Chandigarh: On Sunday, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), one of the umbrella bodies leading the farmer’s agitation in Delhi, removed its national convenor V.M. Singh from the post.
Singh had gone against the grain — while farmers have been steadfast in their demand for the repeal of the three laws, the AIKSCC convenor had Saturday offered to hold separate talks with the government to bring in a legislation for guaranteed minimum support price (MSP).
With the stalemate continuing without any resolution, despite six rounds of talks, agitating farmers said the move against Singh was to contain “fresh attempts” to fuel divisions among farmer bodies after attempts at discrediting them as Khalistanis, Naxalites and ‘tukde tukde gang’ failed.
Singh responded by wondering “what wrong he had done”.
Addressing his supporters at the Ghazipur border Wednesday evening, Singh rued that he had been removed despite the fact that he was the one who started this agitation in June. “What wrong have I said that it has led to this? All I said was that MSP should be guaranteed to us for every crop. That will automatically make the three acts redundant,” he said.
By then, Singh had already made waves on social media after the BJP targeted him over his assets. The party’s IT cell head, Amit Malviya, tweeted that when Singh contested Lok Sabha polls on a Congress ticket against the BJP’s Varun Gandhi — who is Singh’s nephew — at UP’s Pilibhit in 2009, he had declared a net worth of Rs 632 crore.
Fascinating profile of those behind the stir!
Meet Sardar V M Singh of All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. Contested Pilibhit on Congress ticket in 2004 (against Maneka Gandhi) and 2009 (opposite Varun Gandhi). Lost every time. Had declared net worth of 632 crore back (2009) then! pic.twitter.com/f9TG726mfc
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) December 13, 2020
Much like his assets and his presence in the farmer protests that has raised eyebrows, Singh reflects a bundle of other contradictions. While he has contested on a Congress ticket, Singh is the first cousin of former BJP minister Maneka Gandhi.
And despite virtually leading the planning of the Delhi Chalo agitation, he almost gave it up.
Broke ranks before Delhi Chalo
Singh, as the national convenor of the AIKSCC, was part of the seven-member farmer committee that had to execute the entire ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest. Besides, he also had to mobilise farmers from Western UP for ‘Delhi Chalo’.
But just ahead of the 26 November Delhi march, Singh posted a video message on his Facebook page, urging agitating farmers not to head to the national capital because of the Covid-19 pandemic. He warned that all of them would “fall sick” as there were “no arrangements” for them to stay for the nights.
The next day, when thousands of farmers managed to reach the Singhu border, Singh posted another video message, this time asking the farmers to shift to the Burari ground. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had the same demand.
“Singh was removed from the seven-member executive committee then, after which we have had nothing to do with him,” Dr Darshan Pal, president of Kranti Kisan Union Punjab and member of the AIKSCC working group, told ThePrint.
Singh along with some of his supporters shifted to the Burari Ground and was camping there until recently, when he addressed a press conference saying that the government had taken him and 55 other farmer leaders with him at the Burari grounds for a “ride”.
“We were told that the organisations at Burari will be called for meetings with the government but we are not being called for these meetings,” he said.
On 3 December, Singh shifted from the Burari ground to the Ghazipur border.
Maneka Gandhi’s cousin
A former MLA from Pilibhit, 61-year-old V.M. Singh is a rich politician and kisan leader from western UP. He has been fighting for the setting up of procurement centres for paddy and better prices for crops. Apart from the AIKSCC, he is the convener of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan that fought a successful legal battle for the payment of cane dues with interest to sugarcane farmers.
He is the first cousin of former union minister and BJP leader Maneka Gandhi. His father and Maneka’s mother are siblings. In an interview to Outlook magazin in 2016, Singh said that once Maneka and he were “thick as thieves”. He said he had helped her win when she contested from Pilibhit in the 1989 general elections as the Janata Dal candidate. And when she became the union minister for state for environment and forests that year, he was her special secretary.
Singh fought the Pilibhit assembly elections in 1993 as the Janata Dal candidate and won.
Maneka Gandhi and Singh fell apart in 1996 when he says, in the same interview, he discovered his passion for agitating for farmers and she for animals. He and Maneka’s family also fought a three-decade-long battle for property that finally ended in 1995. Even while the battle was going on, we had cordial relations, he says in the interview.
Singh has had a series of electoral defeats in the past 20 years. In the 2002 assembly polls, he contested as an Independent candidate from Puranpur but lost to the BJP candidate. In 2004, as the Congress candidate, he contested the parliamentary elections against Maneka Gandhi and lost. In the 2007 assembly polls, he contested as the Congress candidate from Puranpur and came in second after the BSP candidate.
In 2009, he contested as the Congress candidate against Maneka’s son and his nephew Varun but lost. In the 2012 assembly polls, he contested as the Trinamool Congress candidate from Barkhera in UP and lost.
Rich and controversial
In the interview to Outlook, Singh said that his grandfather Sir Datar Singh and Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan swapped lands in West Pakistan during Partition and that is how his family came to own 1,500 acres of land, of which 1,200 acres was spread in Muzaffarnagar and 300 acres in Punjab khor North West Delhi. He still has about 200 acres of the Punjab khor land.
He also claimed that his grandfather was instrumental in developing the Sahiwal cow breed and the green revolution in 1967-68 began from his farm in Delhi.
In 2009, while contesting against Varun Gandhi, he declared his net worth at Rs 632 crore and became the richest candidate in the fray in those elections.
According to his affidavit, he owned over Rs 400 crore worth of agricultural land and Rs 200 crore worth non-agricultural land. His assets, including the cost of his house, added to Rs 632 crore.
In December 2015, Singh launched his own political outfit — the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Party — ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in UP.
He fielded 21 candidates, all of whom lost their deposits. In 2019, he was expecting a ticket from the Congress again but was ignored.
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