V. P. Singh
Vishwanath Pratap Singh was India’s seventh prime minister. Born in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh, UP) to a Rajput princely family, he was subsequently adopted by the Raja of Manda, Bahadur Ram Gopal, whom he succeeded in 1941. He was educated in Allahabad and at Pune University, where he obtained BS and LLB (Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Law) degrees. He entered politics joining the Congress in Allahabad and, having been noticed because of his unfailing honesty, he rapidly moved up through the party hierarchy. In 1980, after a Congress victory in the UP assembly elections, Indira Gandhi appointed him Chief Minister. It was not an easy tenure, as he had to face the ugly massacre of Moradabad and the “fake encounters” controversies, born out of a major drive against dacoits (bandits) in the rural areas of UP. In 1984, he was appointed Union Finance Minister and then Defense Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government. Having kept a strict accounting of government expenses, he discovered irregularities in a deal with Bofors, a Swedish armament company—a scandal which could be damaging to Rajiv Gandhi’s image. V. P. Singh was dismissed from the Cabinet and then, in 1987, expelled from the Congress Party. Various talks followed which brought together a number of dissident personalities. The outcome was a Jan Morcha (V. P. Singh, Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammed Khan) and, two years later, a new party, the Janata Dal (JD), emerged with the Jan Morcha, the Lok Dal and the Congress (S) as its components, to be followed by a new regrouping, this time a National Front, federating the JD with various regional parties, namely the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and the AGP (Asom Gana had). The National Front with V. P. Singh as its convener fought the 1989 elections. They won a simple majority but thanks to the support, from outside, of the Communist parties and of the BJP, V. P. Singh was able to form a government. Devi Lal was its vice prime minister. It proved a difficult task and soon the National Front was torn apart with, on the one side V. P. Singh trying to implement social justice through the Mandal recommendations, and on the other side the BJP reviving its Hindu agenda. The Ayodhya issue turned more and more violent. A formidable Ram Rath Yatra was launched by L. K. Advani who was to be arrested in Bihar, kar sevaks managing however to attack and damage the Babri Masjid. Of course, the BJP withdrew its support to V. P. Singh who faced a non-confidence vote with a dignity which is still remembered by Muslims. He was thus making room for a bitter rival, Chandra Shekhar, who lasted a few months only. V. P. Singh was stuck by cancer in 1998 but he remained, until his death in 2008, a highly respected advisor and mentor.
JHA, Prem Shankar. 1990. “The Enigma of Departure,” Times of India, Sunday Edition, November 18, p. 15.
MUSTAFA, Seema. 1995. The Lonely Prophet: V. P. Singh, a political biography. New Delhi: New Age International