From all available indications, it’s the end of the road in the Congress set-up for party stalwarts Arjun Singh and Buta Singh. The septuagenarians reached the pinnacle of their careers under Rajiv Gandhi.
The former human resource development (HRD) minister has three years to go as Rajya Sabha member. He continues to be a member of the party’s highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee. But that’s to avoid a bitter parting or a showdown.
Buta, who, like Arjun, worked closely with Rajiv at the height of the Punjab militancy of the 1980s, might also retain chairmanship of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes for another year, when his term expires. But that’s for old times’ sake.
The new reality doesn’t appear hunky-dory. The duo’s exclusion from recent gubernatorial postings is proof of the Congress leadership running out of patience with them.
Overlooked for a cabinet slot, Arjun was never considered for governorship, leave alone being accommodated, like another cabinet-discard H.R. Bhardwaj, in any of the vacant Raj Bhawans.
For his part, Buta is on a long wait for an audience with party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Arjun is in the cold for his censorious laments over the leadership’s “disregard” of loyalty. He’s also paying the price for the way he ran the HRD ministry, and his daughter Veena Singh’s political ambitions that saw her contest the recent Lok Sabha polls as an Independent from Madhya Pradesh. She lost the election, and her father the clout he wielded in the party.
Buta also contested against a party candidate from Rajasthan. He has since sought the leadership’s forgiveness which isn’t forthcoming. “I’m a lifelong Congressman committed to the party’s leadership and its ideology,” Buta, 75, told HT. He said contrary to reports, he hasn’t been served any expulsion order, not yet.
Perhaps for that reason, he clings on to the SC panel amid unmistakable signs that he no longer enjoys the party’s trust that fetched him the cabinet-rank position under the pervious UPA regime. Sonia hasn’t responded to his meeting request, and a letter he wrote explaining the “circumstances” in which he fought the polls.
Arjun, 78, wasn’t available for comments as he’s abroad. Sources close to him claimed he never raised the loyalty issue to question the leadership. The PM thanked him in a letter for helping the party return to power but expressed inability to find him a cabinet berth.
But Sonia hasn’t discussed with Arjun his exclusion from the government. That must have been an “unusual experience” for the party veteran who was thrice Madhya Pradesh chief minister, central minister for commerce, communications and HRD. The 1985 Rajiv-Longowal pact he brokered as Punjab Governor fetched him the “unique honour” of being made Congress vice-president under Rajiv.
For his part, Buta was Rajiv’s home minister during the difficult period of reconstruction of the Akal Takht after Operation Bluestar.
That’s past. The future holds scant hope for him and Arjun, whose stint in the HRD ministry is now under scanner.