BSP MP Ritesh Pandey from Ambedkar Nagar Lok Sabha seat of Uttar Pradesh resigned from the primary membership of the party on Sunday.
It was on 10 June 1971 when first-time member of Parlia- ment from Phulpur con- stituency in Allahabad dis- trict, Vishwanath Pratap Singh delivered his maiden speech in the august House during Budget discussions. He said, “If you take a quick look at the Indian land- scape, you will find that extreme disparities are being nurtured. Our institutions of self-govern- ment and their structure, such as Panchayats, Zilla Parishads, Subdivisions and Blocks, etc. are only expressions of the agree- ments of the upper caste pres- sure groups…In the context of social and strategic base, there is need to determine the nature of the budget and its biggest limitations. Where injustice pre- vailing in society cannot be eradicated; the issue of equality is no longer a real issue in our discussion.” Making a direct reference to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he said, “I would like to mention to our Prime Minister that social justice is not only related to eco- nomic development, but to sus- tainable development…The Budget is indicative of our Finance Minister’s vision to ensure equality for all in our society.” The finance minister was Mr Yashwantrao Chavan who had taken over the ministry from Mrs Gandhi. The first speech in Parlia- ment sets the tone, giving an indication of VP Singh’s expo- sure to issues of social justice, local self-government and sus- tainable development, a term which is a buzzword today but in 1971 was not commonly referred to. In fact ‘sustainable development’ became part of the UN lexicon later in the 1980s. This is the VP Singh who reaches out to us from his speeches in Parliament, and the autobiographical work titled ‘Manzil se Zyaada Safar’, (Jour- ney Beyond the Destination) co- authored by senior journalist- writer Ram Bahadur Rai By the time he made his appearance in New Delhi as a parliamentarian, VP Singh had set a credible track record in public service and philanthropy through education. In 1952, he established Gopal Vidyalaya in Koraon, Allahabad; besides edu- cation, his focus was on work- ing with the underprivileged. He narrated in the autobiographi- cal journey that he was not used to hardships of village living, being brought up in privileged regal surroundings. He com- pelled himself to stay within school premises, getting up early on winter mornings for a cold bath. The Raja of Manda, as he was popularly referred to, learnt what life and challenges were for ordinary village people living by the land, in the lap of unyielding nature. His formal political life began in 1955. It was Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru who influenced young Vish- wanath to work for the Con- gress. He joined the party as a member “to be able to get work done for common people.” Work in dusty forlorn villages of Uttar Pradesh meant enrolling mem- bers for the Congress at four annas (one-fourth of a rupee) per member. Few would be aware of how influenced VP Singh was by the Bhoodan movement, and by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. In many ways, Acharyaji was a spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi for a new generation of politi- cally-conscious Indians, sensitive to the needs of a newly-independe- nt nation. In 1957, not only did VP Singh begin seri- ous participation in Bhoodan but donated ancestral land of over 200 bighas in village Pasna, Allahabad district. This well- irrigated fertile land was redistrib- uted to farmers. He made available more land in Bam- pur village; this land was on rent from which the landless farmers could generate incomes. He utilised funds from this source for Gopal Vidyalaya which became an Intermediate college. It must have been an emo- tional day for VP Singh when Acharya Vinoba Bhave inaugu- rated the educational institution in Koraon, blessing them for nation-building tasks undertak- en at the grassroot level. Not just Acharya Vinoba Bhave but VP Singh was heavily influenced by Jayaprakash Narayan, who in turn, was redis- covering revolutionary Gandhi- an thought through the relent- less selfless work of Vinoba Bhave. This is why on 3 Decem- ber 1989, when VP Singh took charge as the Prime Minister, his address to the nation over Door- darshan and All India Radio demonstrated his allegiance to both Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr Rammanohar Lohia. He said, in his address, “After a long dark night, the day has dawned, but it is still a misty dawn. The coffers of the Gov- ernment are empty. Our hearts are inflamed. There has been much violence and bloodshed. Inflation has impoverished our people. A national effort will be made to resolve complex prob- lems like Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Ram Janmabhoo- mi-Babri Masjid issues… and the Dr Rammanohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan dreams of decentralization of power. We will fulfill their dreams. We shall bring forward legislation for genuine Panchayati Raj which will respect the imperatives of federal structure.” Bringing Panchayati Raj to the centre-stage of national pol- itics and the development dis- course, the new Prime Minister did not shy from raising the issue on 18 June 1990 at the National Development Council meeting. He said, “The Appro- ach to the Eighth Plan has been titled Towards Social Transfor- mation… Growth must go hand in hand with an improvement in quality of life. We intend not only to increase allocations for agriculture, rural development and employment gen- eration but to make sure the be- nefits go to inten- ded beneficiaries and not to inter- mediaries… We attach equal im- portance to land reforms as a nec- essary precondi- tion of greater agricultural pro- ductivity. Our gov- ernment has put all land reform leg- islation in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution… We need a spirit of austerity in the country if we are to generate savings we need for nation- building.” Coming from VP Singh, these ideas were Gandhian in orientation; his emphasis on greater agricultural productivi- ty, land reform legislation and austerity measures were res- onating with Congress ideolo- gies of the 1930s and 1940s. Congress was the party which had nurtured, developed VP Sin- gh as a political personality: an MLA in Uttar Pradesh, then a Minister in the State and at the Centre under Indira Gandhi, later the chief minister of UP before he rose up the Con- gress hierarchy in New Delhi, being a Cabinet minister, confi- dante of both Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Vishwanath Prat- ap Singh is perceived in con- temporary political history as the challenger, the Union Defence Minister who shredded the ‘Mr Clean’ image of Rajiv Gandhi when the Bofors corrup- tion scandal hit headlines in May 1987, thanks to Swedish Radio investigations. Later, it was The Hindu, The Statesman and Indian Express which pio- neered the investigation. In paying homage to VP Singh, what is of greater signifi- cance and historical importance is his statement to Parliament as Prime Minister on 27 August 1990, when he said, “On August 7, 1990, I announced in the House the decision taken by my Government to implement the Mandal Commission’s Report… when the Government took office, the President stated in his address that the Government is committed to the implementa- tion of Mandal Commission’s Report. In both Houses there was persistent demand from a large section of Members for its implementation. A number of states have already provided reservation for backward classes in their states.” He added, “This Governm- ent’s decision on the Mandal Commission recommendations is in respect of service under the Government of India and public sector undertakings…The Gov- ernment wants to make it clear that it is not possible to make any dilution of the 27 per cent reservation for the socially and educationally backward classes and 22.5 per cent for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. We propose to provide an addition- al reservation of 5 per cent to 10 per cent for the poor, irrespec- tive of social groups, entirely on the basis of appropriate eco- nomic criteria, after taking con- sent of this august House.” Prime Minister Singh’s con- viction that the Mandal report implementation would change the face of Indian society and politics was unshakeable. As a student leader in Allahabad, he exhorted his peers to not merely garland portraits of Maharana Pratap of Mewar but imbibe val- ues of Kshatriya-dharma, be- coming protectors of the under- privileged. In 1990, as agitations against the Mandal report implementation grew, VP Singh adhered to this dharma as a Kshatriya ruler of yore. On 7 November 1990 he resigned as the Prime Minister, losing a vote of confidence in Parliament. For 11 months he led the nation, but the impact of his decisions remain till date. What he shared with Dr Nelson Mandela at Ambedkar Centenary Committee in New Delhi on 17 October 1990 rema- ins inspirational. “In free India we have made progress towards realization of Mahatma Gand- hi’s and Babasaheb Ambedkar’s goals. Untouchability has been abolished, its practice made a criminal offence. A programme of affirmative action for the dep- ressed classes was started and continues to this day… Recently we launched the second phase of our struggle for social equality by offering a guaranteed share in the Central administration to socially and educationally back- ward classes, and by marshalli- ng our economic policies to make growth with employment generation their central focus.” These words could well have been written in stone.
Photos: Wikipedia Commons
The writer is a writer- researcher on history and heritage issues and former deputy curator of Pradhanmantri Sangharalaya