VP Singh memorial meeting on 21st Dec at Teen Murti Auditorium, Delhi
This is in the nature of a collective call to a wide fraternity of friends and supporters of various movements to come together to pay our respects to Shri V P Singh. In his passing away in Delhi on 27th November 2008, the country has lost an ethical statesman, the movements have lost a friend and a comrade, and the poor have lost a champion of their cause. His passing away remained largely unacknowledged and uncommented in the media, due to the terror attack in Mumbai.
Though some of us have already held memorial meetings, we felt that there is a need for those associated with people's movements to get together in Delhi to not only acknowledge his significant and committed contribution to a range of struggles of the poor and marginalized, but also in working to establish a true legacy of alternative politics. We therefore hope to bring together those who knew Shri V P Singh, in various capacities- as a political leader, as a Prime Minister, as an activist, as a poet and artist, and as a human being who showed how important it is to live a public life of compassion and ethics, to make people's lives meaningful. Even those who disagreed with some of his positions acknowledge his simplicity of lifestyle and courage of conviction- both very rare qualities in the mainstream political life of our times.
*The meeting will be held in the auditorium of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi on Sunday, 21st December 2008 from 10.30am to 1.30 p.m. *
Since there may not be enough time to express ourselves, there is a suggestion that those who want to, may also bring a written script which could later be published as a part of a document to celebrate his life.
: Post-independent India has had many former prime ministers in its history of sixty one years. Many of them have lived to engage with public life after their tenure. History must remember V.P. Singh among many other things, for his extraordinary contribution to what we now call peoples' politics, and his crafting methods for its engagement with mainstream political structures. There were many times during the last two decades when V.P. Singh extended support to people's movements and campaigns, while fighting illness. He spent every second day at Delhi's Apollo Hospital, long hours undergoing dialysis. Kidney failure was compounded by bone marrow cancer. And yet, he had no hesitation in telling us — "for the Right to Information and Employment Guarantee Act anytime, anywhere, I will do all I can to help." He was as good as his word. When the history of these two legislations are more comprehensively written, there will be many architects and strategists who will finally get the credit they never sought, in engineering this basic political change. V.P. Singh was one of them. He will always be cited for implementing the Mandal Commission report. But that alone is not his contribution, though the implementation reflected a commitment to the principles of the Constitution. It will be a grave injustice to him and posterity however, if his role as a statesman politician in establishing the rights of the poor is not acknowledged. For those of us who were small fish swimming against the tide of the Indian political discourse, he inspired tenacity, imparted humour, and provided sustained practical support and advice.
The days he was on dialysis, he would say, "come to Apollo Hospital and we will write letters and make calls from there." On other days he would say, "come home and we will do what needs to be done. I will give time, other issues can wait. This is very important." As a former prime minister he gave us a sense of what was in the realm of the possible, without losing the capacity to fashion a dream. He discussed each provision of the law as if he were prime minister, and strengthened each basic demand as if he was the applicant. As a person who enjoyed immense political goodwill amongst India's political formations he had no hesitation in using it to build support. Ministers, party leaders and journalists were often taken by surprise when V.P. Singh called, lobbying for a particular provision of the right to information or employment guarantee acts. He would get involved in planning an event, he would try and ensure the presence of other people crucial to its success, and come to meetings, demonstrations, press conferences for as long as his body would allow it. These brief appearances made all the difference.
Discussions about where the bottlenecks lay, were lively, and garnished with his one-liners and ready wit. After several rounds of discussions with sceptics of the NREGA and RTI even within the UPA, he remarked — "Ek mein to mun nahin , aur dusre mein money nahin." (In one they don't have the will, and in the other they don't want to provide the means) In a Right to Information press conference he said — "We need transparency to prevent the mid day meal from becoming a middle man's meal". At a public hearing in Surajpura in Ajmer District in 1998, he remarked that the jan sunwai was a great term because, "is desh mein sunwai hi to nahin hoti hai" (in our country, no one gets a proper hearing). In his short speech he said that elected representatives and public servants should be sworn in with an oath of transparency instead of secrecy. He said that it is time that that the sovereign (people) realise that they cannot rule if they are kept in the dark by the (public) servants, and prophesised that these small lights being lit in this rural area, would soon light millions of lamps across the country.
At a press conference in Delhi in 1996 he listened carefully to Sushila from rural Jawaja with little literacy, and appreciated and adopted her definition that the right to information was "hamara paisa — hamara hisaab" (our money, our accounts). He helped popularise this concise formulation. V.P. Singh was there in body and spirit at conventions for Right to Information, the jan manch for the Employment Guarantee Act, for flagging off the Rozgaar Yatra, press conferences, meetings, rallies, and dharnas for passing the acts, and preventing crippling amendments. He was there, for slum dwellers struggling to save their homes, for farmers fighting to save their land from SEZs, for movements trying to connect with mainstream politics, and for politicians with a desire to connect with movements. He may not be there in person any more, but his indomitable spirit will carry us forward. V.P. Singh never sought credit in his lifetime. We owe it to ourselves to acknowledge his contribution as a statesman, politician, an activist, and an unselfish human being with a commitment to justice and the issues of the underprivileged.
We salute the statesman, poet and painter that he was, and though his passing away has been eclipsed in the media by terrorist attacks in Mumbai , there are hundreds of small and bigger gatherings being held across the country to celebrate a life lived with principles. It is not surprising therefore, that the thousands of ordinary people who lined the streets in Allahabad saluted him on his last journey with the slogan people fashioned for him: "Woh raja nahin fakir tha, desh ka takdir tha"
The writers are Right to Information and Right to Work activists
Delhi Forum F-10/12 (GF), Malviya Nagar, New Delhi INDIA - 110017 __._,_.___
Replying to this email will send an e-mail to 10600+ members of Jharkhand Forum