20 May 2024 10:59 AM




NEW DELHI: Way back in the early 1980's when Amrinder Singh was a rising star in the Congress and a part of the rising Rajiv Gandhi's charmed circle, he began espousing a license for Pepsico to bottle its caramelised sugar water in Punjab. His argument was that a Rs.150 crores or so investment in the then disturbed Punjab will create over 50,000 jobs for the state's unemployed and hence angry youth drifting to terrorism and Khalistan.

Besides it would also completely revolutionise horticulture in Punjab as Pepsico would then source all the ketchup and tomato paste for its Pizza Hut and KFC chains from Punjab grown tomato, and procure potatos for its Lays chips, and orange juice for Tropicana, all of which were yet to debut in India. Pepsico then was headed by the legendary Don Kendall, friend and golf buddy of US Presidents, and the man who took Pepsi to the USSR and was winning the Cola wars.

The story in New Delhi was that Ronald Reagan himself called Rajiv Gandhi to plug for Pepsico. Rajiv was keen to oblige even though he himself was reputedly a Coca Cola drinker, as the PM House on Safdarjang Road was known to buy embassy commissary stock Coke from Modern Bazar in New Delhi's tony Vasant Vihar. Anyway Captain got to work with military despatch and started writing letters to the government and newspapers pushing the Pepsico case in the India.

At that time I wrote in a prominent business magazine that if just Rs.150 crores or so could create 50,000+ jobs, then the whole of India should be handed over to Pepsico to create the millions of jobs India needed. I was being sarcastic as usual. But I didnt reckon with Captain Amrinder Singh's ire.

He wrote a rejoinder that my argument against Pepsico was typical of LSE types who read books by Harold Laski. A well known PR agent, then still supposedly with a business magazine and who was a friend (still is), had seen "A Grammar of Politics" by Harold Laski at my home. Hence I had a pretty good hunch that he had penned Amrinder Singh's counter attack.

In his piece Amrinder also alluded to such doctrinaire positions as being less than patriotic. In my rejoinder to his rejoinder, I wrote that I didnt need a lesson on patriotism from a scion of the House of Patiala, and was fully aware of their treacherous role in 1857. (Sikh rulers of Patiala (Maharaja Narender Singh), Jind (Sarup Singh), Nabha (Bharpur Singh) and Kapurthala (Raja Randhir Singh) had been substantially “supplying war materials as well as sepoys to the British Army” for which they were suitably rewarded. William Howard Russell of London Times wrote in a dispatch : “Our siege of Delhi Would have been impossible, if the Rajas of Patiala and Jhind (Jind) had not been our friends”.)

This obviously got the Captain's goat and, possibly thinking that I was just another pesky little (in physique too) Madrasi with a way with words, told my PR agent friend that he would beat me up if he ever saw me, as his honor was offended. This was promptly relayed to me. I responded that since the royal honor was offended, he should fight me in a duel. For good measure and fun I added "On the horse, off the horse, swords or pistols, just name it." My PR agent pal then asked and suppose he accepts, I cheerfully replied "I will then kill him." This part was obviously not conveyed to Amrinder Singh, as he still lives.

Much later, I once ran into the Captain at Arun Nehru's place, and he kept looking at me again and again from top to bottom, all 6'3" and 195 lbs. He was a pudgy little fellow with a 56" pet and I couldnt resist a faint smirk. Arun Nehru noticed the frisson and later asked about it. I told him that at one time I almost killed him.