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Remembering Kalyan Singh: BJP’s first UP chief minister

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, who breathed his last here on Saturday nigh, headed the first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 1991 and was the chief minister when the Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

Singh, an OBC leader, was a cadre’s delight, recalled former minister Rajendra Tiwari, who was UP BJP secretary when Kalyan Singh was the state party chief in 1984.

Soon after becoming chief minister for the first time in 1991, “babuji”, as Kalyan was referred to, summoned top police and administrative officials in the Tilak Hall of Lucknow’s state secretariat for a purpose.

“Our government has been formed with a lot of struggle. The cadres played an important role, taking lathis and bullets .. Just ensure one thing. If our cadres approach you with some work or complaint, be nice to them. Even if you can’t help them for some reason, at least offer them sweets, water …”

Born on January 5, 1932, Singh had a key role in BJP’s rise in Uttar Pradesh.

Handpicked by the late Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader Bhaurao Deoras to head the UP BJP unit after the sudden demise of the party’s first state chief Madhav Prasad Tripathi, Kalyan soon had a job on his hands – countering the Mandal agitation that the RSS feared would divide Hindus on caste lines.

“Deoras told Kalyan to start holding meetings across the state… I remember the late RSS leader telling Kalyan, attache uthao aur sabhayein karon .. (pack your suitcase and start visiting the state to hold meetings),” recalled Tiwari.

Kalyan did as told and his speeches would invariably refer to the agitation for the Ayodhya Ram temple. It was the period in UP when the Congress was on the decline and the period would witness the rise of two powerful, but ideologically opposite OBC leaders in UP who dominated politics for a long time — Kalyan Singh and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav.

As luck would have it, for a brief period of 10 months, Kalyan even did the unthinkable — befriending his ideological rival, getting his son to join the SP, attended the party’s Agra convention and even wore the SP’s ‘red cap’. He would regret the decision later.

“That was a big mistake … I now want to die a BJP man. I have always been a swayamsevak …,” he had shared with HT soon after rejoining BJP.

He left the BJP thrice – twice over differences with party leadership and then in 2014 after being appointed governor of Rajasthan; coming back to the party each time.

“The RSS would never leave him. He was their favourite, who combined Hindutva with backward politics and helped in uniting Hindus. Kalyan himself was livid with Mandal politics and actively participated in meetings to counter the reservation politics of Mandal with what was called Kamandal,” a BJP leader requesting anonymity said.

Shankar Lal Lodhi, a High Court lawyer whose association with Kalyan dates back to 90s, described why Kalyan was an “all-rounder, a leader for all seasons …”

“He was quick to take decisions, never hesitant to call spade a spade, hated criminals, was a stickler for time, valued words and relationships and above all was a tall, true mass leader,” he said.

Shankar said, “One key quality of babuji was his honesty. After the Supreme Court order led to vacation of bungalows by former chief ministers in UP, he never had any house of his own in the state capital.

He later shifted in the residence allotted to his grandson, a minister in the UP government but in case that was not there he would well be living in a rented apartment in Lucknow. Such was his honesty.”

Shankar was also Kalyan’s lawyer in the Babri mosque demolition case. The mosque was demolished with Kalyan as the chief minister on December 6, 1992 and his government was subsequently dismissed.

Among the leaders named in the criminal conspiracy case for the felling of the mosque, Shankar, who was also Kalyan’s lawyer, recalled the former chief minister telling him not to dilute his stance on not firing at the kar sewaks.

“Babuji categorically told me that he would stand by the fact that he asked the police officials in writing not to fire at the kar sewaks who had gathered at the Ayodhya site on the demolition day. He said as chief minister he had asked the police to follow the law, but had specifically prohibited them from opening fire,” Shankar said.

Years later, Kalyan after being exonerated in the case along with other leaders, would proudly recall, “I never wanted to die with blood of kar sewaks on my hands!”

There are innumerable instances of Kalyan not budging once he had taken a decision, no matter how unpleasant.

“I remember as the health minister in the Janata Party government in the 70s, he had transferred all doctors who were posted at one place for a long time. This included some doctors who were close to the BJP including late Dr SC Rai, as also the relative of a BJP functionary. But Kalyan said since a decision had been taken, he would review it only later,” a BJP leader recalled.

In 1998, as a second-term chief minister Kalyan was addressing a public meeting in Amroha when he was informed that his government had been dismissed and Congress leader Jagdambika Pal had been appointed the chief minister.

“Everyone was surprised with the decision of the then governor Romesh Bhandari, who administered the oath of office to Pal at night.

The decision was contested in the high court and Atal ji went on a fast unto death. Subsequently, on the court orders Pal was asked to prove his majority in the assembly which he couldn’t and Kalyan returned to head the BJP government,” BJP leader recalled.

As chief minister, he would be fully updated on developments and wanted his ministers to attend meetings with full details.

“He would do his homework, call up officials at odd hours to know progress … And he hated criminals. At times he would, on coming to know that someone has been booked on rape charge or any other heinous crime, would tell the cop to pursue the case and ensure conviction,” Tiwari said.

“He was a leader who loved a challenge. We don’t know if he was aware that no governor before him had ever completed a full term in office in Rajasthan. Kalyan Singh ji not only completed his term, but did so with great distinction,” Tiwari recalled.

“After being sworn in as Rajasthan governor on September 4, 2014, Kalyan, in his first meeting with vice chancellors, had ordered them to adopt villages.

On coming to know of reports of mass copying in Barmer, Rajasthan, Kalyan had ordered strict action on the college from where it was reported,” Dr Lokesh Chandra Sharma, the then assistant to the Rajasthan governor, recalled in a book containing speeches made by Kalyan Singh as governor.

He also got the Rajasthan government to end the practice of according the guard of honour each time governor visited or left Raj Bhawan for tours.

“He had sent a note to the home department, seeking to know if this practice could be done away with and on being informed that it was possible, he ordered it be followed,” Sharma said.

Years ago, when UP government had decided to ban pan masala on secretariat campus, Kalyan when asked how he will cope with the ban, had said with a smile: “Haan, problem to hogi … par agar niyam hai to palan karenge (Yes, there would be some problem but if it is a rule, we will follow it).”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in a recent tweet acknowledged Kalyan’s vision.

“I also have many memories of my interactions with Kalyan Singh Ji. Several of those memories came back to life. Talking to him has always been a learning experience,” the PM had recently tweeted. Neraly all the top BJP leadership had visited Kalyan Singh in hospital.

“One saw nearly whole of BJP leadership visiting Kalyan Singh ji in hospital. It was BJP’s top leadership’s gesture for a leader who led the party through difficult times in a state which eventually shaped BJP’s rise nationally,” said Irshad Ilmi, a political observer.

News Desk