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V P Singh changed political course through quota

india Updated: Nov 28, 2008 02:03 IST

Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who cobbled a coalition of the Left and BJP to dethrone Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 elections, played the reservation card a year later that irreversibly changed the course of Indian politics, bringing to the fore the power of backward classes and Dalits in electoral politics.

The 77-year-old 'Raja of Manda', a sobriquet he earned because of his origins in the principality of Manda in Uttar Pradesh's Fathepur, entered politics in Allahabad during the Nehru era and soon made a name for his rectitude.

He earned the title of 'Mr Clean' despite occupying positions of power, including the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh which he had resigned in the early 80s when his brother was killed by dacoits, and as Minister at the Centre.

Singh resigned as Defence Minister after he was shifted from Finance in 1987 at the height of his campaign against leading industrialists on the issue of tax evasion and later took on the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by quitting Congress on the issue of Bofors scandal.

Forming Jan Morcha, an amalgam of disgruntled Congressmen, he later became the pivot around which the opposition came together to dethrone Congress to give the first non-Congress coalition at the Centre, supported by the Left parties and the BJP from outside.

At the height of his political fight with Gandhi, Singh faced the 'dirty tricks' department of the government which allegedly sought to sully his name by fabricating illicit accounts in the name of his son Ajeya Singh in tax havens abroad.

Singh, an upper caste Thakur, surprised the nation by introducing the concept of reservation in Central services by an executive order, an issue that was hanging fire for decades under the earlier Congress regimes.

His critics would argue that he played the reservation card when he was faced with political challenge from the late Congress leader, Devi Lal, who was the deputy prime minister in the fractious Janata Dal-led National Front Government he headed for 11 months from December 1989.

That Devi Lal joined Singh's detractor Chandrasekhar to topple his government with help from Congress after BJP withdrew support to him on the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Singh also heralded the concept of outside support and brought sworn enemies -- Left and BJP -- into an informal Coordination Committee that ran his government.

His coalition also brought regional parties like DMK, Telugu Desam and Asom Gana Parishad into the Union Government, a trend that has continued ever since except during the five-year term of late P V Narasimha Rao.