Friday, 5 December, 2008

V.P.Singh’s legacy

Very few political careers have seen the kind of turmoil, courageous actions and blemishless conduct that have been the hallmark of V.P.Singh's public life. Singh basked in the centre-stage of national politics for a mere seven years. First as Finance Minister, and then as Defence Minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet followed by 11 months in office as Prime Minister, Singh's career was marked by fights against corruption and championing the cause of social justice.

The Janata Dal that V.P.Singh cobbled together achieved the impossible in Indian politics by bringing the Hindu Right and the Left parties together to defeat the Congress in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. His implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendation of 27 per cent reservation for OBC's in central government jobs blew the lid on the inequalities in India. Despite violent protests and acts of self-immolation by upper caste youth, Singh went ahead with the commission's recommendations. For the first time, caste as the strongest reality in Indian politics came out in the open, and Indian politics have never been the same again.

The upper caste, upper class attitude to V.P.Singh changed overnight, and for the last 20 years he has been vilified in the strongest terms for what was seen by these groups as the subversion of Indian politics and the denial of "equality of opportunity" to them. The Congress rule in the Hindi heartland had been simultaneous with Brahminical dominance over the other caste groups until 1990. But the political formations that soon sprung up, based themselves on caste affiliations throwing out all pretensions of socialist agendas, and quickly ate away the Congress base in the politically important states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which then contributed 140 seats to the Lok Sabha.

Simultaneous with the rise of casteist politics as a by-product of Mandal, was the rise of Hindutva politics through the BJP, and together these two forces of caste and religion contributed to the marginalization of the Congress in large pockets of North India. Along with language, an identity that forced itself out in the open during the fight for linguistic states, India had soon become the playground for two more identities its common people held dear to their hearts: caste and religion. V.P.Singh lost his prime ministership in 1990 and stayed out of the public spotlight. The level of acceptance he enjoyed with non-Congress, non-right wing parties was obvious when he was invited to become Prime Minister again in 1996, an offter that he politely refused.

India has not seen single party rule since 1989 and the so called national parties like the Congress or BJP, have accepted coalition governments grudgingly. Mandal was approved by the Supreme Court and by most political parties. Today, reservations have been extended to institutions of higher learning and measures to implement reservation in private education and jobs might soon follow. An act of political courage by V.P.Singh had thrown open opportunities for India's historically oppressed in many spheres of life. Herein, lies his primary contribution to India and though the bourgeoisie press and upper castes and classes will continue to deride his role in restructuring India, history textbooks will remember V.P.Singh as our first ruler who successfully empowered the lower castes.

P.S - Editorial written for college newspaper. Long-time readers of my earlier blog will remember my blatant opposition to reservations. Thanks to this man, who in one lecture, convinced me that reservations are right.