V P Singh: A PM Destined To Fall

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V P Singh became Prime Minister in Dec 1989, riding an anti-corruption wave. But his government – a mix of leftist, centrist and right-wing politicians – was riddled with crisis and conflict. It lasted only 11 months.

Janata Dal symbol | Wikimedia Commons
Janata Dal symbol | Wikimedia Commons

Singh came to power after he exposed corruption in the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government. He blew the lid off the Bofors scam and successfully rallied the Opposition.

Chandrashekhar had tried to derail Singh’s selection as Prime Minister. As an alternative, Haryana leader Devi Lal was offered the post. Chandrashekhar supported this but Devi Lal declined. Instead, he suggested Singh’s name.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

Barely a week after Singh was sworn in to lead a minority government in December 1989, Kashmiri militants kidnapped Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in Srinagar.

Rubaiya was freed after the government set free five jailed militants but this led to instability in Jammu & Kashmir, which contributed to the rise of militancy in the Valley.

Devi Lal | Wikimedia Commons
Devi Lal | Wikimedia Commons

In mid-1990, Singh was forced to sack Devi Lal from the Cabinet due to differences with the Janata Dal. Lal was a Jat leader from Haryana. In response to the sack, he called a rally of farmers in Delhi.

Devi Lal was capable of garnering support from the OBC leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had emerged as powerful OBC leaders and were heading governments in UP and Bihar. It would be disastrous for the Janata Dal if they joined Devi Lal.

To win over the OBC leaders, Singh fished out the Mandal Commission Report. It was vehemently opposed by the privileged classes, and protests erupted when Singh said he would implement its recommendations.

The agitation against this decision turned violent when a Delhi University student, Rajiv Goswami, immolated himself, triggering other such incidents across North India. Caste-based violence also erupted.

Murli Manohar Joshi and L K Advani
Murli Manohar Joshi and L K Advani

The BJP felt reservations would divide Hindu society, which it was trying to unite on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue. In response to the Mandal report, BJP President L K Advani launched a Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat and it was to end in Ayodhya. The yatra left a trail of communal riots across the country.

Advani was arrested in Bihar by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and an angry BJP withdrew its support to the V P Singh government. When thousands of kar sevaks attempted to storm the Babri Masjid, they were fired upon by the police and dozens were killed.

Chandrashekhar
Chandrashekhar

On 7th November 1990, Singh resigned as PM. Two days earlier, the Janata Dal had split, with 54 MPs joining Chandrashekhar. Singh left a nation divided and fraught by caste and religious violence.

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