On Sunday, when Ajatshatru Singh, younger son of veteran Congress leader Dr Karan Singh, joined the BJP, his former party the National Conference called it “political opportunism”. It runs in the family, said NC provincial secretary Sheikh Bashir, adding it begins with Karan Singh. Dr Singh has been with the Congress, two breakaway factions and the NC.
Ajatshatru says he has joined the BJP for “people’s desire to have a corruption- and dynasty-free government”. His move, however, will mean any one member of the erstwhile royal family will be part of the ruling party, whichever that is. Dr Singh is a Congress MP, his elder son Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh is the PDP’s face in Jammu, and Ajatshatru is now in the BJP.
Ajatshatru won his first assembly election in 1996 as an NC nominee from Nagrota and was a minister in Dr Farooq Abdullah’s cabinet. After losses in 2002 and 2008, the NC made him an MLC. Congress spokesperson Dr Abdul Rashid Choudhary described his switch as a “personal choice in a democratic setup”.
Karan Singh, son of Maharaja Hari Singh, was appointed regent by his father in 1949, got elected Sadr-i-Riyasat in 1952, 1956 and 1961, and was made governor in 1964. He was inducted into Indira Gandhi’s cabinet three years later, and again in 1971 after being elected from Udhampur. In 1977, he was re-elected from Udhampur as a Congress nominee.
In 1979, he joined the Charan Singh cabinet as a Congress (S) member. The following year, he joined the Congress (U) and got elected from Udhampur. He later quit the party. In 1984, he lost as an independent from Jammu.
In 1989, he was appointed India’s ambassador to the US, but resigned a year later. From 1996 to 1999, he was in the Rajya Sabha as a representative of the NC. This, despite having dismissed, as Sadr-i-Riyasat in 1953, the government of NC founder leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and getting him arrested in 1953. Farooq, as chief minister, appointed him chairman of its Committee for Greater Autonomy. Singh resigned from the committee without holding even a single sitting or making any recommendation.
In 1999, he was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha as Congress nominee. Since then, he has been in the Congress.
National Panthers Party chief Prof. Bhim Singh, once close to Dr Karan Singh, described the party-hopping as “unexpected of the descendants of the secular, democratic Hari Singh”.
Trade union leaders said the family may have been in politics for decades but has never been part of any public movement. “At all times of trouble when the state needed them, they were away,” said veteran trade union leader Krishan Kumar Koushal “They do politics from inside their air-conditioned rooms,” said Ram Kumar Sharma, a former trade union leader, adding that they are in politics only to “safeguard their properties”.