June 25th, 1931-November 27th, 2008
A man of Decency and Conviction
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
V.P.Singh resigned from his prime ministership when the country was facing one of the worst crises after independence. The Hindutva’s juggernaut was unfolding and the Muslims were the obvious target. His acceptance of the Mandal Commission report ensuring 27% reservation had altered the political landscape of the country. The upper castes were up in the streets, immolating themselves blaming the government for compromising merit. Singh, who was the blue-eyed boy of the Indian elite class particularly the upper castes till then turned villain for his act of providing justice to backward communities. Yes that historical decision on August 7, 1990 changed the course of Indian history when the cabinet accepted the Mandal Commission recommendation and decided to implement 27% reservation for backward communities. India was never the same again. The political parties and realignment of the social justice forces began then. The Hindutva started its Kamandal Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya to unite the ‘Hindus’ on the Ramjanambhoomi issue but quintessentially to bring them together under the brahmanical domination. The shudra-atishudra communities were cobbling together with Adivasis and determined to make a new rainbow coalition with minorities. The future looked tense for the Hindu upper caste as they decided to work on it. Both the Congress Party under Rajiv Gandhi and the BJP joined hand to dislodge a government, which fulfilled its responsibility to protect the Babari Masjid in Ayodhya. V.P.Singh resigned because the game political parties and over corrupted and ambitious leaders like Chandra Shekar, Devi Lal and Mulayam Singh Yadav played that time. It was the worst kind of politics, which destroyed the broader unity of these communities and paved the way for the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, to come to power.
V P Singh remains one of the most hated politicians even after almost 20 years of demitting office. The Hindu upper caste would never forgive him for the single act of ‘Mandalisation’ of Indian society, which finally resulted in a clear change in India’s parliament. Though, he was often blamed that Mandal Commission Report was implemented to sideline Devi Lal. The fact was that implementation of Mandal Commission report was part of National Front manifesto. He was just following the manifesto. Moreover, even if he did it for political purposes, why did the champions of social justice not support it?
V.P.Singh was essentially a loner in politics. In the dirty word of politics, where personal loyalties are considered important and money plays an important role, he kept himself away from this. In his remarkable political career, he would be perhaps the only ranking in that top positions ( PMs, CMs and Ministers) who chose to live with great simplicity. His life was an open secret. One of the most accessible political leader, Singh never mind even sitting on Dharana with a few young activists and this was the reason why the social action groups working in the slums of Delhi found in him their patron. At the time when even the local corporation member do not travel without a few gun trotting guards and streams of vehicles Singh could shun publicity and security. In fact immediately after demitting the office, he asked the government to withdraw his SPG.
V.P.Singh is often charged with playing politics. His detractors found it difficult to counter him argumentatively as though Singh might not have been a rebel rouser in political sense as he never lost sight of decency and could mingle with people very easily speaking with them in chaste Bhojpuri, yet because of his sheer conviction and clean personal life, none of them could really challenge him. We all remember those hey days of 1986 when he was expelled from Congress Party and it did everything to stop him addressing public meetings. As youths we all saw in him a hope, an aspiration from getting rid of corruption, which the Congress party epitomized that time. Every where, the ruling Congress that time disrupted meeting, stopped permission for grounds, spied him privately and threatened action against him. His files were traced and journalists like M.J.Akbar were used to get stories published in newspapers like Hindustan Times and Telegraph that Singh has an account in St Kitts. The business-journalist-rightwing nexus is very powerful in India and politicians use it. Singh was perhaps the only politician who not only shunned businessmen but also the middlemen Babas. If he did not hesitate in raiding the industrial houses who were evading taxes particularly notorious Reliance during that time, he also tried to investigate the illegal accounts of our political class. We all know we do not have the proof but a large number of Indians have illegal money in Switzerland. And when an individual fight against the system, with in being part of system, he meet with the fate as VP Singh met. His close colleague Bhure Lal, who was director in the enforcement directorate were shunted. Singh was transferred to Defence Ministry. There also he found that heavy commission was paid in the HDW Submarine deal and ordered inquiry. The price was immense. He was expelled from the Congress.
At the time when our politicians cling with power, Singh was remarkably different. He never sought power, it came to him naturally. He was chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh in 1980 and launched an anti dacoit crusade but that became a political issue as many of the backward class MLAs charged that the police was killing innocent people from backward communities. In this entire exercise, his own brother, who was a senior Judge of Allahabad High Court, was also killed by the dacoit and owning moral responsibility, he resigned.
It is often said that VP Singh’s Mandal action was mindless political exercise and that he had no conviction. But people forget that the Raja of Manda had already donated his entire estate land in the Bhudan movement. While people might remember him for the acceptance of Mandal Commission Recommendations yet there are many things for which history will always be grateful to him. His Mandal was not just a job exercise but he became a pivotal force in uniting all the progressive forces for social justice. Singh not only gave Ambedkar a due place in the history of India, in the centenary celebration of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the entire literature of Baba Saheb got translated in Hindi and made available to all the countrymen. Not only Baba Saheb Ambedkar was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna, his photograph also adores the Parliament House, which should have been done long back. Today, Ambedkar Jayanti is a national holiday and all the governments have to publish tribute to Ambedkar on his birth and death ceremonies. Whether they do it out of conviction or compulsion that is another matter but VP initiated the process and they remain unchangeable now. These things might look smaller and political but they are important when we see it from historical perspective of the people whose history have always been denied and unacknowledged. Today, Mandal, social justice, Ambedkar are matter of research not just for the Dalits but for the upper caste also. Much of the credit goes to his government, which did not compromised on the pulls and pressure and was determined to implement it. One major decision that the National Front government took that time was to grant reservation to neobuddhists, the scheduled caste who embraced Buddhism. It was deservingly a long-standing demand from the Buddhist community.
V.P.Singh was a unique personality. He never believed in the institutional niceties. Very few among us know that he lost his kidney because he sat on a hunger strike against the Bombay riots in 1993. It was an unusual sight as a former prime minister was sitting on a hunger strike. To save himself from going out to urinate, he stopped taking water and in turn lost his kidneys. Today the same Mumbai is bleeding and much of its credit goes to inapt handling of the communal situation by the various Congress government there particularly of Sharad Pawar who refused to take action against the Shiv Sena’s goons.
His determination was absolutely unparallel. During the past twenty years when he was suffering from not only blood cancer and renal failure, he survived and became more creative. He would invite activists, journalists for discussion during his dialysis. He would join protest marches, Dharanas straight after coming from Dialysis. For hundreds of civil society activists, he was an inspiration. Of late, VP Singh knew that he has little in common with the political class and more with the creative people and civil society movements and he became more accessible to all of us. Whether it was the issue of dying farmers in Vidarbha, or the issue slum dwellers of Delhi Singh was moving from one place to other. His energy level could shame the youngsters. During his prime time, he resorted to unusual things. In the famous Allahabad by-election, he campaigned in the cycle only. When he was Chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh, he campaigned in the public transport. In 1989 he canvassed the entire north India in his car. It is rare that he ever traveled by helicopter and special planes. Today, we cannot even imagine that our political class could do so as all these things have become their gadget and prestige symbols.
Few things are important before I finish this. VP Singh made history and at every place that he went he fought with the system. He was a part of system yet refused to accept its finality. He played by his own game. He remained absolutely clean till end. None of his detractors can charge him of any kind of red-tapism and corruption which are hall mark of today’s politics. Despite all the insult heaped on him by the Congress Party and later his own Janata detractors like Mulayam Singh Yadav, he rarely responded to these. He only responded to those who any one charges him of his personal integrity. Journalists like M.J.Akbar became pawn in big game to defame him. Later Arun Shourie became his bitter critique and switched side to BJP championing the cause of Hindutva. Some body should ask Shourie about his morality when he wrote reams of paper on corruption in Reliance in the Indian Express when Singh was finance Minister and had launched his campaign against Reliance Industries. Every one of us knows that he was switched from that ministry after industrialists complained against him.
The middle classes liked his act. The Brahmins anointed him the title of Rajyarshi in Varanasi. Everything was great and Singh’s shirt was brighter than Rajiv Gandhi and for that matter any other politician of his time. But everything changed suddenly as his determination to stop the demolition of Babari Masjid by arresting Lal Krishna Adwani and his continuation of the Mandal Recommendation. He did not compromised on two important aspects of Indian constitution namely social justice and secularism. Ironically, his government fell for fulfilling its constitutional obligation by protecting the Babari Masjid. In the entire process VP Singh made himself one of the most hateful politicians in the country. Abused were hurled at him. He was painted as Jaichand. The upper caste media was always scornful at him but they could not ignore him. He was considered as a backstabber in his community while he could not become the leader of the Dalit OBCs. But much of it happened because the time when the seeds of Mandal started reaping fruits, VP Singh’s health became a major issue. He survived for so long because of his creativity and determination to life and work.
The Hindutva fanatics new that the Mandal is the weapon, which will demolish the brahmanical hegemony and it, happened. 20 years after VP’s uncompromising stand, we are witnessing a strange U turn and all those champions of social justice are now returning the compliments to Brahmins and upper castes by offering them tickets and seats, just to secure their power in the state and for the center. An entire movement which would have demolished the brahmanical structure in India is now on the verge of collapse because of not only shortsightedness of the political class but also the lack of probity, democratic spirit and corruption with in the social justice movement. Our leaders will fail us, it need a statesman like VP Singh to unite them. In the death of VP Singh India has lost a historical opportunity to integrate forces of social justice. One will have to wait for some one of his stature who could put aside his personal ambition to unite all Dalit Bahujan communities in the mainstream political formation as we pass through dangerous period where the Hindu fascist forces with their Islamic cousins are ready to acquire mainstream political formation putting aside all the forces of social justice. When RSS and Arun Shourie start quoting Ambedkar, we must understand that time has come to be more proactive and take the threat seriously. And the threat is bigger. It is coming from a mixture of religious rights with capitalist formation, which are hell bent to acquire land from the Dalit Adivasis. VP Singh was well aware of this threat and therefore he was in the forefront of movements for Dalit Adivasis and their rights. He spoke against SEZs and displacement and led the historic Dadari’s farmers movement against land acquistion by Reliance. It is time our Dalit-Bahujan MPs understand the growing threat of Hindutva’s communal virus as well as anti people capitalist agenda and develop a workable rainbow coalition, which VP Singh proved could work wonder for the entire country. The Raja who created ripples in the Hindi heartland, on whose call thousands of youngsters would jump in the street, died as a lonely man yet he cared less. He lived life on his own. The media might ignore him, the upper caste still hate him but the GO that he passed will remain unchanged as now the time of Dalit Bahujan has come and no power can deny them their rights. Only problem is brahmanical crookedness and the only way to stop is in the democratic structure and high personal integrity of the political class, which are claiming to represent us. VP was acceptable to all because of his high personal integrity and his reach to all political formation. For any future formations in the center VP’s Mantra of governance is an essential ingredient for survival.
VP Singh is no more. His detractors are laughing, as there is not much news in the media. There were a handful of his supporters when the body was being taken from his house in Delhi to airport . He was not in to party politics but the legacy that he developed is now in the power structures. Lalu, Nitish, Ramvilas, Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh all became power elite and did not feel shame in making alliance with BJP on the one hand and with the corrupt middlemen and corporate. VP did not heed to any middlemen and at the end remained alone painting and writing poetry. His did not have many friends and political parties, nor did his family has any stake in politics and therefore people might say that he met with his fate he deserve. But then V P Singh never cared for all this, he did what he liked and lived according to his convictions and ideals. Every decision of his had become milestone and remain ingrained in our constitution now hence whether we they like or not but the ghost of Singh will always haunts those upper castes in India who continue to believe themselves superior and meritorious.