Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's heart always beat for India's villages
Even when he was a union minister, the gates of Singh's New Delhi residence were always open for those wishing to meet him. He was one leader his workers would walk in and meet without carrying a mobile phone. Whether he was in Delhi, or he was in Bihar, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's heart always beat for the villages.by Kumar Anshuman
The right man in the wrong party: that is how many people who knew Raghuvansh Prasad Singh thought of him. Some would have told this on his face as well. But the late RJD leader cared less. For him, the commitment to his ideology - he was a disciple of the late socialist icon Karpoori Thakur - and his leader, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, mattered more.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh stood with Lalu Prasad till almost the very end. In 2009, when the UPA returned to power a second time , the RJD was not part of the alliance as it had contested along with the Samajwadi Party. Post elections, RJD was not part of the new cabinet, but Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were keen to have Raghuvansh Babu in. Singh even got a hint from Lalu Prasad that he was free to take the offer. But he denied it saying he was not going to be part of a team which did not have Lalu and his party.
In October 2013, when Lalu was convicted in the fodder scam case and went to jail in Ranchi, Singh met and gave him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. “Mahatma Gandhi also used to keep a Bhagwad Gita with him. Reading this would give you courage to tide over the crisis. You would be out of jail, by the time you would read half of it,” he told his party chief.
Despite being an active Opposition political activist in the 70s, he was not arrested during the Emergency. “Everyone got arrested, and police raided my house every second day,” he once told this reporter. “I wore a banian and dhoti and roamed around the villages barefooted. Whoever saw me thought I am a farmer in dirty clothes.” Singh had a Phd in Mathematics.
This image of a villager stuck, and Singh too always had the villages of the country in his thoughts. The portfolio he handled gave him enough opportunity to work for villages. In 1996-97, he was the minister of state for animal and husbandry, and later for food and consumer affairs with independent charge in the United Front Government. In 2004, he became a minister for rural development in the UPA-1.
His contribution to MNREGA as a rural development minister is one of his lasting legacies. The work carried out under the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana too was a grand success. People in Bihar would remember how village connectivity improved during his tenure as rural development minister in UPA-1.
Singh's knowledge of villages and rural issues is astounding, and there was information which only he had. In March 1998, while speaking on the motion in the Lok Sabha to pass the Railway Budget, he said: “More than one crore people travel every day in trains and more than one crore tons of goods are also carried by freight trains. India has one crore forty lakh bullock carts and each cart carries one ton of goods every day. In total the goods carried by cart are much more than that by Railway.”
Singh always spoke his mind and would never mince his words, making him a dissenting voice within or outside the party. In 2014, when Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP demanded more seats in UPA, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said first they needed to have candidates. “Pehle pahlwan dikhao fir apna hissa maango’’ (First show your wrestlers, then demand your share). This one line troubled Paswan so much that he went on to become part of the NDA.
In 2015, after the Grand Alliance came to power in Bihar, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh wouldn’t stop attacking Nitish Kumar on governance issues. A number of times JD(U) leaders asked Lalu to reign him in. But neither did Lalu ask him, nor did he change his ways. But that didn't prevent him from being willing to compromise and patch up with Kumar in the 2019 general elections in the larger interests of keeping the BJP out of power. Although it never happened, Singh kept raising the topic, which the young guns of his party didn't like, and the troubles started from there. He was also unhappy with his party leaders for not strengthening the organizational structure before the upcoming assembly elections, and for not moving out among the people.
Even when he was a union minister, the gates of Singh's New Delhi residence were always open for those wishing to meet him. He was one leader his workers would walk in and meet without carrying a mobile phone. Whether he was in Delhi, or he was in Bihar, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's heart always beat for the villages.