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Rahul team member, with limited pull, R P N Singh deals Gandhis a blow

Though 57, Singh was considered among the young leaders who would be part of Rahul's future Congress.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: January 26, 2022 12:28:45 am
Former Union minister and Congress leader RPN Singh joins BJP in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express photo: Praveen Khanna)

More than harm in Uttar Pradesh, the exit of R P N Singh is another blow to the Congress as it hopes for resuscitation, and particularly to Rahul Gandhi as he makes his way back to the party president’s post. Though 57, Singh was considered among the young leaders who would be part of Rahul’s future Congress.

With the exception of a few like an unhappy Sachin Pilot, several of them have left the Congress over the past two years. They include Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Laliteshpati Tripathi – indicating that young leaders see no future for themselves in the party.

An OBC Kurmi leader, belonging to the erstwhile Sainthwara royal family of eastern UP, Singh’s elevation as AICC in-charge of Jharkhand some years ago was seen as the party’s signal that it was now giving weightage to OBC-centric politics. Both Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel also belong to the OBC community.

Now that Singh has chosen to leave, it signals that despite the tall claims made by the Congress and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, ground-level leaders of the party in UP sense that chances of its revival in the politically and electorally crucial state are bleak.

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While there had been speculation for some time regarding Singh’s exit, he had consistently dismissed them as “rumours”. That the Congress believed he would stay was evident from the inclusion of Singh’s name in the list of star campaigners released by the party for UP as late as Monday. Sources said that even Tuesday morning, a senior leader told the party that Singh would not leave.

A three-time MLA, Singh had been with the Congress for over three decades. Earlier, his father Kunwar Chandra Pratap Narain was an MLA and two-time MP and a minister in the Indira Gandhi government in 1980.

Singh began his electoral journey in 1996 when he contested the Lok Sabha election from Padrauna. He trailed in fourth, with the seat going to the BJP’s Ram Nagina Misra. However, the same year, he entered the Uttar Pradesh Assembly from the Padrauna constituency.

In 1997 he was appointed president of the state Youth Congress. Singh was elected MLA from Padrauna again in 2002 and in 2007. He became an office-bearer of the AICC in 2003.

In 2009, Singh shifted to national politics when he won the Kushi Nagar Lok Sabha seat, in the election where the Congress left everyone surprised by picking 22 constituencies in UP. Singh was made Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways in the Manmohan Singh government. In 2011, he was given the charge of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Corporate Affairs. In 2012, he became Minister of State for Home Affairs.

However, in the Congress decline in UP since, Singh lost the next two Lok Sabha elections, in 2014 and 2019. His influence in the state is considered limited to Kushi Nagar and some areas around.

While not considered a political heavyweight, Singh was known to speak his mind at internal meetings, among the few leaders to do so. For instance, at a CWC meeting last year, Singh suggested that the party should target Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “policies and wrong decisions” but avoid personal attacks.

It was seen as a hint at Rahul Gandhi, who has often targeted Modi and was present at the meeting. Rahul countered that he would stop attacking the PM if the party said so.

A source present at the meeting justified at the time: “Rahul perhaps interpreted the suggestion wrongly. He said he will stop attacking the PM and he will attack Rajnath Singh or Nirmala Sitharaman instead… He said he is a soldier of the Congress party and bound by whatever the Working Committee decides, and that he will not do what the Working Committee does not want him to do.”

Earlier, at the CWC meeting held to decide the party’s stance on abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, Singh had argued that the leadership should be cognizant of the public mood. Apart from him, Scindia, Prasada and Deepender Hooda had argued that public sentiment was in favour of the government’s move, and the party should factor in that.

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