Jat leader Birender Singh again misses the bus

Chandigarh, June 21 (IANS) Haryana's powerful Jat leader Birender Singh has once again missed the bus. All set to be inducted into the union cabinet in perhaps its last expansion before next year's general election, he suddenly found his name being dropped at the last minute from the list of those to be inducted.

That his entry into Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet was a certainty till the last day could be seen from two pointers. One, he was sounded out about this a day ahead of Monday's reshuffle and, two, he was moved out as Congress general secretary in-charge of states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

With Birender Singh out on a limb, the party made him a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in an apparent damage control exercise. But that was only a consolation prize for him.

Though Congress insiders tried to justify Birender Singh's last minute exclusion to the fact that another Jat leader, the 85-year-old Sis Ram Ola from poll-bound Rajasthan, was inducted and two Jat leaders could not be made ministers in the same expansion, the fact remains that there were other reasons for the sudden move.

Birender Singh is a known baiter of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Together with another Hooda critic, union minister Selja, and some other Congress detractors, Birender Singh has never missed an opportunity to criticize Hooda and his government. Congress insiders say that it was the Hooda camp which complained to the top Congress leaders in New Delhi once it became clear that Birender Singh was being inducted in the union cabinet.

"He has been openly criticizing the Hooda government to settle personal scores. If he was made a minister, it would have been like rewarding him for anti-party activities," a senior leader of the Hooda camp said.

With Haryana due for assembly elections next October, the Congress high command could hardly afford to further divide the party. Hooda is serving his second term as chief minister, first occupying the office in March 2005 and then in October 2009.

Grandson of Haryana's famous peasant leader Sir Chhotu Ram, Birender Singh is considered among the state's tallest of Jat leaders. However, he has always felt he never got his due as a senior politician - like this time when he was pipped at the last moment.

Birender Singh had even claimed that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had assured him that he would be made chief minister of Haryana. This was just before Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991.

After that, Singh could only manage to become finance minister in the Hooda government (2005-2009). In the October 2009 assembly election, he lost to Indian National Lok Dal stalwart Om Prakash Chautala in the Uchana seat. The Congress rehabilitated him by sending to the Rajya Sabha and making him a general secretary.

For now, Singh will have to wait longer to get a bigger role in the government - whether at the centre or in the state.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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