command to express about the versatile personality, intellect, integrity and moral courage of Sardar Chiranjiv Singh. I have known him since 1984, when I was posted at Bangalore. He is a Sikh par excellence. I would like to narrate one incident that happened in 1986. I was travelling to Mysore, stopped at a small village in district Mandya, where Jaggery was being prepared. A person, teacher by profession, approached me, seeing my turban, and after some formal talk, he mentioned that Sardar Chiranjiv Singh was Deputy Commisioner of Mandya and people of this area will always remember him for his commendable performance as DC. To write about him, it may take another essay. I had the good fortune of meeting his mother fondly called Ma, his wife Parveen Kaur, their childern Nikkie and Sultan Singh and his younger brother Jogishwar Singh. Suffice to say that people like Sardar Chiranjiv Singh are jewels of the community, but prefer to keep very low profile like true gurmukhs.

3: Inder Pal Singh Kakar (Mohali, India), January 19, 2017, 3:48 PM.

Sardar Chiranjiv Singh is by himself an institution ... and a true Khalsa.

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Chiranjiv Singh"

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