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Kalyan Singh: How a wrestler-turned-teacher changed the course of politics in UP

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date
Kalyan Singh: How a wrestler-turned-teacher changed the course of politics in UP

Lucknow: Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, 89, who passed away on Saturday night, was the first-ever Bharatiya Janata Party’s CM in the state in 1991 and was heading the BJP government in UP when the Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

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The poster-boy of Hindutva, Kalyan Singh, was born on January 5, 1932. Before joining politics, he worked as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer and a small-time wrestler in his hometown Aligarh. After completing his education, Kalyan Singh got the job as a teacher in Uttar Pradesh but he took his wrestler’s aptitude in politics and became the leader of the Lodhs, a community that is around 4-5 per cent in UP but is influential even in Madhya Pradesh.

He was handpicked by the late RSS leader Bhaurao Deoras to head the UP BJP unit after the sudden demise of the party’s first state chief Madhav Prasad Tripathi. Kalyan soon had a job on his hands – countering the Mandal agitation that the RSS feared would divide Hindus on caste lines. It was the period in UP when the Congress was on the decline and the period would witness the rise of two powerful, but ideologically opposite OBC leaders in UP who dominated politics for a long time — Kalyan Singh and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav.

“Babuji”, as Kalyan was referred to, made his way into active politics after his arrest during the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi government. After spending 21 months in jail, Kalyan was freed, at that time the Janata Party coalition had formed governments in several states in 1977 and Kalyan Singh became the health minister of Uttar Pradesh.

He was also the president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), the forerunner of the BJP. The Janata Party experiment failed and the BJS was revamped as the BJP in 1980.

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Through the 1980s, the BJP was looking for an idea that could catapult it on National level and nothing seemed more beneficial for party’s growth then the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) campaign for the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Kalyan Singh was just the right man at the right moment for the BJP. He was a staunch supporter of the campaign for the Ram Mandir construction in Ayodhya and was fiercely opposed to then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. He was also from an OBC caste, giving the BJP an opportunity to expand their base among the biggest vote-bank.

Uttar Pradesh went to the assembly elections in 1991, and the BJP formed the government, improving its tally by 164. Of 425 assembly seats — including Uttarakhand as it was not a separate state yet — the BJP won 221.

Soon after becoming the chief minister in June 1991, Kalyan Singh visited Ayodhya and promised to construct the Ram Mandir there. And within five months that is in October 1991, the Kalyan Singh government issued a notification acquiring 2.77 acres of land around the Babri Masjid complex. It was done for the purpose of construction of Ram Mandir. Later, with the Supreme Court’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid judgment in 2019, this piece of land went to the Ram Mandir trust.

In July 1992, a three-metre concrete platform was raised by digging an area around the Babri Masjid. The Kalyan Singh government said it was for performing bhajan (devotional song) by devotees. The VHP then called it the foundation of Ram Mandir.

Meanwhile, a kar seva (volunteer work) began for Ram Mandir construction in Ayodhya. The workers belonging to the RSS, the VHP and other affiliate organisations started to pour-in Ayodhya to build pressure for construction of Ram Mandir. The BJP and the Shiv Sena leaders and workers were part of the kar seva.

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Amid apprehension that the Babri Masjid could be damaged, the Kalyan Singh government told the Centre and the apex court that it would not allow the kar sevaks to damage the Babri Masjid.

The Babri Masjid, however, was brought down on December 6, 1992 while the Kalyan Singh government refused to use force against the kar sevaks, who had gathered in thousands in Ayodhya. Late that evening, Kalyan Singh resigned, taking moral responsibility for failing to protect the Babri Masjid.

He is one of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, which is still open. The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) chargesheet claims that despite giving assurances before the National Integration Council, Kalyan Singh did nothing to protect Babri Masjid as UP chief minister.

Interestingly, Kalyan Singh got immunity from prosecution in the Babri demolition case for five years, from 2014 to 2019, while he was the Rajasthan governor. Incidentally, he became the first Rajasthan governor to complete a five-year-term in 52 years.

In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that Kalyan Singh could be prosecuted in the Babri case once his immunity ends after he demits the office of governor.

Kalyan Singh’s Ram Mandir push was winning BJP nationally through the 1990s but he disgruntled within the party and later was sacked by BJP president LK Advani after he went to the extent of ‘sabotaging’ Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s election 1999 Lok Sabha polls, in Lucknow.

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He left the BJP thrice – twice over differences with party leadership and then in 2014 after being appointed governor of Rajasthan; coming back to the party each time.

Kalyan Singh formed his own party, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal, and flirted with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

He rejoined the BJP in 2004 but lost the parliamentary election.

In 2009, Kalyan Singh quit the BJP to contest Lok Sabha as an Independent candidate and become an MP.

He rejoined the BJP ahead of the 2014 polls, in which his son Rajveer Singh was fielded by the party. Rajveer Singh is a Lok Sabha MP in his second term.

What paved the way for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, was his second term as chief minister, when the Kalyan Singh government in February 1998 decided to withdraw all cases against those associated with the Ram Mandir campaign and declared that the Ram Mandir would be constructed in Ayodhya if and when the BJP forms a government at the Centre with its own majority.

In 2014, when the BJP won a majority of its own and came into power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, kept his words and laid the foundation stone for the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.

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