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Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Karpuri Thakur disciple-turned Lalu loyalist, leaves behind a ‘letter row’


New Delhi: At the peak of his political life, the widely-respected socialist veteran Raghuvansh Prasad Singh increasingly faced a contradictory challenge –– of having to harmonise his undisputed Mr Clean image and idealistic convictions with his unflinching support to Lalu Prasad Yadav, even when the RJD chief plunged deep into a cesspool of corruption charges and parivarwad for over two decade now. In Singh’s death too one witnesses another contradictory task –– of the ideological opponents he fought ferociously trying to appropriate his left-over utility in the name of a letter, his reported resignation from the RJD, that popped up right when he was critically ill and was sinking.

This “letter episode” reminds one of another “letter”. When Congress brought a no-confidence motion against the Vajpayee regime, it was Singh –– backing up Sonia Gandhi’s allegation the previous day that some opposition leaders jailed during Emergency had privately apologised to the PM Indira Gandhi –– who dramatically waved a letter allegedly written by Vajpayee, prompting the BJP MPs to cry foul and then Speaker to hurriedly take ‘custody’ of that letter for authentication (none heard of it thereafter).

Singh, who died on Sunday at the age of 74, would be remembered for the passion and commitment he displayed as RJD’s Union Minister of Rural Development in UPA-1 in implementing Congress’ flagship MGNREGA scheme. The Congress sent feelers to Singh to join the party (and perhaps UPA-2 cabinet) when RJD walked out in the 2009 polls.

A socialist of the Lohiya school and a PhD in Mathematics, Singh came through the Samyukta Socialist Party. For him, Karpuri Thakur was the idol and stood by him all through the various Lok Dal splits.

Ever since Lalu Yadav took over as Opposition leader after the death of Thakur, Singh stuck to Yadav. For Lalu, Singh’s background, clean image and Rajput background came a tactical asset. In turn, Singh was allowed to enjoy a sense of attention, liberty and respect that the RJD chief normally does not grant other colleagues. Such was the influence of Yadav that Singh even displayed a particular aggression and body language in his public speeches, in contrast to his calmer and engaging nature in private.

It was that emotional link with Yadav that was captured in the one-liner in Singh’s reported resignation letter: “Since the death of Jannayak Karpoori Thakur, I stood behind you for 32 years, but not now.” Lalu’s equally emotional rejection of the resignation advertised the sensitivity of the matter pre-poll. Tributes payed by PM Modi, CM Nitish (see graphic) show the political play over Singh’s letters to further target Lalu and RJD and also trying to tap into the Rajput sentiment (in addition to the ‘SSR plank’).

Yet some contents of another reported letter by Singh –– particularly him accusing RJD of promoting “feudalism” and of “five members of one family” replacing on posters the photos of Gandhi, Ambedkar, JP, Lohiya and Thakur –– have surprised many. Because, Singh was the one RJD leader who passionately backed Yadav during allegation of “jungle raj”, when the CM was arrested on corruption, when Yadav foisted Rabri Devi as the next CM and subsequently elevated his two sons and a daughter.

Singh was never heard questioning the Yadavs and RJD’s decaying ‘Samajwad’ into ‘Parivarwad’. Instead, Singh believed in, and justified, his support to Yadav’s degeneration by arguing that RJD supremo was the bulwark of fight against the RSS-BJP in Bihar. So much was his opposition to BJP-RSS, Singh even pressed Tejaswi for a second tango with Nitish to form a “grand alliance” against the BJP.

Yet, Singh’s defeats in the last two Lok Sabha seats, RJD preferring others for RS seats, Tejaswi negotiating the entry of Singh’s turf-rival from the same Rajput community, fellow-casteman and state RJD president Jagadand Singh’s influence on Tejaswi, and Lalu’s elder son’s unforgivable barb –– all have made Singh uneasy and unhappy. He advertised it by resigning from the post of RJD’s vice-president last June.

Yet, many are puzzled over why, or whether, Singh indeed wrote those unusually harsh letters to Lalu when he was sinking. Politics has seen many ageing and ailing leaders, including George Fernandes and ND Tiwari, taking bitter and inexplicable turns when battered by illness. As the decent politician Singh departs, which way Singh’s son will walk in the electoral field may provide a clue to the puzzle.

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