Veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh, who has had a long and chequered career in Madhya Pradesh as Chief Minister and as Union Minister, died in New Delhi on Friday after a long illness.
Political leaders cutting across party line condole the geath of Arjun Singh.
Singh (81), who was admitted to AIIMS some days ago with chest pain and neuro problems, complained of breathing problem around 1730 hours. He suffered a heart attack and breathed his last around 1815 hours.
Incidentally, Singh was on Friday dropped from the party’s highest policy making body Congress Working Committeee and was made a Permanent Invitee.
Singh leaves wife Saroj Kumari, two sons–Ajay Singh, an MLA in Madhya Pradesh and Abhimanyu–and daughter Veena.
A loyalist of the Gandhi family and considered a shrewd strategist, Singh was Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh between 1980 and 1985 and was made Governor of Punjab just a day after he took oath as Chief Minister for the second time in the state.
He became Governor at the height of militancy and helped a young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reach an accord with Akali Dal leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal which came to be known Rajiv-Longowal peace accord.
He had also prestigious portfolios at the Centre as Commerce and Communication Minister in the eighties and HRD Minister under P V Narasimha Rao in the nineties.
A leader, who swore by secular ideals, turned against Rao in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Though he did not resign from his government immediately, he later parted ways with Rao and formed a rebel Congress under the leadership of N D Tiwari in 1994.
Singh, who was Vice President of the party under Rajiv Gandhi, rejoined Congress after Rao quit as party President and later spearheaded the campaign for the ouster of DMK ministers in the United Front government in 1997 over the Jain Commission report. The UF government under I K Gujral fell in the face of the campaign.
Singh was a close adviser to Sonia Gandhi when she decided to enter politics and became Congress President in 1998. He was said to have been behind her unsuccessful attempt to become Prime Minister after the fall of the Vajpayee government in April 1999.
Gandhi then staked her claim to form government on the basis of support of 272 MPs but ultimately she did not have the numbers.
But the political wheel turned a full circle when he lost his proximity to Sonia Gandhi and that could have played a part in not being able to realise his prime ministerial ambitions.
However, as HRD minister in the first UPA government from 2004, Singh was instrumental in championing the cause of backward classes and piloted bills for ensuring reservation for them in institutions of excellence.
With failing health, Singh, who started using a wheel chair in the last years, did not not make it to the Union Cabinet when Manmohan Singh took oath as Prime Minister for a second time.
But his strong loyalty to the Gandhi family came into prominence when he made a rare appearance in the Rajya Sabha last year to apportion blame on the late Narasimha Rao to say that Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was allowed to go out of the country under the instructions from the home ministry then headed by Rao.
Born in Churhat in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh in November 1930, Singh studied law and entered politics to become a member of the state assembly in 1957 where he continued till 1985.
President Pratibha Patil condoled the death of veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh and said in his demise the country has lost a “towering personality”.
In her condolence message, Patil said Singh was a veteran public personality and the important responsibilities given to him during his long career showed the acumen and ability he possessed.
“He was therefore the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for three times and also the Governor of Punjab during a period when the state was going through difficult times,” she said.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed grief over the death of Singh.