By Akhileshwari Raj Anand
Modi’s cabinet shuffle was a stunner as expected, with nine new people inducted and portfolios redistributed among the other ministers. One of these new people was RK Singh, a 64-year-old MP from Bihar. He was entrusted with independent charge over Power and New and Renewable Energy ministries. He has been with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for nearly four years and was previously a Union home secretary and an IAS officer.
He shot to popularity over 26 years ago, when he arrested BJP veteran leader LK Advani in Bihar. This was during Advani’s popular Rath Yatra, when Singh was the District Magistrate of Samastipur. He is also infamously known for alleging that RSS members were a part of a Hindu extremist group responsible for the Samjhauta Express bombings and the Malegaon blasts.
In 1990, when Advani undertook the Rath Yatra from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh, the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav ordered his arrest as they passed through Bihar. He chose two officers for this, one of which was Singh, then serving as a secretary to the Bihar government. These officers were flown in from Patna to Samastipur, and he was the one who went up to Advani in the Circuit House where he was staying and produced his arrest warrant.
This Rath Yatra, the same one that gathered the momentum for the Ram temple in Ayodhya, skyrocketed BJP’s popularity nationally. Six years after Advani’s arrest in Bihar, BJP came to power at the Centre, and Advani became the country’s Home Minister and deputy Prime Minister. Ironically, RK Singh served as the Joint Secretary in the Union Home Ministry under LK Advani himself. Later, he became the Union Home Secretary when the Congress-led UPA government was in power.
It was during his tenure as the Home Secretary that Singh’s ministry infamously used the term “saffron terrorism” to refer to the bombings allegedly carried out by saffron groups. Singh then distanced himself from the phrase in December 2013, when he joined the BJP after his retirement. He stated that the term had been coined by the then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and that he had never used the term.
However, when investigations were conducted about the alleged saffron group terrorism, his statements explicitly linked the RSS to the incidents of bombings in the country, including the Samjhauta Express and Malegaon blasts. RK Singh stated that there was evidence of men associated with the RSS being involved in these bombings. He went on to list the names of a few such men who he said were associated with the RSS “at one point or the other”.
Distribution of party tickets to criminals
His critical statements did not end even after he joined the party in late 2015. He lashed out at his party for “selling tickets” in Bihar ahead of the 2015 Assembly elections. In what BJP classified as Singh’s personal views, he criticised the party for giving tickets to criminals while ignoring popular leaders. The BJP lost that election, although Singh went on to become an MP from the Arrah constituency.
The career of RK Singh has indeed come full circle, these interesting twists culminating with a place in Modi’s cabinet. As expected, the cabinet shuffle delivered several surprises. Apart from Singh’s selection, Nirmala Sitharaman was named the Defence Minister, only the second woman in India-first one was Indira Gandhi-to hold this crucial portfolio. With Singh being given independent charge as a Minister, the BJP’s intention is clear, to keep its enemies close, despite the bitter past.
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