V P Singh - Former prime minister of India

Born: 25 June, 1931, in Uttar Pradesh, India. Died: 27 November, 2008, in New Delhi, aged 77.

V P SINGH, a former prime minister of India, was considered the father of coalition politics there and stirred controversy by championing the rights of the country's poorest citizens.

Singh changed Indian politics significantly despite leading the country only briefly, from 1989 until 1990.

Having broken with prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the wake of a scandal, he united the spectrum of parties against Gandhi's Congress Party under one umbrella and forged the National Front, with additional support from the Bharatiya Janata Party and left-wing parties. The National Front came to power after defeating the Congress Party in the 1989 general elections.

On 2 December, 1989, Singh became the tenth prime minister of India. He gained wide notoriety by moving to carry out the long-forgotten Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal Commission recommendations to reserve a fixed number of public-sector jobs for the historically disadvantaged members of the lower and backward classes.

This led to widespread protests by higher-caste youth in urban areas across India, including a series of self-immolations.

His government lasted less than a year, falling after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew its support and the plan went into abeyance.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh was born into a landed family in Allahabad in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in 1931. When he was five, his parents gave him up for adoption by the childless Maharaja Bahadur Ram Gopal Singh of Manda. After a sheltered and lonely early childhood under armed guard, he passed into the care of a guardian at the age of 11, when his adoptive father died.

He studied law at Udai Pratap College, Varanasi, and later physics at Fergusson College, Pune, with an eye towards becoming a nuclear scientist and joining India's atomic energy research centre in Mumbai. However, he gave up his studies for politics.

One of his first political acts was to give large tracts of fertile land to the landless poor as part of the land donation movement initiated by Vinoba Bhave, a disciple and spiritual successor of Mohandas Gandhi. He built a college in Koraon and taught there when it opened.

He entered politics in Allahabad during the Jawaharlal Nehru era and soon made a name for himself in the state Congress Party. He was elected to the state assembly in 1969 and to the parliament in 1971. He was appointed deputy minister of commerce by prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1974. She named him chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when she returned to power in 1980.

As chief minister, he pressed a ruthless campaign against bandits in Uttar Pradesh. However, he quit his position after bandits killed his brother and amid feelings that he had failed to capture or tame the outlaws.

In 1984, he became finance minister under prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, ordering high-profile raids on those suspected of tax evasion.

At the height of this campaign, he was moved to the post of defence minister. Shortly after that, he resigned. He then quit the Congress Party over a scandal in which he suspected the prime minister was involved.

He was the guiding force behind the formation of the United Front, another political coalition, and he was the first choice to become prime minister after the Congress Party's defeat in May 1996. However, he declined. After the government of H D Deve Gowda fell in April 1997, he again played an important role in maintaining the unity of the United Front and making Inder Kumar Gujral the prime minister.

Singh also dabbled in Hindi and English poetry, as well as painting and photography. Exhibitions of his artwork have been held in prominent galleries in India.

In 1955, Singh married Sita Kumari. He is survived by her and their two sons.

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