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Raghuvansh Prasad Singh — Lalu’s conscience keeper and the driving force behind NREGA

Former Union minister and veteran Bihar leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who resigned from the RJD Friday, died Sunday morning. He was 74 years old.

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Patna: For over 30 years, veteran Bihar leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was a perfect foil to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The former Union minister, who passed away at AIIMS in New Delhi Sunday morning, evoked respect from all sections of society and the political class, primarily because he had a clean image — unlike his chief of many years, Lalu Yadav.

That cord was cut Friday, when Singh penned a simple two-line resignation letter addressed to Lalu. “I have been standing behind you ever since the demise of Karpoori Thakur for the last 32 years. Not any more,” it read.

Lalu did react, writing back that he did not believe that “Raghuvansh babu” would leave him, adding that the two would sit down and sort it out once the leader recovered.

On Sunday, the RJD chief tweeted his condolences. “Dear Raghuvansh babu! What have you done? I told you the day before yesterday that you are not going anywhere,” Lalu tweeted. “But you have gone so far. I am speechless. I am sad. Will miss you very much.”

The RJD’s Brahm Baba

Singh died around 11 am Sunday after breathlessness and other complications, Kedar Yadav, who remains by the side of the septuagenarian, told PTI.

He was 74 years old.

Singh, whose wife had died earlier, is survived by two sons and a daughter, according to Yadav.

While Singh resigned just before his death, his legacy is synonymous with the RJD. For much of his political career, the former mathematics professor was arguably the second most recognisable RJD leader in the state.

He was also referred to as Brahm Baba (wisely sage) — a nickname coined by Lalu — as he never hesitated in speaking out, even publicly differing with Lalu on a number of occasions.

Ab Brahm baba bolenge, Lalu would say in public meetings knowing that Singh would publicly disagree with him. He was by far the only leader that the RJD chief allowed such freedoms.

A few people would also remember how Singh, then the Union rural development minister, piloted the launch of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in 2005 under the UPA-1 government.

Former PM Manmohan Singh had once lamented that Singh had not been given due credit for launching the NREGA.

Also read: BJP-JD(U) accuse Lalu of meeting ticket-seekers in violation of jail rules, RJD says rubbish

A four-decade political career 

Singh was first elected as an MLA in 1977 on a Sanyukt Socialist Party ticket. He also served as a minister in the late Karpoori Thakur ministry.

A five-term MLA, Singh was also chairman of the Bihar Legislative Council in 1994-95.

He first entered Parliament in 1996. A four-time MP, Singh was always held in high esteem. He was among the few RJD leaders to never promote his family in politics.

When Lalu lost from Madhepura, for the first time, in the 1999 Parliamentary elections, it was Singh who was appointed the RJD leader in the LoK Sabha — he was a stringent critic of the Vajpayee government.

His political decline began in 2014 when he lost to convict-turned-politician Rama Singh from the Vaishali parliamentary seat. Singh lost again in 2019.

Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he went public in opposing his party’s stand on quota for upper castes. “We had promised 5 per cent reservation for poor upper cases in our election manifesto. How can we oppose it now?” Singh had asked Lalu in an open letter.

Also read: RJD and CPI move past Kanhaiya Kumar issue, plan to fight Bihar assembly polls together

The dissent

With the RJD chief in judicial custody in Ranchi, Singh felt more and more isolated in the party.

“Tejashwi introduces me in public meetings and says Raghuvansh babu will speak for five minutes. Even his father dared not give me a time-frame,” he once said.

Recently, Lalu’s eldest son Tej Pratap Yadav declared that if Raghuvash wanted to leave the party, he was free to do so. “It would be like removing a bucket of water from the sea,” Tej Pratap said.

In January 2020, Singh was disturbed by the manner in which the RJD was functioning under Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s second son.

“It will take more than Tejashwi’s face to revive this party. The party needs to launch grassroot agitations. We tried the caste formula, it has failed,” he told this correspondent after he had written an open letter asking for a change in party functioning.

But even in January, he had ruled out any possibility of leaving the RJD. “At this age, where do I go?” Singh had remarked. Yet, his demand was mocked within the party as a move for a Rajya Sabha seat.

The last committed socialist leader of Bihar had effectively been pushed out of the party.

Reacting to his death, Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said “Raghuvansh babu was a good man”. “He was like Karna guiding the Kaurava army,” Modi told ThePrint. “That Lalu could not keep such a man within his party is his failure.”

President Ram Nath Kovind, in his condolence message, said Singh was an “outstanding leader rooted to ground”.

“The passing away of Raghuvansh Prasad Singh is tragic. An outstanding leader rooted to ground, Raghuvansh babu was a true stalwart with phenomenal understanding of rural India. With his spartan and sagely lifestyle, he enriched public life. Condolences to his family & followers,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also paid tribute to Singh while speaking at the launch of petroleum projects in Bihar. “Raghuvansh Prasad Singh is no more among us. His demise has left a void in the political sphere of Bihar as well as the country,” he said.


Also read: Many in RJD old guard are feeling left out, but they’re not blaming Tejashwi Yadav


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