Virbhadra Singh, Himachal Pradesh’s longest-serving chief minister, died Thursday in Shimla after a long illness.
The six-time chief minister and nine-time member of the Legislative Assembly of Himachal Pradesh dominated the state’s political landscape for nearly 50 years. Singh, better known as Raja Sahib, was 87 years old.
When Singh died, Congress lost its top leader in Himachal Pradesh months before the assembly elections. Although his poor health kept Singh out of active politics for some time, his death is a setback for the party, which lacks a solid second line of leadership in the state.
Singh joined Congress at the age of 26 in 1961. A year later, he entered Parliament from the Mahasu constituency of the Undivided Punjab, becoming the youngest member of the third Lok Sabha. He then won the legislative elections four times.
In 1983, Singh was chosen by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to replace Ram Lal amid a political storm over large-scale logging by the timber mafia. Singh launched a vigorous campaign against the Mafia and banned green logging three years later. The ban lasted more than two decades, and even today, forest products cannot be used to make apple cartons in the state.
The Hydel projects were given a boost during Singh’s tenure as chief minister. As tourism developed, it sought to protect the land rights of local people by strengthening laws that made it difficult for outsiders to buy farmland. In 2004, he became the country’s first chief minister to ban the production, sale and use of small polythene bags.
Singh was often at daggers drawn with the heads of the Congress of States, but mostly succeeded in doing what he wanted by negotiating with the party’s high command. In 2017, he threatened to boycott the elections over disputes with state congressman Sukhwinder Sukhu, and ultimately got the better of Rahul Gandhi.
Singh has been accused on several occasions of failing to allow new leaders to emerge. He had several detractors in the State Congress, one of whom, Major Vijai Singh Mankotia, caused him considerable embarrassment by posting a recording of alleged conversations about the money exchange ahead of the Assembly elections. 2007.
Prem Kumar Dhumal’s BJP government accused him of corruption in what has been called the “CD affair”, but the CBI gave Singh a hard blow in 2012, just before his re-election as CM.
In 2015, however, the CBI filed a lawsuit against Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh, the former MP for Mandi, in a disproportionate assets case. The couple were charged in the case in 2019.
During the 2017 election campaign, Singh said at a rally that he was directly opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. âWoh mera wajood mitana chahte hain, (He wants to end my existence),â he said.
On Thursday, Modi posted on Twitter: âShri Virbhadra Singh Ji has had a long political career, with a wealth of administrative and legislative experience. He played a central role in Himachal Pradesh and served the people of the state. Saddened by his disappearance. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti.
President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted: âSad to know that Shri Virbhadra Singh is no more. His six-decade political career as Chief Minister and Parliamentarian was marked by his commitment to serving the people of Himachal Pradesh. Condolences to the family and to the subscribers.
Singh’s death was tolerated by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former party chairman Rahul Gandhi.
âPopular for his affable and grounded nature, he has stayed close to people and made far-reaching positive changes through his keen sense of administration. He was one of the greatest pillars of the Congress Party and has remained a dedicated member of Congress throughout, âSonia said.
In a letter to Singh’s wife, she said: âFor me his passing is a personal loss, as I have known and interacted with him for several years. I will miss his wise advice and his warm and generous personality.
Manmohan Singh said: âDespite his belonging to the royal line, his strength was his easy access to the people. In his death our country lost a mass leader and a competent administrator. “
Rahul posted on Twitter: âShri Virbhadra Singh ji was a devotee in the truest sense of the word. His commitment to the service of the people and the Congress Party remained exemplary until the very end.
Top Congressman Anand Sharma, who is from Himachal Pradesh, said the state “has lost its leader who, during his illustrious career spanning nearly six decades, has made a rich and lasting contribution to His development”. Singh’s death “leaves a deep void and he will always be remembered with love and gratitude,” Sharma said.
Singh was born on June 23, 1934 to Maharaja Padam Singh and Maharani Shanti Devi of the royal state of Sarahan in the district of Shimla. He was 13 when he lost his father and was anointed “king” in 1947.
Much later in his life, as a legislator and chief minister, Singh liked to be called Raja Sahib. Its supporters frequently brandished the slogan âRaja nahin fakir hai, Himachal ki taqdeer haiâ. Critics within the party often accused him of having a feudal frame of mind, an accusation he did not want to deny.
Singh made the traditional green Kinnauri cap his signature outfit. Among the things his admirers noted was his insistence on reading every dossier he signed and that he was one of the few chief ministers who answered the phone himself.