INDIA: Rashtriya Lokdal Chief Chaudhary Ajit Singh passed away on May 6 due to COVID-19 complications in a private hospital in Gurugram. Along with his legacy, he has left millions of supporters and protesting farmers behind him. The 82-year-old leader was part of several governments in various capacities and remains the undisputed leader of farmers for more than 4 decades. His death is not only a loss to RLD supporters or son Jayant Chaudhary but the whole farming community in India.
A leader who never sacrificed his secular ideology
Singh has been an active member of Loksabha and Rajyasabha multiple times from various constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. He has also worked on several portfolios in the various cabinets under VP Singh to Manmohan Singh. Singh had dedicated his entire life to politics and put his heart and soul in it. When I met him, I realized that he was one of the non-serious politicians that I had ever met in my life. He never gave the vibes of someone very powerful but behaved like a guardian and an elder family member. Singh devoted his entire life to the farming community, which is considered as the backbone of the Indian economy.
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riot, which killed 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus and several displaced was a heart-wrenching incident for Singh. Singh was one of the flag bearers for peace during those riots. Although it was a political loss for him but he still chose to accept that rather than jumping in the fire created by Radical Upper Caste Hindu militant group Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and its political party Bhartiya Janta Party.
I met him post-Muzaffarnagar riot and argued with him over his non-participation in a riot, which could have been brought them to the center of Uttar Pradesh politics. He looked at me and said, “I know we could have jumped in that and have gained political mileage, but morally I don’t believe in communal politics by doing such a thing I would have insulted my father Chaudhary Charan Singh. People looked up to him as someone, who would never let this happen. I might have to pay a heavy price for this but such profits are useless. Those who fueled this riot, will not be forgiven in history and whenever I die, I will die with peace that I was never part of communal politics.”
Hi-tech politician and the beloved leader of the farmers
His father Chaudhary Charan Singh was one of the most influential non-congress leaders before 1990. He was two time Chief Minister of United Uttar Pradesh (Uttrakhand parted away in 2000) and also served as a Prime Minister of India for 6 months in 1980. His death forced Chaudhary Ajit Singh to join politics, who was working in the United States at that time. He was among the first technocrat from India in Silicon Valley and worked with IBM for a brief period of time. He was also an alumnus of one of the most prestigious institutes called the Indian Institue of Technology, Kharagpur, and went to Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago for his master’s. He never enjoyed the power of his father’s politics and kept working like a normal person.
Due to his father’s illness, he decided to jump into the political fray and was elected to Upper House Rajyasabha in 1986. Western Uttar Pradesh is also called Sugarcane land. During that time, farmers were forced to sell their crops in the open market, which was a loss-making process. Under his tenure as Commerce and Industry Union Minister, Western Uttar Pradesh had more than 40 Sugarcane mills, which not only ease the process but economically uplifted Sugarcane farmers.
Despite being born in a top political family, his behavior with common people was calm. His house in Delhi was used as a hostel for visitors. He had a jolly personality. Singh was well respected not only in the political circle but was known to be the only leader of the farmers in Delhi, who could do anything for them. Despite spending so much time in the US, he never left his roots behind. On several occasions, I met him and found him talking about his father’s vision for farmers or discussing ongoing farming issues. His death has left people stressed and many still can’t believe that he is not among us to lead and guide the farmer’s protest.
Singh was a devotee of Arya Samaj and was against caste-based discrimination. Just like his father’s belief Singh felt that the partition of India was due to prevailing caste-based discrimination in Indian society. People from minority groups felt that if it persisted then it would be an utter chaos. These things motivated a portion of the Muslim community to migrate to Pakistan. He also said, “Even the United States of America has reservation but that is different from India caste-based reservation. Discrimination in the US is racial so they have it according to that so India has caste-based discrimination so India should have according to that. We should be happy to share with our brothers if they are been discriminated against identity. Diversity is the key to efficiency.”
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He left behind his legacy and son Jayant Chaudhary, Vice President of Rashtriya Lok Dal, Member of Parliament, and alumnus from London School of Economics. Jayant’s commitment to farmers reflects both his father Chaudhary Ajit Singh and Grandfather ex-Prime Minister of India Chaudhary Charan Singh. His father’s place is irreplaceable but he chooses to step in fighting for farmers and the Dalit community in Hathras. The Chaudhary soul departs leaving behind the only Chaudhary (leader) of farmer Jayant Chaudhary in Delhi, whom they can complain, argue, fight and shower love.
Chaudhary Ajit Singh will be always remembered for his commitment to the farming community and peasants. I pay my tribute quoting him, “They try to divide you based on religion, if they fail they will divide you based on caste and Gotra’s but stand firm on the identity of being farmer.”
(Prashant Kanojia is a former Journalist based in India and currently leader of Rashtriya Lok Dal.)