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Veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh is dead

Friday March 04, 2011 07:09:57 PM, IANS

New Delhi: Congress leader Arjun Singh, a former union minister, chief minister and governor, who made a strong bid to become prime minister in the mid-1990s, died of cardiac arrest in a hospital here Friday evening. He was 80.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

"He was in the hospital for the last 15 days. He was shifted to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) yesterday (Thursday). He was suffering from chronic diseases," All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director R.C. Deka told IANS.

"He was on life support," Deka added.

A staunch loyalist of the Gandhi family, Arjun Singh was twice the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, governor of Punjab and commerce and human resource minister at the centre.

On Friday, Singh was named a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee.

As soon as the word spread about his death, senior Congress leaders and workers thronged his official residence 17, Ashoka Road. As the crowd soon surged, traffic policemen tried to control the vehicular movement outside the bungalow as numerous OB vans and the visitors' vehicles jostled for parking space on both sides of the carriageway. At AIIMS, his body was embalmed, before it was taken to his residence.

Singh was a wily politician who badly wanted to be prime minister at one time, but who saw his ambitions thwarted by the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the man to whom he remained loyal through his life.

The first one to react on his death was Congress president Sonia Gandhi. "I express deep sorrow on his death," she said.

Of the many hats Singh wore during his five-decade long political career, he really came into his own when he was the virtual number two in the cabinet of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao 1991-96.

As the human resource development minister in the Rao cabinet, Singh was not only responsible for launching the National Literacy Mission but also launched a not-so-covert political mission to unseat Rao when the latter was under siege because of the swirling corruption scandals.

He along with senior colleague Narayan Dutt Tiwari launched a rebel party - Congress (T) - which played spoilsport in the 1996 elections and denied Rao a second innings. He rejoined the Congress in 1997 after Rao was sidelined in the party. He played a role in prevailing upon Sonia Gandhi to lead the party when it was in a bad shape.

He came back to become a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004. He was dropped, much to his displeasure, from the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) cabinet in 2009, and there was speculation that he would be made governor.

He was known to be a good and firm administrator and was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and governor of Punjab during challenging times. Known for his sharp political intellect, Singh started his legislative innings in Madhya Pradesh in 1957. He held the post for almost six years in different tenures.

He was appointed governor of Punjab by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during the height of militancy in the state and worked towards the Rajiv-Longawal accord.

Singh's decision as human resource development minister to provide reservations to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in higher education stoked a controversy leading to an agitation by a section of students.

He was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh when the deadly gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal in 1984.

Singh came to parliament last year to answer charges about his government providing safe passage to Warren Anderson, the chief executive officer of Union Carbide, saying he had no role in the episode.

He was working on his autobiography for the past few years which promised to be a tell-tale account of his half-a-century innings in politics.

In her condolence message, President Pratibha Patil said: "In his passing away, the nation as well as the state of Madhya Pradesh has lost a towering personality."





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