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Arjun Singh: Crafty Congress strategist, Rajiv loyalist

Friday March 04, 2011 09:55:54 PM, IANS

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Arjun Singh, a former union minister, chief minister and governor, who made a strong bid to become prime minister in the mid 1990s died here Friday evening. He was 80.   »

New Delhi: Arjun Singh, who died here Friday, was a wily politician who badly wanted to be prime minister at one time, but who saw his ambitions thwarted by the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the man to whom he remained loyal through his life.

Of the many hats he wore during his five-decade long political career, he really came into his own when he was the virtual number two in the cabinet of prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao 1991-96.

As the human resource development minister in the Rao cabinet, Singh was not only responsible for launching the National Literacy Mission but also launched a not-so-covert political mission to unseat Rao when the latter was under siege because of the swirling corruption scandals.

At that time, Singh stayed in 3, Race Course Road, that was still not part of the prime minister's official residence, and it became a hotbed of dissident activity before it ran out of steam and support and ended his prime ministerial aspirations.

But Singh, along with senior colleague Narayan Dutt Tiwari launched a rebel party - Congress (T) - which played spoilsport in the 1996 elections and denied Rao a second innings.

He rejoined the Congress in 1997 after Rao was sidelined in the party. He played a role in prevailing upon Sonia Gandhi to lead the party when it was in a bad shape.

Even though Singh came back to become a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004, he never reconciled to a party junior as his boss and kept taking decisions that were not in tune with the reformist thinking of the prime minister.

He was dropped, much to his displeasure, from the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) cabinet in 2009, and there was speculation that he would be made governor.

He never got the job and died an unhappy man who thought he had been denied by the party that he had served loyally all through his life. On the day of his death, Singh was dropped as a member of the newly announced party working committee and made a permanent invitee.

He was known to be a good and firm administrator and was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and governor of Punjab during challenging times.

Known for his sharp political intellect, Singh started his legislative innings in Madhya Pradesh in 1957.

He rose to become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and continued in the post for almost six years in different tenures.

He was appointed governor of Punjab by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during the height of militancy in the state and worked towards the Rajiv-Longawal accord.

Singh's decision as human resource development minister to provide reservations to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in higher education stoked a controversy leading to an agitation by a section of students.

He was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh when the deadly gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal in 1984.

Singh came to parliament last year to answer charges about his government providing safe passage Warren Anderson, the chief executive officer of Union Carbide, saying he had no role in the episode.

He was working on his autobiography for the past few years which promised to be a tell-tale account of his half-a-century innings in politics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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