Shahabad (now Bhojpur), Bihar, has been the birthplace of many leaders who have scripted history and showed the right way ahead to society. It was in a backward village, Pipra Dularpur, in the Gadkhani block of this district that one of these leaders was born to Dhaneshwari Devi and Manrakhan Yadav. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia had once said, “Laws are made in the fields; laws are made in the barns. Parliament only approves them. That is why take to the streets and make yourself heard.”
This boy proved the truth in Lohia’s exhortation. He was a man of average build and affable disposition. He was cool and cordial and fiercely committed to his beliefs and ideology. He was an accomplished orator and could win the hearts of even his opponents. The name of this social warrior was Ram Avdhesh Singh.
Undeterred by deprivation
Ram Avdhesh’s father was a small farmer, who somehow managed to make ends meet. Despite the deprivations that poverty brought with it, Ram Avdhesh was the epitome of courage and tenacity. He was very keen to acquire an education. His mother was aware of this desire of his and used to tell him that after he cleared his matriculation examination, he would be sent to Arrah for further education.
He completed his primary education from the village school, passed his Intermediate exams from St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, and got his bachelor’s degree from B.N. College, Patna. He studied for his MA and LLB at Bhagalpur University. He also attended the prestigious XLRI (Xavier’s Labour Relations Institute), Jamshedpur. One of the few leaders in Bihar with these stellar educational qualifications, Ram Avdesh married Shyama Devi.
Became MLA in 1969
From his childhood, social discrimination and the lack of education and opportunities that had the backward classes had to live with distressed him. He was influenced by the ideas of Ambedkar, Periyar and Lohia. In 1969, he entered the Bihar Assembly for the first time by winning elections from the Arrah constituency as a candidate of the Socialist Party. In the post-Emergency elections of 1977, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bikramganj. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1992. He also served as a member of the National Commission for Backward Classes from 2007 to 2010.
Key role in implementation of Mandal report
Ram Avdhesh Singh was a protagonist of social justice. He believed that raising doubts and objections was a weapon that was frequently used by the bureaucracy to defer decisions. The decisions that the officialdom sought to sabotage were mainly those that would go against the status quoists. The political leadership took little interest in such matters. It did not pursue or push them. Ram Avdesh Singh did all he could to defeat this stratagem of the bureaucrats. A committed follower of Dr Lohia, Ram Avdhesh Singh, along with Karpoori Thakur, paved the way for the implementation of the recommendations of Mungerilal Commission on reservations for the OBCs in Bihar. In 1977, speaking in Parliament, he urged the then Janata Party Government to implement the recommendations of the Kaka Kalelkar Commission. The then prime minister, Morarji Desai, responded with the comment that “all poll promises are not meant to be fulfilled”. Ram Avdhesh Singh was not the one to take such comments lying down. He said, “Prime Minister, had you said such a thing in Parliament in London, Paris or Berlin, you would have been hit by a volley of rotten eggs.” Then he got up and left the House announcing that he would not attend any sitting till the government implemented the recommendations of the Commission.
Ignoring the provisions of Articles 340(1) and 15(4) of the Constitution, the central government was dragging its feet on granting the status of deprived classes to the socially and educationally backward castes. This, despite the fact that the government was well aware that in many coastal states, especially in south India, the state governments or the pre-Independence rulers had granted reservations to backward classes in services under them and in educational institutions, especially in technical and professional courses.
Ram Avdhesh Singh launched a struggle both within Parliament and outside it for the implementation of the recommendations of Kaka Kalelkar Commission (1953-55). Finally, in keeping with Lohia’s assertion that only the people can show the right path to the Parliament that has lost its way, Ram Avdhesh Singh took to the streets. Under his leadership, the bugle for the battle for the implementation of the recommendations of Mungerilal and Kaka Kalelkar commissions was sounded at a mega public meeting at Gandhi Maidan, Patna, on 9 March 1978. A “jail bharo” (courting arrest) movement was launched from 10 March. Around 30,000 people courted arrest on his call. Meanwhile, the savarnas came together under the banner of Forward League and began a crude and unseemly campaign opposing reservations. That led to violent skirmishes between those supporting and opposing reservations. The government was exploring ways of deferring the decision by forming a committee. Ram Avdesh Singh was adamant that either the government should implement the recommendations of Kaka Kalelkar Commission or should appoint another commission. Under the pressure of forces of social justice, the government had to set up another commission. A second Backward Classes Commission was thus appointed under the chairmanship of the then MP Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal, who had been Bihar chief minister earlier. That is how the Mandal Commission came to be. While Ram Avdesh Singh was fighting for the implementation of the recommendations of Kalelkar Commission at the national level, in Bihar, he was lobbying for the acceptance of the recommendations of Mungerilal Commission. These agitations had a sobering effect on the opponents of reservations within the government and the Karpoori Thakur-led regime of Bihar accepted the recommendations of the Mungerilal Commission and announced their implementation.
Opposed Jayaprakash Narayan
Ram Avdesh Singh was so committed to securing justice for the Backwards that he did not fight shy of taking on Jayaprakash Narayan, one of the tallest leaders of his times and the progenitor of the Sampoorna Kranti movement. JP believed that reservations should be based on economic status. Ram Avdhesh Singh did not agree. Opposing JP’s stand on the issue, on 9 March 1978, he dubbed JP as a “Dwij leader” and confronted him at a rally in Gandhi Maidan, Patna, on 12 March 1978.
At the annual conference of the All India Federation of OBC Employees Welfare Association at Delhi, noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani said, “I have contested and won many cases but the one case which I am proud of arguing and winning is the Mandal case [Indra Sawhney versus Union of India, 1993].” He said that Ram Avdhesh Singh was a great help to him. Ram Avdhesh argued persuasively and logically in the Supreme Court. Once, to emphasize the need for reservations for the OBCs, he kept a dry gram in one hand and a soaked gram in the other. Then, addressing the judges, he said that the soaked, swollen gram was symbolic of the forward communities and the dry, shrivelled gram symbolized the Backwards. A dry gram needs water to germinate and reservation is that water. Dr Ambedkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer writes that revolutionaries never indulge in sweet talk and when they walk, they kick up dust. Ram Avdhesh Singh was such a revolutionary and a fighter for social justice. On issues of social justice, he spoke softly but his arguments were aggressive and sharp. His gentle looks were in contrast to his stern language.
Opposed his own government
Ram Avdhesh was a Rajya Sabha MP when the V.P. Singh government was formed in 1989. In its election manifesto, the Janata Dal had announced that if voted to power, it would implement the Mandal Commission report. However, when the issue did not find mention in the president’s address to Parliament, an enraged Ram Avdesh announced in the House that he would not allow the president to proceed with the address. He declared that if the Mandal report was not implemented by 9 August 1990, he would publicly burn the manifesto of the Janata Dal. The Mandal Commission had submitted its report to the government on 31 December 1980. Yet, the file kept on shuttling between the Cabinet Secretary and the Union Ministry of Social Welfare for a decade. Many kinds of excuses were invented for deferring implementation of the report. Innumerable meetings of ministers, secretaries and chief ministers were held with the sole objective of somehow delaying the decision on the report. Every time the file was sent to the Cabinet Secretary for the final approval, he would send it back to the Social Welfare Secretary with some vague queries and objections. In fact, the queries were an indication that the matter had to be held in abeyance. Accordingly, the Social Welfare Secretary took months to answer the queries. These delaying tactics went on for ten years of the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi regimes. On 6 August 1990, a detailed discussion on the issue was held between then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, Social Welfare Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and the secretary in the ministry, P.S. Krishnan. Ultimately, the government issued an order through office memorandum number 36012/31/90- Establishment (SCT) dated 13 August 1990, granting 27 per cent reservation to the OBCs in the services and institutions under the central government.
In keeping with the assurance given in the House, the V.P. Singh government announced the decision to implement the Mandal Commission report on 7 August 1990. At the time, Ram Avdesh Singh and his associates were braving the lathis of the police at Jantar-Mantar, New Delhi. Their slogan was “Implement Mandal Report or Vacate your Chair”. When V.P. Singh came to know of it, he went to Jantar-Mantar to meet Ram Avdhesh Singh. “I have done what you asked for,” the prime minister told him.
In an interview with FORWARD Press, P.S. Krishnan said, “I feel that no Prime Minister of India except V.P. Singh could have taken such a positive and decisive step. He ignored the biased views of the then Cabinet Secretary, who was his classmate. And no other Social Welfare Minister could have played the role which Paswan did at the time.”
The struggle which Ram Avdhesh Singh had launched from Parliament to the streets for the cause of social justice was bound to bear fruit. After the notification reserving 27 per cent posts in the central government was issued, Lal Krishna Advani, then president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was supporting the government, decided to take out a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya with the objective of luring away the OBCs. Ram Avdesh Singh knew very well that this was a conspiracy. To counter Advani’s Rath Yatra, he embarked on a Shambuk Yatra. He was arrested in Uttar Pradesh while Advani was arrested in Bihar on the orders of chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Thus, the Rath Yatra came to a stop. Ram Avdhesh Singh is known as the “godfather” of the OBCs for his relentless pursuit of securing reservations for them.
Prophetic about the misuse of judiciary
Ganpat Mandal, a close associate of Ram Avdhesh Singh, says, “Back in the 1970s, he had told me that in the times to come, the country would be ruled through the judiciary. In a democracy, the legislature is accountable to the people. The representation of the Backwards in the legislature is growing. The legislature makes the laws. The growing presence of the Backwards in the legislature would mean that it would have to make laws in the interest of the Backwards. The ruling class won’t like that to happen but will be wary of opposing such moves openly out of the fear of losing votes. In such circumstances, they will adopt a two-pronged strategy. The legislature will make laws to benefit the Backwards but the courts will declare these legislations unconstitutional because the judiciary is packed with members of the ruling class. There will be no option but to accept the verdict of the courts. The decisions will then be taken on the basis of directives issued by courts while disposing of writ petitions and other cases.”
How foresighted Ram Avdhesh Singh was – for that is actually what happened. He was a strong votary of reservation in the judiciary. His son Dr Kabir says, “My father fought against injustice – in Parliament, on the streets and in courts. Besides securing social justice to the deprived through reservations he also fought for establishment of the judicial services commission and against the Centre’s step-motherly treatment of Bihar.”
Took the fight of chowkidars, dafaidars to logical conclusion
Ram Avdhesh Singh was the president of Bihar Chowkidar-Dafadar Sangh. Under his leadership, Chowkidars staged a round-the-clock sit-in on Patna’s Bailey Road in the biting winter cold. They were demanding the status of Class IV employees. The Bihar government had to ultimately bow to their demands; they became regular government employees. The salary and allowances of chowkidars in Bihar are now far better than in other states. He also joined the struggle of the home guards for their rights. It is because of the struggle that he led that today the home guards get a decent remuneration and policing duties are entrusted to them. Ram Avdhesh Singh had realized in the 1970s itself that the freight equalization policy of the railways was a bane for Bihar. He believed that the policy would be the biggest impediment in the path to the industrialization of Bihar. Subsequently, he was proved right.
This warrior for social justice was a prolific writer and a voracious reader. His writings mirror his multifaceted personality. He has more than ten books to his credit which include Kranti Ki Chhatpatati Huyee Rooh, Daam Bandho Ya Gaddi Chhodo, Haldharon Hamla Karo, Kranti Kee Teen Dishayein, Jangal Ko Jagao, Pahad Ko Pukaro, Brahmanvaad Se har Kadam Par Lado, Samajwad Banam Indira, Inquilab Kee Aahat, Azad Mulk Ke Gulam Log, Mitti Ka Badshah, Pashudharon Kee Angdayee, Grameen Chowkidaron Kee Ladayee and Jayaprakash Ka Asli Chehra. His books created a stir in the conservative sections of society.
Ram Avdhesh Singh had an incisive understanding of Indian society and its workings. He was deeply influenced by the personality and the beliefs of socialist thinker Bhupendra Narayan Mandal. He was always worried about the growing role of money power in elections. Bhupendra Mandal’s grandson Deepak Prasad Yadav, who retired as a professor of Botany from Magadh University, recalls his association with Ram Avdhesh Singh: “The year was 1992. We often had long discussions during morning walks in Delhi’s Lodhi Garden. He was a very loving person. He was a vigilant citizen and was deeply concerned about the growing cost of contesting elections. He used to say, ‘Do you know Deepak? Elections are being made costlier deliberately.’” His view was that if the poor aren’t able to contest elections, no one will give voice to their pain. His prophecy has come true.
Besides being a fighter for social justice he was also known for his simplicity and for his clean electoral politics. He held influential positions in Socialist Party, Samyukta Socialist Party and Bharatiya Lok Dal. After the death of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, he was elected national president of Lok Dal in 1989. He was also the chairman of Bihar Public Service Commission. He successfully discharged his duties as head of the Bihar State Backward Class Association, Bihar State Dafadar-Chowkidar Panchayat, Bihar State Home Guards Association and Bihar State Safai Karamchari Panchayat.
This vigilant sentinel of social justice passed away in Patna on 20 July 2020 of Covid-19. He was 83. He has left behind a family of four sons and a daughter. He has sown the seeds of social justice in the hearts of crores of his admirers. He was a staunch follower of the revolutionary thoughts of Dr Lohia, Dr Ambedkar and Periyar. He fought for promoting social justice, equality and fraternity all his life. He kept fighting for most of his life and in doing so became the guiding light for the younger generation. Indomitable fighters like Ram Avdhesh Babu are not born every day.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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