Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, architect of India’s biggest job guarantee scheme, MNREGA, crossed the Rainbow Bridge

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Like his leader and socialist stalwart Lalu Prasad Yadav, Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was a man of masses, endowed with a heavy dose of native wisdom and rustic charm. His crossing the rainbow Bridge is a big blow to the vast vanishing tribe of people’s politician. Rest in peace and power

Truly a voice of the voiceless Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was in his lifetime. A veteran socialist leader departs for the land of silent majority.
Here is a bittersweet memoir of veteran journalist Nalini Ranjan Mohanty who has had an amazing run-in with the 74 years old departed leader.

By Nalini Ranjan Mohanty

I admired Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, the Socialist, for his concern for the poor but I had had a nasty showdown with him on a TV discussion in Patna when he accused me of yellow journalism and threatened to cut off my tongue!

The death of veteran socialist leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has rightly attracted the national attention. As the Rural Development Minister in UPA-1, he was responsible for rolling out the NREGA, the flagship rural employment programme in independent India’s history, which received worldwide acclaim.

When I shifted from Times of India, Delhi to Patna in the mid-1990s, one of the first senior leaders of the ruling RJD I met, after the customary meeting with the Supreme Leader Lalu Yadav, was Raghuvansh Babu, as he was fondly called by one and all. A PH D in Mathematics and a former professor, he told me about his socialist background, his association with Ram Manohar Lohia and Karpoori Thakur, and how his heart beat for the underprivileged sections.

That was a time when Lalu and his team was the darling of the international and national media. But soon after, the Fodder Scam came to light and the Times of India took a lead in reporting about the scam, about the investigations by the CBI team. Lalu went to jail and Rabri Devi, his wife, became the Chief Minister.

I shifted as Resident Editor with the Hindustan Times in 2000. Day after day, we reported about the misgovernance and the jungle raj of the Rabri administration, backpedalled by Lalu Yadav.

That was the time Sahara Samay organized an hour-long television discussion on the state of Bihar. The setting of the discussion was the sprawling lawns of Patna Zoo. Shireen, then the popular prime-time anchor of Sahara Samay, had flown from Delhi to moderate the discussion. Raghuvansh Babu represented the RJD; the BJP was represented in the discussion by its state president, C P Thakur; Ram Vilas Paswan was there as LJP leader; the Congress state president, Ram Jatan Sinha, was also there, as was the CPI ML General Secretary. I was the only journalist in the panel.

Shireen talked to the leaders first and then turned to me. Her first direct question to me was: why was Bihar’s law and order situation perceived to be so bad? I gave a no-frills reply: “A state where half the ministers of the cabinet have a criminal past and who still micro-manage criminal activities in their areas of influence, law and order has to be a casualty.”

No sooner did I say this, Raghuvansh Babu, seething in anger, pointed his finger at me and threatened: jawan khinchh loonga (I will cut off your tongue). Then he went on to hurl a barrage of abuses, unmindful of the television camera: how I, an outsider, was doing yellow journalism in Bihar, how I was earning my livelihood in the land of Bihar and showing the same land in bad light!

After his outburst against me, he turned to Shireen, the host of the show, and asked her to throw me out of the discussion. Shireen told the Minister softly, but firmly, that she could not turn away a panelist in the middle of a discussion. Raghuvansh Babu was adamant: if I was not asked to leave, then the recording of the show could not continue. Shireen was equally assertive: “Yes, Sir. It is your government. If you don’t permit, the show cannot go on in this Patna zoo. But I cannot ask a guest to leave in the midst of the programme. If you insist, I will call off the show,” she said.

That was a point when Ram Vilas Paswan, who was an ally of the RJD then, pleaded with Raghuvansh Babu: “What message would go across the country if you disrupt a discussion on a national TV just because you do not like a journalist’s point of view?”. Other leaders too interceded. Then Raghuvansh Babu relented. The discussion resumed again.

I have had several run-ins with Lalu Yadav on public platforms during my stint in Bihar, but this was the first time I faced the wrath of a leader whom I considered a sane and educated voice in the RJD.

Maybe, the open-air setting of the TV discussion, with hundreds of RJD workers watching it from a distance, provoked Raghuvansh Babu. Maybe, he was not so much bothered about what I wrote or published about his government in the newspaper but what riled him was that I said it to him on his face, that too, on the national TV.

In retrospect, I realize that perhaps I should not have put the truth so bluntly.

This may have been one unpleasant experience; but I will always hold Raghuvansh Babu in high esteem for his Spartan life style and for his unceasing concern for the underclass. RIP.

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