Surjit Singh Barnala (21 October 1925 – 14 January 2017) was an Indian politician who served as the Chief Minister of Punjab state from 1985 to 1987. Following that he served as the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands and a Union Minister on handling various portfolios.
Barnala was born in Begpur Village in Ateli Tehsil, Haryana. Born of a well-to-do family (his father was a magistrate), Barnala passed Law from Lucknow University in 1946. In Lucknow, he was involved in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Subsequently, he practised law for some years, and became politically active in the late '60s, rising through the ranks of Akali Dal. Though, he first stood for election in 1952 but lost by a meagre 4 votes.
Barnala's first ministerial assignment was in 1969 when he was sworn in as Education Minister in the Justice Gurnam Singh Government and was instrumental in setting up the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.
In 1977 he was elected to the Indian Parliament and was inducted in the Morarji Desai Cabinat as the Agriculture Minister at the time when the Ministry included Irrigation Water Resources, Food, Environment and Forests, Consumer Affairs, Power and Chemical And Fertilizers and Rural Development. In 1978, Barnala signed the historic Ganga Waters Agreement (Farakka Agreement) with Bangladesh.
In 1979, during the turmoil in the national government when PM Morarji Desai resigned, the then President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy toyed with the idea of appointing an interim government with Barnala as Prime Minister but had to drop the idea at the last moment fearing horse trading by a top member of the Cabinet, and Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh assumed Prime Ministership.
Barnala served as Chief Minister of Punjab from 29 September 1985 until 11 May 1987. Barnala, a member of the Sikh political party Shiromani Akali Dal (Longowal) served as Chief Minister during a period of Sikh militant movement in Punjab. The state had under in Barnala's chief ministership from 1985 to 1987, and after nearly two years in office, President's Rule was imposed.
Since then, Barnala has served as a Governor of several states. He first served as Governor of Tamil Nadu from 1990 to 1991 for about nine months. Barnala refused to recommend the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu government, and when he was later transferred as Governor of Bihar he choose to resign. He served as the lieutenant governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands from December 1990 to 18 March 1993.
In 1996, Barnala once again came close to becoming Prime Minister as in 1996 General Elections with no political party getting mandate it was a good time for a regional party to have its Prime Minister. Regional Parties accounted about 80 MP's in the Lok Sabha The Assam Gana Parishad of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Telugu Desam Party of Chandra Babu Naidu including The Left parties zeroed on Barnala but last minute Barnala's parent party Shiromani Akali Dal led by Barnala's supposedly close friend Parkash Singh Badal without informing Barnala joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party hence Barnala yet again missed being Prime Minister.
In 1997, Barnala was a candidate of the BJP and its Allies in the election of the Vice-President of India.
In 1998, Barnala was again elected to Parliament and became the minister for Chemical & Fertlizers and Food & Consumer Affairs in the Vajpayee Cabinet.
He was the First Governor of Uttarakhand from its creation in 2000 until 2003, and Governor of Andhra Pradesh from 2003 to 2004 during this time he also held additional charge of Orissa as Governor for some time, and was Governor of Tamil Nadu till 31 August 2011 during his Tamil Nadu years he also held additional charge of Puduchery for a few months.He is the second longest-serving Governor in Indian History after Dr.A R Kidwai and the only Governor to have served three terms in the history of Tamil Nadu State of 300 Years.
At the time of his death, he was the Patron of a four party alliance Sanja Morcha in Punjab. Like few other anti Congress leaders of his time he has spent about three and a half years in jail as a political prisoner including 11 months in solitary confinement.