NEW DELHI – December 4, 2008 – The leadership of the All India Christian Council (aicc) mourns the death of Mr. Vishwanath Pratap Singh, the Tenth Prime Minister of India, a friend who stood by the invisible Indian, the nation’s religious minorities, and politically marginalised Dalit and lower caste communities.
Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President, said, “V.P. Singh ended thousands of years of disempowerment for the Other Backward Classes who constitute almost half of India’s population and were deliberately kept out of the economic and political power structures. In one of the seminal political actions since India’s independence in 1947, Prime Minister V.P. Singh implemented the report of the Mandal Commission in 1990. Preceding governments ignored these reforms — which brought affirmative action to lower castes — for fear of losing power. His bold actions unleashed the power of social justice on India’s complex pluralist society.” The Commission recommended reserving 27% of jobs in the central government for Other Backward Classes who comprised 52% of the population.
Singh was too ill to speak out when the Christian community – mostly Dalits – suffered unprecedented attacks in Orissa state in December 2007 and again in August 2008, but he privately expressed his deep anguish at the ethnic and religious cleansing. Dr. John Dayal, aicc Secretary General, said, “The All India Christian Council will remember Mr. V.P. Singh as a friend of integrity whom it could call upon for support and advice in its hour of need. We will miss him.”
Singh died on Nov. 27, 2008, after battling a kidney ailment for about twelve years, according to press reports. He was 77 years old. On Nov. 29, 2008, he was cremated at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers as per Hindu tradition. Terrorist attacks in Mumbai overshadowed the death of Singh in the press, but Indian media reports called him an “anti-corruption crusader” and a “messiah of social justice” and pointed out that he headed one of the country’s first coalition governments.
Dr. Dayal, who knew Mr Singh personally over thirty years, recalled a man who marched the streets of New Delhi in January 1999. “He bravely led a massive civil society protest when a Bajrang Dal mob burnt alive Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his sons in Orissa. Since that day, Singh was often the key speaker at rallies and seminars on the protection of minority rights and freedom of faith organised by the aicc. He followed in the noble tradition of Mahatma Phule, a famous Dalit leader, and B.R. Ambedkar, the Dalit author of India’s Constitution – both whom he deeply respected and admired and who defended human rights for all.”Dayal remembered Singh as one of India’s most honest and transparent politicians in recent history, almost ascetic and spartan in public and private life. “He lived in the midst of the often murky political processes, yet Singh maintained a humane persona of an artist and a poet,” said Dayal.
Singh’s lasting contribution to secular and non-sectarian democracy in India is the empowerment of an entire generation of political leaders. It is notable that, during the Mandal political reforms which Singh enacted, a backward community leader named Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav became Chief Minister of Bihar state. Mr. Yadav stopped Mr. Lal Krishna Advani’s bloodstained march in 1990 to tear down a famous mosque by arresting him. It showed India that, given the political will and police cooperation, it was possible to stem the seemingly unstoppable movement of Hindutva. In the decade after he held office as Prime Minister, the politicians Singh inspired acted repeatedly to halt destructive campaigns of ultra-nationalist Hindu groups.
The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.# # #