Beyond his 1947 controversial remark lies Lal Singh’s opportunistic political enterprise — soaked in Rajput pride, the hoodlum conduct and his rabble politics. But now the shamed and sacked minister’s campaign for the Kathua rapists in guise of a CBI probe demand has apparently laid bare the ‘communal’ politics he once layered with secular smokescreen.
As he continues to behave like a dumped politician running wild in the polarised Jammu, Lal Singh’s history is increasingly coming in way of his former congress colleagues’ memory.
Somewhere in mid-2000, remembers Gulsher Khan, the senior congress worker who as an RTI activist blew the lid over the RSS’s camp construction in the heart of Srinagar post-2014 floods, a militant Lal Singh walked inside Congress office in Srinagar. The occasion was celebratory: Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed had been appointed as the Pradesh Congress chief.
A resounding silence followed when a limping Singh stepped in with a hockey stick in his hand.
“Dragging a fractured leg, he had arrived to congratulate Peerzada Sahab in his typical gunda-style: ‘Peerzada Sahab, Badaye houn! Ye hockey leejiye aur maariye oun congress ministero ke pichwade pe, jo perform nahi karte’ (Mr. Peerzada, hit the butts of non-performing congress ministers with this hockey stick.) He left everyone red-faced in the room.”
Like a sycophant, Khan says, Singh had showed up that day to massage the ego of his new boss. “We knew he was a hothead, but communal? No way!” he says. “He showed his true colours once he changed his political camp.”
In his new political camp, he unabashedly participated in the pro-rapist outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch. Even after he faced flak and resigned as Mehbooba Mufti’s forest minister, Singh played a rabble-rouser, demanding the CBI probe and a narco test for the Kathua rape-murder accused.
But even before trending his “political martyr” image in the polarised province, Singh had throughout played it quite canny.
In his hometown Kathua, many term Singh as a political mugger, who believes in might is right politics. “Much of that comes from his undue pride in his surname ‘Chaudhary’, giving him some supposed airs of a headman. He wears a false pride, as his forefathers used to till lands,” says Ashitosh Sharma, a trader from Kathua, who has seen Singh’s rise from his college days.
As a student leader at Kathua Degree College, where he graduated in Humanities in 1982, Singh harped on the populist politics and always flirted with the ruling camp.
In 1996, he won from Basholi on a Congress ticket. The step served as the specimen of Singh’s chance politics, many say. He hails from Kathua, but chose to make inroads in “Rajput” populated Basholi. Based on his constituency works, Singh remains a model MLA-minister for his coterie, as well as his cabal.
After being re-elected in 2002 assembly elections, he was inducted as minister for health and medical education in Congress-PDP coalition government. By 2004, he was elected as MP in 14th Lok Sabha elections from Udhampur constituency, the seat he retained in 2009.
But after Congress fielded veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhampur seat in 2014, Singh criticised Congress’s politics of ‘deceit’ and ‘deception’. Amid the rising sway of Narendra Modi and BJP in Indian politics, he joined BJP in presence of the party’s national president Amit Shah in Kathua. Many in BJP camp were averse to his inclusion. Apparently they didn’t want a ‘hothead’ in their party-fold.
On a day of making his formal entry into BJP, he chided Azad for having prior information about Afzal Guru’s hanging. But the timing and the stage of his outburst made many believe that Singh-type politician don’t belong to any camp. And now when he is even playing politics over the gruesome rape-murder of a child at Kathua, many stand vindicated.
“Lal Singh once told me that his father Saran Singh had a Leftist bent of mind, and that he considered himself a comrade,” says Er Rasheed, with whom Singh had his face-offs in the state assembly. “But he turned out to be a rabid communal.”
The Langate lawmaker known for his firebrand politics sees Singh as “an arrogant, reticent man of a mercurial temprament”.
“Citing JK’s Special Status, Singh as forest minister opposed the implementation of the Forest Act in J&K, which otherwise ensures the rights of nomads on forests,” Rasheed says. “If the PDP-BJP government had no shame to implement the nasty central laws like GST and others in J&K in an open violation to Art 370, then why was a harmless act ensuring protection to tribals opposed tooth and nail?”
The crime motive of the Kathua rape-murder case—“to drive out Muslim nomads from their lands”—makes Singh’s reservation on the Forest Act quite clear.
But as his belligerence is now manifesting into rallies and processions in Jammu, Singh is fast shedding the last vestiges of the so-called secular credentials he once wore as his political belief.
On April 17, after being shamed and sacked for showing and speaking in the pro-rapist outfit rally, the miffed Singh dared an Indian news channel to wrestle with him. Apparently Singh wasn’t pleased the way “national” media was suddenly giving “so much of” coverage to a crime which otherwise happened early in the year.
“To Lal Singh we say,” the news channel replied, “come wrestle with us because this entire nation has no place for rapists or pro-rapists.”
In one of his rallies earlier, Singh had dared the news channel: “There’re people getting jittery and are speaking against us … I’ve an entire army. If you want to wrestle, come here.”
For somebody whose politics is largely based on the muscle over mind logic, wrestling does qualify for the favourite sports. Besides organising many wrestling competitions, he inaugurated the newly built wrestling ring—named after him—in Kathua last year.
Having no remorse for standing in solidarity with the pro-rapist outfit, he terms his resignation as a step to salvage the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is coming from the man who as a congressman once made mockery of Modi. “We even keep a dog on the basis of his pedigree, but this man [Modi], what’s his pedigree…”
He even rebuked a Sikh reporter over his presence in the rally and termed the brutal gang-rape and murder of the girl from the nomadic Bakerwal community as Mehbooba Mufti’s “biggest failure”.
“He is only riding high on the political wave,” says Satpal Singh, a Jammu-based lawyer. “By terming justice campaign and Crime Branch charge-sheet as a ‘disinformation campaign’ against Dogras, he is now ably exploiting the polarised mood for his own political benefit.” But the saddest part remains, the lawyer says, Singh’s motorcade campaign and speeches in towns are drawing crowds.
While all this appears his desperate bid to rebrand his political identity in the run-up to 2020 assembly elections, Singh’s controversial past needs a revisit.
As Mehbooba’s cabinet minister, he endlessly received bad press, either for misbehaving with a female doctor or inappropriately touching another female medico’s collar. He even sent a health employee behind bars over his office absence.
Fed up, his own party prepared a “pile of evidences” on his repeated misconduct and leaked the details of his involvement with the power brokers in the Health Department to press.
But if Singh was simply a wacky disciplinarian as health minister, then he was playing “bigger games” as forest minister, as per his detractors.
He would keep a close tab on the Gujjar-Bakerwal community living in forests. Many say, he even presided over the multiple Muslim evictions from Jammu forests. Not only he advocated the idea of dismantling the traditional Gujjar dokhas, but also tried to deny the ancestral jungle space to tribals.
In between, he literally took Kashmir to Jammu, by planting 40,000 Chinar saplings there.
And when a Gujjar delegation from Udhampur met him related to some forest notice in 2016, Singh reminded them of 1947 mayhem. After facing music in and outside the assembly, he “clarified” that “he had talked about 47 degree temperature, not 1947 year”. The response made many believe that Singh is full of dark humour.
But the Gujjar delegation and leaders accused him of lying through his teeth. “The outburst of the minister is the perfect reflection of the mindset of RSS and the Sangh Parivar,” Jammu’s Muslim Action Committee reacted.
In Kashmir, he kept fishing in troubled waters — even advocating Syed Ali Geelani’s continuous detention. The Hurriyat patriarch’s name has intriguingly resurfaced in his rallies and speeches. Ever since sacked, he has been charging Mehbooba Mufti with hatching a “deep-rooted conspiracy” with Geelani “to demonise, humiliate and discredit the ethnic Dogra minority of the state”.
Despite fanning tempers, many in Jammu know him the man who as a health minister once blamed ‘a weak SHO’ for drug menace in the society. But when his own nephew Mohit Singh alias Munna was caught with 6.4 gm narcotics, he maintained a sage’s innocence.
Munna is Lal Singh’s younger brother Rajinder Singh Bubby’s son. Among other things, Munna told the police interrogators in November 2015 that his father had not married his mother formally.
Unlike his nephew, Singh’s affidavit that he filed in 2014 carries no criminal record.
“But the paper details won’t undo Lal Singh’s thug life,” says Gulsher Khan, Singh’s onetime congress colleague.
Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.