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2560'Raja saab' all the way

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  • Varun Rattan Singh
    May 30, 2009
      Aditi Phadnis: 'Raja saab' all the way


      The new steel minister is autocratic but no one doubts his efficiency.

      When some reporters took advantage of a small window of opportunity during the melee of ministry-making last week to meet Ahmad Patel, political advisor to the Congress president, he said there would be “some unexpected appointments” in the Council of Ministers. “You will see some surprises” he promised.

      Virbhadra Singh was certainly one such. That a five-time chief minister, a two-term minister of state in the union government and a politician who first became a Member of Parliament in 1962 should not have been on the first list of ministers was odd. Even odder was the fact that a mere stripling in political terms, Anand Sharma, should have been chosen for the G20 (as the first list is being derisively called).

      Virbhadra Singh did divine this much: That Sharma was the personal choice of the Prime Minister. Given that both politicians are from Himachal Pradesh (HP) — and Singh has no opinion on Sharma — suggested to the former that it would help to have a godfather. That’s why, after winning the Mandi seat by a margin of about 13,000 votes, he came to Delhi and went straight to 7 Race Course Road to pay his respects to the PM.

      His detractors got wind of this and told 10 Janpath that it was the PM that ‘Raja Saab’ had gone to meet, not Madam. But it didn’t work. Virbhadra Singh’s name was right on top of the next list of Cabinet ministers that was announced. Thus, the tiny state of Himachal Pradesh has done well by this Council of Ministers — of the total of seven MPs it sends to Parliament (four to the Lok Sabha and three to the Rajya Sabha) there are two Cabinet ministers, making it one Cabinet minister for every three MPs !

      But there was no way Singh could not have been on the list. He has been a performing chief minister. It was under his tenure that the full electrification of Himachal Pradesh was achieved. The last village to get electricity in the state was Kibber, in Spiti, as long ago as 1988! (It is also one of highest villages in the world to have got a road). Through his political career, Singh managed to resist the temptation of the politics that has been staple for other HP politicians — playing Upper Himachal against Lower Himachal. Because the needs and wants of the two regions that comprise this hill state are different, there are few politicians who enjoy equal acceptability in the Kangra region (the heart of Lower Himachal Pradesh that sends 16 seats to the Assembly) and Shimla (the centre for Upper Himachal Pradesh that just has eight seats in the legislature but enjoys disproportionate power). But if Singh has got a four-lane road built for Upper Himachal, he has also ensured that Lower Himachal gets a six-lane road. Himachal Pradesh has a generally higher rate of literacy than the rest of India, second only to Kerala. But during his tenure as chief minister, Singh has made sure that there is no village which doesn’t have a primary school.

      If there is criticism of him, it is because of his autocratic style. He is the last Raja of the Rampur-Bushehr dynasty, and was last chief minister in 2008 when the Congress was ousted in the Assembly elections. At the time, three prominent leaders from Kangra — Vijai Singh Mankotia, Chandresh Kumari and Brij Bihari Butail — were dropped from his Cabinet (2004), leading to screams that he was discriminating against the region. In fact, he dropped them because he suspected the three were ganging up against him. He might have been right, because soon after that Mankotia left the party to become the chief of the Himachal unit of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

      Varun Rattan Singh
      +91 98055 10111

      I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life... to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. - Henry David Thoreau

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