LIEUTENANT GENERAL MAHARAJA YADAVINDER SINGH (Sidhu)(1913-1974) was a Grand Commander of the Indian Empire (as picked by all the princes of India), Companion of the British Empire, Doctor of Laws from Banaras and Panjab Universities, was the last hereditary ruler of the erstwhile Indian princely state of Patiala. Born on 7 January 1913 during the high noon of the British rag he lived to see India become an independent democratic republic. He was the premier ruling prince in the Punjab. Prominent in sports, courageous in war, persuasive in diplomacy, knowledgeable in botany and agriculture, he was perhaps modern India’s nearest equivalent to the ideal renaissance man.
Yadavinder Singh’s early life was moulded by his rank and environment. Son of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, one of the most prominent of India’s 600-odd reigning princes, Yadavinder Singh was brought up in a luxurious atmosphere. At the suggestion of the local British resident, Bhupinder Singh sent his son, while still a young boy, to the Aitchison College at Lahore. There he received a solid all-round education, acquired valuable habits of inquiry and self-discipline, and distinguished himself on the cricket field. In 1930, after completing his education, he accompanied his father to the first Round Table Conference in London. He spent some time at the Punjab Police School, Phillaur, and acquired some training in revenue work back in Patiala. At his rnajority, in 1931, he was made Superintendent of Police for Patiala district, graduating two years later to the rank of Inspector-General. In 1933, he was appointed the Chancellor of Khalsa College, Amritsar, and he held this position for a number of years. Seconded in 1935 to a crack Sikh unit of the Indian army, he did valuable work helping in reconstruction after the terrible Quetta earthquake and earned a glowing tribute from the military authorities.
Yadavinder Singh’s public activities were, however, overshadowed by his sporting achievements. Patiala had always been synonymous with Indian cricket boasting at Chail, the Maharaja’s summer residence, the highest ground in the world. Encouraged to play the game by his father, who had captained India on the tour of England, Yadavinder Singh rapidly blossomed into a fine all-round player. He donned Indian colours in 1934 when he was selected to play against England. However, cricket was far from his only athletic accomplishment. Supple of limb and reaching almost 6’5" when fully grown, he had no difficulty adapting successfully to a variety of games: he climbed, ran, played hockey, was north Indian tennis champion, and led the Patiala polo tearn. In his devotion to sport, he had followed in the footsteps of his father. In 1928, Bhupinder Singh had been elected founder-president of Indian Olympic Association, formed after India had won its first gold medal in the hockey competition at the IXth Olympiad in Amsterdam. On Bhupinder Singh’s death in 1938, the members of the Association chose the son to replace the father. Yadavinder Singh continued as president until 1960, when he stepped down in favour of his brother, Bhalendra Singh. During his 22-year term, he cemented India’s connection with the international olyrnpic movement, fostered the establishment of branches of the Association in several provinces and encouraged the formation of national federations for individual Olympic sports.
1938 was indeed a momentous year for the young prince. It was clouded, of course, by his father’s death; but on the brighter side it saw his election to the presidency of the Olympic Association. He became the ruler of a kingdom of 5,932 square miles having a population of nearly two million. In the year of his accession was also solemnized his marriage to Mohinder Kaur, daughter of a Patiala nobleman, Harchand Singh Jeji.
On the outbreak of the World War in 1939, Maharaja Yadavinder Singh founded the Khalsa Defence of India League. Sikh enlistment to the army was accelerated by the efforts of the Maharaja who himself went to the Italian theatre of war and to the Middle East and Malaya. His support of the War effort was rewarded in 1944 by an honorary appointment as Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian army.
Viceroy Lord Wavell, too described Yadavinder Singh as "one of the best of the princes, really interested in managing his state on progressive lines," caused him to be appointed an aide-de-camp to the British King and supported his election as pro-chancellor of the Chamber of Princes in March 1946. The Maharaja became a leading figure in the politics of the Indian princes. When after the failure of the Cripps Mission in 1942, the British Government sent to India the Cabinet Mission under the leadership of Lord Petllick-Lawrence, the Maharaja of Patiala led a princes’ delegation to the Mission. He was also a member of the negotiations committee of the princes which, under the Cabinet Mission Plan, was to negotiate with the representatives of British India the terms on which the states would accede to the Indian Union. Patiala was also one of the first princely states to decide on 13 March 1947 to participate in the Constituent Assembly and to send up its representatives as members. On 1 August 1947, twenty-two members of states, with Maharaja Yadavinder Singh leading, signified their decision to accede to the Indian Union and others followed in quick succession. In May 1948 he gave his assent to the merger of Patiala with seven other Punjab states to constitute what came to be known as the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU).
When the decision to partition the Punjab was announced, Yadavidra Singh went to viceroy Mountbatten and pleaded with him to fix the bounadary on the basis of landed and religious property rather than population there by preserving the central Punjab as a Sikh homeland. Mount batten refused, and the Radcliffe Commission opted for a line which left many Sikhs and Sikh shrines in Pakistan. Yadavinder Singh then took his case too Sardar Patel, urging that the rehabilitation of the Sikhs should be made a priority of government policy. Sikh refugees should be fully compensated for their losses, and community as a whole assured of its rightful place in the Polity of India through the incorporation of suitaible provisions in the new constitutions. In subsequent letters to the Sardar, he enjoined the goverment to open negotiations with Pakistan for the return of Sikh religious records and the preservation of untended gurdwaras and criticized curbs which New Delhi had placed on certain Sikh newspapers. At the same time the Maharaja maintained his direct Links with the Panth through the patronization of schools and charities.
Towards the end of 1947 he added the presidency of the Panthic Darbar, a quasi-political organizations to his many other activities.
In November 1952, in accordance with the recommendations of the States Reorganization Comission, PEPSU was merged With East Punjab and Yadavinder Singh, who had been Rajpramukh of toe state shack its inception. found himself for the first time in his adult lift without a full-time occupation. But soon thereafter Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent him to New York as a member of tlle Indian delegation to the 11th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In 1958, Yadavinder Singh represented India in Paris at the 10th annual conference of UNESCO, and in 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1967 and 1969 he led the
Indian team at meetings of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) – a task for which the horticulturally-knowledgeable Maharaja was well suited In 1960, the government made him chairman of the newlycreated Intlian Council of Sports, a body designed to oversee the whole sporting sphere and advise on the allocation of public money to sports teams and facilities. In 1965, the Lal Bahadur Shastri government appointed him to the prestigious post of Indian Ambassador in Rome, where he served until 1967.
The decade 1956-1966 was a relatively quiet and relaxed period in Yadavinder Singh’s life, much of it spent abroad. As a diplomat he shunned public forums, preferring to exercise his considerable charm in private informal gatherings. In February 1967 elections were held for the Punjab legislature; Yadavinder Singh decided to stand as an independent candidate, and was voted in by a handsome majority. His short parliamentary career was over as he soon realized that he was unfit for the role of a professional politician. He continued, however, to involve himself closely in Sikh affairs, and in 1969 revived his role as intermediary with the Centre in an unsuccessful bid to head off Darshan Singh Pheruman’s fast to death over status of Chandigarh. Earlier he had presided over the Sikh Educational Conference annual sessions held at Patiala (1949), Delhi (1952) and Indore (1961). He was also chairman of the Punjabi University Commission which preceded the establishment in 1962 of Punjabi University at Patiala. He was chosen president of the Guru Gobind foundation as well as Guru Nanak foundation, the former set up to honour the tercentenary of the birth of Guru Gobind Singh (1967) and the latter the quicentenary of the birth of Guru Nanak (1969).
Throughout the late 1969’s, Yadavinder Singh continued his association with FAO and the Council of Sports, and in 1970 took on a new role as chairman of the Indian horticulture development council. In 1971, Yadavinder Singh took up his second and last permanent diplomatic postings at the Hague in the Netherlands. Three years later, on 17 June 1974, he suffered a severe heart attack and died. He was 61 years of age. His body was flown to India and was cremated with full state honours on 21 June at Patiala in the family crematorium, the Shahi Samadhan. His Son Captain Amrinder Singh is also active in Sikh politics in Punjab.