The life and work of former Union minister for rural development and leader of the Rashtirya Janata Dal Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who passed away on Sunday in New Delhi due to Covid-19 related ailments, reflect how a visionary, grassroots level leader can impact the lives of millions of people, and still remain behind the curtain.
One of the chief architects of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which ensured sustenance of millions of rural poor across the country for more than a decade, Dr Singh was the real champion of the cause of rural India.
Dr Singh, a PhD in mathematics and a former professor, had his political baptism in the Jayaprakash movement against the Congress government and the Emergency in the seventies and grew up along with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.
Dr Singh was always part and parcel of the socialist bloc even as it went through several splits and metamorphosis until he sent a resignation letter two days before his death from his party, the RJD.
Dr Singh, who was a five-term Lok Sabha member and a minister in Bihar and Union governments several times, was the face of rural India in the corridors of power.
He never left his rustic characteristics despite his professional and academic standing and being part of the power structure for most part of his political life. He steadfastly worked for the uplift of the rural poor, whose living conditions were very familiar to him.
It took his persuasive skills as well as first hand deep knowledge of the ground situation to get the MGNREGA through, even though it was part of the election manifesto of the first edition of the UPA as many had felt it would put an unnecessary hole in the exchequer without offering commensurate returns.
Today, the scheme is the lifeline of rural India; it has been one of the most efficient routes to reach the people during the pandemic Covid-19. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance were skeptical about it before they came to power.
However, to their credit, they realised its merit and steadily increased budgetary allocations to strengthen it.
Dr Singh also represents the section of leaders with calibre and character who were catapulted to the political leadership while being part of democratic restoration movements.
Oppression by the powers-that-be could recoil into mass movements as was seen in the seventies across India. Such movements would also attract people who would have otherwise gone their way of professional or occupational route.
As Karl Marx said, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Dr Singh belongs to the group of people who made a heroic attempt to change the course of history.
Struggles for restoration of democratic rights are bound to repeat themselves. The sterling legacy Dr Singh leaves behind will no doubt inspire many bright and brilliant boys and girls to follow in his path. That will be the best tribute to him.