Raghuvansh Prasad Singh: The MGNREGA man, Lalu’s shadow

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is seen as one of the main reasons apart from UPA’s civil nuclear deal with the US that swept the alliance back to power consecutively for a second time in 2009.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh

New Delhi, Sep 13 : The man behind the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) who stood by his boss Lalu Prasad Yadav through thick and thin, only to recently quit the RJD in a surprise move – Raghuvansh Prasad Singh died in Delhi’s AIIMS battling post-COVID symptoms on Sunday morning.

Singh was suffering from a lung infection and was put on a ventilator two days ago after his health deteriorated. He was admitted in the ICU unit of the hospital a week ago after contracting an infection in his lungs, a post-COVID illness he developed after contracting coronavirus.

Singh’s demise comes close on the heels of his unceremonious and some would argue, unexpected exit from RJD, a party he served for the better part of his political life. In his handwritten resignation to Lalu Prasad, he said, “I kept standing behind you for 32 years after the demise of Karpuri Thakur, but not any longer.”

He was believed to be angry over talks about former MP Rama Singh’s entry into the RJD. In what can be seen as a longstanding relationship of camaraderie, Prasad told Singh, “First you get better, then we will sit and talk. You are not going anywhere.”

The five-term Lok Sabha MP representing Vaishali died at the age of 74, bringing an end to a long era where he espoused the cause of social justice. The man who was once part of Karpuri Thakur’s Cabinet later stood by Lalu Prasad, even when the latter was prosecuted for charges of corruption in the fodder scam. He also stood by the Yadav family when Rabri Devi was steering the Bihar government in the absence of her husband.

A well read and well educated man who was known for his simplicity, Singh’s socialist bent made him well respected not just in the RJD but by leaders of all political parties riding on the promise of social justice. However, the legacy of this mathematician would be steering the UPA-era flagship scheme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which is a social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is seen as one of the main reasons apart from UPA’s civil nuclear deal with the US that swept the alliance back to power consecutively for a second time in 2009.

However, the Modi era proved to be uncharted political territory for this mass leader who lost both the 2014 and 2019 general elections when the BJP won power at the Centre with a thumping majority. However, his political relevance was intact in Bihar’s psyche.

He spoke his mind, did not mince words and had even questioned the government he was a part of. A rarity, Singh’s political legacy is so powerful and deep, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to start Sunday’s virtual inauguration of three petro projects for Bihar by paying homage to him, calling him “a person who understood poverty”, even before the customary protocols of addressing the Bihar Governor or Chief Minister at the event.

When Modi urged Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to “jointly fulfill” developmental requests made by Singh in his last letter to Nitish, it was a testament to the sway the Rajput leader held in Bihar’s polity.

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