The 25th death anniversary of former Prime Minister VP Singh came and went on November 27. Few remembered the politician whose government had implemented the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC-ST) Act way back in 1989.

In the midst of present day demands for a caste census, how can it be forgotten that it was Singh who was the first to suggest that a fixed quota of all jobs in the public sector be reserved for members of the historically disadvantaged communities known as the Other Backward Classes (OBC).

The former Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP) was passionate about preventing atrocities against members of the SC and ST and when he discovered that the provisions of the existing laws were inadequate to check crimes against fellow citizens, he took measures to deliver justice in society.

During his time the practice of untouchability was made a non-compoundable offence and people had hesitated to practise the offence. Despite his life-long struggle against all forms of social injustice, the memory of the good work done by Singh seems to have faded in the collective memory of the country.

Singh was born on June 25 1931 in an ‘upper caste’ family of landlords settled on the banks of the River in district Allahabad. Adopted by the ruler of Manda the Raja Bahadur Ram Gopal Singh was heir-apparent of this territory. He was born in the lap of royalty, but his heart had tugged for the large majority of the country’s population that remains poor and illiterate.

He is one of the few politicians who seemed to have cared for the poor, homeless and unemployed. Singh had spent his life trying to deliver justice so that all citizens of the country could lead a relative life of dignity without fear of violence or discrimination.

Although a ‘king’ in the mediaeval sense of the word he was not a monarchist, but a socialist at heart. A follower of Jayaprakash Narayan, Singh had founded the Janata Dal coalition on the socialist leader’s birthday on October 11 in 1988 by the merger of the Jan Morcha, Lok Dal and the Congress (S).

Singh had formed a coalition after he left the Congress Party in opposition to charges against the party leadership of corruption in the Bofors deal in 1989. He had defeated Rajiv Gandhi at the ballot box and taken on money bags like the Ambanis in favour of government owned institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation.

Singh’s coalition included the Left parties and the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet an arrest warrant was issued against L. K. Advani when the senior BJP leader’s Rath Yatra Singh had threatened to rip apart the secular fabric of the country.

Part of Singh’s Janata Dal coalition were regional parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Under the leadership of Singh, the Janata Dal had ruled in five states with Samajwadi Party (SP) founder and the late socialist leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in charge in UP.

It was the dream of Singh to implement pressing social justice issues so that he could strengthen the caste coalition that had supported him. Today Singh might have been forgotten by others but not by the DMK or the SP in Lucknow.

Another Call for Caste Census

For the same reason SP chief Akhilesh Yadav flew down at the invitation of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin to participate in the unveiling of V. P Singhs’ statue at Chennai’s Presidency College campus last Monday.

Stalin said that if UP was Singh’s motherland then Tamil Nadu was his fatherland. The life size statue of Singh cost nearly Rs 52.2 lakhs to build and is the only one outside Singh’s home state of UP.

The event was used by Stalin to reiterate his demand to the Centre for a caste census along with the national population census.

As widespread demonstrations against Singh’s call for job reservations by mostly ‘upper caste’ youngsters had rocked the country at that time, a senior journalist recalled Singh telling him three decades ago that the future will surely reveal him one day as a messiah of the OBC.

During his lifetime, Singh faced tumultuous times especially after he had granted 27 percent reservation to the OBCs on the recommendation of the Mandal Commission. Stalin remembered his father, the late DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, having supported Singh joyously in the spirit of their shared commitment to social equality.

The Socialist Conclave

By continuing to talk today of the need for proportionate reservations, Stalin is keeping Singh’s legacy of social justice alive. Stalin said that together with Yadav, he feels that all of them are part of Singh’s family which is a pan-India social justice family.

“V. P. Singh was born in Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh also belongs to the same state. The former chief minister of UP, the present leader of the Opposition (in the state), the future chief minister, my dear brother Akhilesh is visiting here. He’s the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav who was nurtured by Ram Manohar Lohia, V P Singh’s favourite leader,” Stalin said, adding that the presence of Yadav had given a national dimension to the occasion.

Yadav had joined Stalin in paying tribute to Singh. He said that social policies are the pillar of his politics. It is a long, tough fight but together with Stalin and the DMK, the SP is determined to safeguard the interest of the backward communities and the minorities.

Bridging the North-South Divide

Yadav’s presence in South India beside Stalin is also expected to act as a bridge between North and South India, and as glue for the partners of the I.N.D.I.A grand alliance of opposition political parties.

It may be recalled that many eyebrows were raised in the north after Udhayanidhi had talked last September about the need to eradicate Sanatana Dharma as he found it against the idea of social justice. Udhayanidhi was speaking at a writers' conference in Chennai where he said Sanatana Dharma cannot just be opposed, but it must be eradicated.

The Tamil Nadu minister argued that he found the idea regressive to divide people on the basis of caste and gender. This way of thinking according to him was fundamentally opposed to equality and to social justice.

The statement had embarrassed the alliance partners like the Congress, Shiv Sena and the Trinamool Congress. The BJP had accused the entire alliance of being anti-Hindu. Stalin junior’s comments had triggered a massive backlash on social media as well, with many calling for a case to be filed against the Tamil Nadu minister.