After a protracted illness, Kalyan Singh, who combined Mandal and Kamandal — caste identity politics and Hindutva — into a solid political cocktail that fueled the BJP’s expansion, died Saturday evening in a Lucknow hospital.
He was 89 years old at the time.
Kalyan Singh was known among the party ranks as the “Hindu-Hriday Samrat” long before Narendra Modi made his national debut.
His rise in the party was spectacular, with the Babri Masjid being demolished under his watch as Chief Minister, and his fall and fadeout were almost as quick.
In 2017, the BJP returned to power in Uttar Pradesh after a 15-year absence, riding the same Mandal-Kamandal combination, and is attempting to tap into the same coalitions ahead of next year’s elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences, saying that Kalyan Singh‘s contribution to India’s “culture rejuvenation” will be remembered by “generations to come.”
And that he “gave voice to crores of people from the most marginalized areas of society,” advocating for “farmers, youth, and women’s empowerment.”
After a 13-day BJP government in 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee won 182 Lok Sabha seats in 1998, including 58 from Uttar Pradesh, then Kalyan ruled Singh.
Despite the euphoria of victory in Kargil a year later, the party was barely clinging to that number.
Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, paid tribute to Kalyan Singh on Saturday in Lucknow.
The reason: the BJP’s tally in Uttar Pradesh, which had plummeted to 29 seats during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections due to Kalyan’s public feud with Vajpayee.
According to reports, Kalyan advised his advisers that Vajpayee needed first to become an MP before becoming prime minister.
These remarks reached Delhi’s mighty ears, sealing his fate. Following the elections, then-BJP general secretary KN Govindacharya was dispatched to Lucknow to serve Kalyan with a suspension notice.
After rejecting the leadership’s invitation to relinquish the Lucknow chair and join the Centre as Agriculture Minister, he was given marching orders.
When he returned to the BJP just before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, his magic had faded — the BJP could only muster ten seats in Uttar Pradesh, falling seven seats short of the Congress at the national level and losing power in Delhi.
Despite winning his own Lok Sabha seat with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s aid, Kalyan Singh could never reclaim his political ground.
He left the BJP again before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, this time to run as an Independent candidate with Mulayam’s support.
Ironically, it was the fierce Kalyan-Mulayam feud that elevated him to a national figure among BJP activists.
While Mulayam allowed the police to fire on kar-sevaks to rescue the Babri Masjid in October 1990, it was under Kalyan Singh’s watch that the police were warned not to do so on
December 6, 1992, essentially tying their hands and allowing kKarsevaks to raze the Babri Masjid that afternoon.
Kalyan Singh remained unapologetic, describing the incident as a “spontaneous outburst.” This became his calling card, and it captivated BJP workers and fans throughout the country.
So much so that, even though the BJP had passed a resolution in support of the Ram Temple in 1989 and L K Advani had galvanized public sentiment with his Rath Yatra in 1990, it was Kalyan who became known as the architect of the temple’s destruction.
In 1994, Kalyan Singh, who had told the Supreme Court that the Babri would remain protected, was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a day in jail. He revelled in his turn in the political spotlight.
Kalyan Singh, a former schoolteacher, served as an RSS functionary in his hometown of Aligarh before being recruited by Nanaji Deshmukh for electoral politics.
In 1967, Singh was elected to the UP Assembly for the first time as a Jan Sangh member; the same year, Mulayam was elected to the Assembly for the first time as a Socialist Party member.
After the Emergency, Singh was a Jan Sangh nominee in the Janata Party administration that came to power in Lucknow ten years later, and Mulayam was his Cabinet partner.
After the Janata Party split over the dual membership problem (being a member of both the Janata Party and the RSS), Kalyan Singh joined the BJP with his fellow Jan Sangh colleagues and became the state general secretary in 1980.
During Mulayam’s first term as CM, he was elected state president of the BJP in 1984 and leader of the BJP legislature party after the 1989 Assembly elections.
Kalyan Singh, who had immunity as Governor of Rajasthan, was deposed before the CBI court after resigning from the position in 2019.
Kalyan Singh was tried for conspiracy with other BJP leaders such as Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, and other VHP leaders but was subsequently acquitted by the CBI trial court in September 2020.
Those were, in a sense, the bookends of his political career. The Supreme Court’s decision in the title dispute in 2019 opened the route for the Ram temple to be built on the site where the Babri used to stand before it was razed under his watch.
On Saturday, Home Minister Shah remarked, “I bow down to such a magnificent and exemplary life committed to the nation, religion, and people.” “The whole BJP family, as well as the country, is grieving his loss…
A real patriot has been lost to the country… Babuji was a gigantic tree beneath whose shade the BJP grew and flourished.”