His arrogance is the talk of the town, and he is known to have a loose tongue too. Given these traits in a polarised atmosphere — coupled with a court case of land grabbing — it’s not difficult to analyse voters’ perception about Congress MP Lal Singh.
Lal Singh has been hogging the limelight for his comments, which are often controversial. Vocal against “anti-national forces”, he has been a supporter of the Village Defence Committee (VDC) model, which is strong in the Doda region. He is also highly critical of the BJP’s “communal” brand of politics, something that had earned him support of Muslims.
He first shot to fame in his two-year stint (2002-04) as Jammu and Kashmir health minister, when he made an attempt to streamline the system, especially in rural and far-off areas. It was a major factor in his 2004 Lok Sabha poll victory. But, in the process, he antagonised not only doctors but also many others for his “arrogant” behaviour. The backlash over the growing arrogance came in 2008, when he sought to re-enter the assembly but could not even salvage his security deposit from Kathua segment. His wife also lost, from the neighbouring Basholi constituency. Then, as he contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 and won with a narrow margin of around 13,000 votes over the BJP, he reportedly said he would “see” the people who had voted against him. It again strengthened the view that he was arrogant.
Last year, the state vigilance commission, in a case dating back to 2006, indicted Lal Singh for grabbing 92 kanals of land. The MP blamed a Right to Information (RTI) activist for “defaming” him. The matter remains in court.
“I don’t think he would be able to repeat his performance, especially when a ‘Modi wave’ is also there,” said Kathua MLA Charanjit Singh, a former bureaucrat who defeated Lal Singh as an independent candidate in the 2008 assembly polls.
Communal violence in Kishtwar last year, in which three people had died, polarised the political atmosphere in Doda district comprising seven assembly seats. The Congress had won six of these seats in the last polls, despite an anti-Congress sentiment in Jammu on account of the 2008 Amarnath land row. Observers attributed the success to the stature of union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who belongs to Doda.
Lal Singh can gain most of his votes from these constituencies. “Muslims will probably not vote for him, and Hindus are surely going for the BJP. It leaves him in a very precarious position,” says Arvind Sharma, a resident of Kishtwar. The erstwhile Doda district had about 45% Hindu population.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had secured about 30,000 votes the last time with a Rajput candidate, has now given the ticket to a Muslim, and is hoping to double its votes by cutting into Lal’s kitty. Probably the only saving grace for him is the National Conference-Congress alliance, and Azad’s personal interest.