VP Singh and March of the Backwards

The day former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh took the office of Prime Minister on December 1, 1989 militants in Kashmir abducted Rubiya Sayeed, daughter of the then newly sworn-in Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Written by

SOROOR AHMED

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The day former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh took the office of Prime Minister on December 1, 1989 militants in Kashmir abducted Rubiya Sayeed, daughter of the then newly sworn-in Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Rubiya was then a medical student in Srinagar. The militants put up several demands. That was the first big event to rock Jammu and Kashmir and nobody had ever expected that things would change so sharply in the subcontinent.

Exactly 19 years down the memory lane Singh breathed his last hours after the terrorists stormed into five-star hotels of Mumbai, killed innocent people and got holed inside these buildings for hours. They took the entire country hostage for full two days.

During the last almost two decades India witnessed a tumultuous social and political upheaval. The ballots and the bullets started playing a more significant role. While the Mandalisation of the society after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in August 1990 empowered the backwards, the poor and the weaker sections of the society, the role of gun-power also increased. Guns not only boomed in the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and North-East, but also in the jungles and plateaus of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and plains of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

In fact in several places the role of bullets and ballots got intermingled as upper castemen tried to prevent the newly assertive backward castes from casting their votes. The latter too retaliated with the similar fire-power leading to more violence and political clashes.

V P Singh’s rise can be traced to 1980 when the Congress re-won both the parliamentary and assembly elections after the disastrous 33 months of the Janata Party experiment. He became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and in the same year the city of Muradabad witnessed a unique type of communal holocaust. A large number of people were killed when the Provincial Armed Constabulary opened fire on Eid namazis. Riots took place in other towns of the West UP too. These riots were not just the law and order issue but had socio-political angle too. In 1970s Muslims had a sort of political alliance with the Jats in the West UP. The leader of the Jats of UP was Chaudhary Charan Singh, who latter became the Prime Minister for a brief period in 1979.

In 1980 elections Muslims shifted their preference to the Congress while Jats more or less remained loyal to Charan Singh. This break in political alliance had its impact on the society and the communal riots in the early 1980s were attributed to that shift.

However, V P Singh moved to the politics in Delhi and under Rajiv Gandhi cabinet became defence and finance minister of India. However, he resigned over Bofors and other related issues and along with other opposition parties went to form the Janata Dal. In the election held in November 1989 his party managed to emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP, with 89 MPs, decided to back him. However, after the arrest of its then president Lal Krishna Advani – who was leading a Rath Yatra – by the then Bihar chief minister, Lalu Prasad, on October 21, 1990 the BJP withdrew outside support and the V P Singh government subsequently collapsed. Throughout 1989-1992 the atmosphere in the country was not only highly communalised but there was also a great caste tussle going on in the country, especially north India.

In between the rise and fall of V P Singh another development took place. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Devi Lal, raised the banner of revolt and in August 1990 VP in a haste implemented the Mandal Commission report, which recommended 27 per cent reservation for the backward castes. Though V P Singh did not rise after his exit in November 1990, his move paved the way for empowerment of men like former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad, the present chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar and the Union Fertilizer Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan. True, Lalu and Mulayam were already chief ministers of Bihar and UP respectively and the latter even deserted V P Singh, the truth is that the Mandalisation helped all the backward leaders consolidate their position.

The Upper Castes of North India now gradually started drifting towards the BJP, especially after the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on May 21, 1991 at the hands of the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Elam terrorists. The backward castes, especially Yadavs of Bihar and UP, once used by the Sangh Parivar men as their cannon fodder, now became the biggest saviour of Muslims in North India.

This was the one reason why Bihar hardly witnessed any communal holocaust even after the December 6, 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid. Even in UP, where Kalyan Singh of the BJP was then in power, saw Yadavs and other backward castes. To much extent, dissociating themselves from the communal riots. This happened when several cities and towns in the states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, etc. burnt for days. Before Mandalisation Bihar and UP, apart from Gujarat, used to witness maximum number of communal riots.

The empowerment of the backward castes, for a brief period in mid-1990s paved the way for the coming to power of the two Third Front governments at Centre: one under Deve Gowda and another under Inder Kumar Gujral. However, the forward – caste – march of the BJP continued and in 1998 it came to power as several beneficiaries of the VP’s Mandalisation sided with the Hindutva brigade. The BJP was also benefited by the weakening of the Congress.

The then Samata Party, led by Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes became the first secular party to join the National Democratic Alliance, a loose conglomeration floated by the BJP. Gradually other parties also jumped into the NDA bandwagon. Sharad Yadav, though not from Bihar – he fought a couple of elections from here – jumped into the BJP bandwagon and so did Ram Vilas Paswan. They two were considered the strong champions of the Mandal. In UP Kanshi Ram-Mayawati phenomenon emerged. At times the BJP went into alliance with it.

Thus the social justice force created by VP in North India got weakened. True, the Raja of Manda introduced Mandal for his own personal interest – to save his party from split – he partially succeeded in his endeavour. But the tragedy is that though VP came from upper caste Rajput it was the backward caste leaders who betrayed the larger cause of social justice just for their personal political gains. Today Sharad Yadav, till a decade back the staunchest and bitterest critic of the Hindutva, does not feel shy of dittoing everything the Sangh Parivar does.

The greatest irony is the condolence message of the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who dubbed his demise as a personal loss for him and went on to say that VP spearheaded the cause of social justice. Who is not aware that it is the force of social justice which has got weakened in Bihar in the last three years of his rule? The state is now in the firm grip of the upper castes with backwards and Dalits getting considerably marginalised.

However, one thing in which VP did somewhat succeed in the Hindi belt in particular is that his endeavour compelled many political parties to promote backward caste leaders in their respective parties. But promoting backward caste leaders and empowering the force of social justice is not the two sides of the same coin.