February 23, 2020
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Bedside Realpolitik

V.P. Singh puts the social justice plank above the corruption issue

Bedside Realpolitik

HIS haemoglobin count is not yet stable. He has yet to find a suitable kidney donor. But back at former prime minister V.P. Singh’s St James Hotel room, there is an amazing outburst of creativity. As the Raja of Manda pours his imagination into his twin loves, painting and writing, wife Sita Devi occupies herself with the piano, her newfound passion. Something neither had time for at Delhi’s Apollo Hospitals when the United Front crisis claimed its first casualty, H.D. Deve Gowda.

But Singh is very much tuned into the ongoing crisis in the Janata Dal. His admirer Som Pal, a member of Parliament, does not tire of claiming that Singh favoured Laloo over Sharad for the JD presidentship and that he is keen that the Inder Gujral ministry is not jeopardised. However, Som Pal’s stories should be taken with a pinch of salt.

There are indications that M. Karunanidhi, S.R. Bommai, S. Jaipal Reddy and Gujral himself are Singh’s confidants. And going by the stance these leaders have taken, it seems that the former prime minister is more pro-social justice than anti-corruption. It is significant that Singh has not uttered a singe demand for Laloo’s resignation after the CBI charge-sheeted him last month even though he announced the JD split long before the event. While Jaipal and Bommai played their role—albeit unsuccessfully—to avert a split till the last minute by proposing that Laloo be given the party presidentship, Karunanidhi has called those opposing the RJD’s entry into the United Front "evil advocates and instigators".

Also, in Uttar Pradesh, most of the JD delegates who boycotted the July 3 party poll were Singh’s followers. "V.P. Singh has not given any instruction to his followers to join any side. All have decided their course as per their own political calculations," claims a Rajya Sabha member close to him.

Accordingly, while senior members of the V.P. Singh camp remain sympathetic to Laloo, some like JD general secretary Wasim Ahmed and UP unit chief Ram Singh have joined the Sharad camp. As for Singh himself, by not demanding Laloo’s resignation, he has made it clear that he considers the Bihar chief minister an effective leader of the forces of social justice.

An important factor in these political manoeuverings is the cordial relationship Singh and Gujral share. Gujral was external affairs minister in the V.P. Singh cabinet and refused to ditch him in November 1990 when Chandra Shekhar offered him the same post after he succeeded VP. In June 1996, Gujral’s was the only name out of four recommended by Singh for inclusion in the Gowda cabinet.

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