There may be an element of truth in a robust week-long SMS and e-mail campaign that says Buta Singh, Chairman of the National Commission for SCs and STs has been targeted by the CBI at the instance of powerful elements in the Congress party. Although the former Union Home Minister is a long-standing hatchet man of the Congress establishment, quarters close to him insist that he had inadvertently annoyed 10, Janpath by taking a principled stand against extending the benefits of reservations to former Scheduled Castes that had converted to Islam and Christianity. What lends some credibility to the allegation is that Sonia Gandhi and her loyalists have all along extended strong political support to the demand raised by the conversion industry for treating the Muslim and Christian former SCs at par with the Hindu SCs. This is an illogical and totally unacceptable demand. If accepted, it would eat into the benefits available to Hindu SCs, who continue to suffer social disabilities because of the distorted interpretation of caste system. Those who converted to other religions to escape social discrimination have no moral or legal right to claim benefits of reservations. But the vote-bank politics is the only consideration for Sonia Gandhi and others of her ilk to support this unworthy cause. The second argument to support Buta Singh and his son, Sarabjot Singh Sweety, is that the person who has accused Sweety of accepting a bribe is himself a crook. The complainant may be a scamster, but does this give anyone the right to demand bribe abusing his father’s official position? The case against the contractor, who has allegedly defrauded 103 municipal conservancy workers-all SCs-needs to be probed and it is the duty of the state to bring the fraudulent person to justice. Neither Buta Singh’s stand on former SC converts nor the argument that a suspected criminal is the complainant in the case is no reason to let the Chairman of the Commission and his tainted son get away with their misadventures.
CBI is investigating the case pertaining to one Ramarao Patil, a Nashik-based contractor, who had taken a loan of Rs 8 crore from a cooperative institution in the name of 100 plus SC persons but failed to return the loan with interest. Poor conservancy workers were shocked to receive notices from the bank and lodged a complaint in a Nashik police station against the said Patil for defrauding them. The National Commission for SCs and STs presided over by Buta Singh is the authority that will decide the case. Patil complained to the CBI that Sarbjot Singh, son of Buta Singh, had demanded Rs 3 crore from him as a consideration for the commission taking a lenient view of his guilt. CBI laid a trap and Sarbjot Singh was caught red-handed accepting Rs 1 crore, most of it in fake currency notes (CBI says it used fake notes as it didn’t have enough money to meet Singh’s huge demand). CBI further claims to have recovered unlicensed arms and ammunition from Sarbjot’s residence and has booked him under the Arms Act as well. Singh, as of now, is in police custody and has allegedly confessed his involvement in the fraud. Buta Singh vows to defend his son to the hilt. His case is that the entire “drama” is a political conspiracy to tarnish his image and, therefore, there is no question of his resigning.
It is an intriguing case of Ramarao Patil-the contractor who is absconding but is available to the media-who has reportedly admitted that he did take a loan of Rs 8 crore from a cooperative institution in the name of 103 conservancy workers to purchase equipment as he had got conservancy contracts in Mumbai and Kohlapur. He, however, denies he kept the workers in the dark and claims that they had full knowledge that he was taking the loan in their names and had willingly signed the requisite documents. His failure to repay the loan to the bank, he claims, was because his contracts were terminated by the municipal authorities concerned. Consequently, the bank issued a notice to recover the loan from the workers, who had never received the money but had in their ignorance signed the documents. The workers-all belonging to SCs-say they were made to sign documents under the garb of providing them jobs in the Nashik Municipal Corporation. If Patil’s admission is accepted by the court, it is a criminal case of fraud played on hapless conservancy workers. He must be made to return the loan and the bank needs to be told not to harass the poor workers.
The most disgusting aspect of this dirty drama is that the Chairman of the Commission, which was constituted to protect the interests of SCs and STs, is himself accused of allowing his son to indulge in murky deals to protect the man who is the root cause of the harassment of SC workers. Buta Singh may have served the ruling party during his long association with it but he certainly has hurt the interests of the community he belongs to and the statutory authority he heads. Resigning on moral grounds is no option for him. He proudly confesses that he is not a “great moralist”. For once, he is telling the truth. His track record is blemished with acts of constitutional and political improprieties. Pubic memory is short but not so fragile to forget that he was convicted in the JMM bribery case along with PV Narasimha Rao, though they were eventually acquitted by the apex court in a controversial judgment. His other son-Lovely Singh-figured in the cash-for-vote scam of 2008 in which the mole-Sohail Hindustani-said it was Lovely who approached him on behalf of the Congress high command. Lovely Singh is the same person who was accused of running a favour-pedalling agency in Bihar during President’s rule when his father was the Governor.
As Governor of Bihar, Buta Singh brought disgrace to the constitutional office by not only allowing his son to allegedly exploit his office and position for making easy money but also his partisan role on crucial moments. He was indicted by the Supreme Court for acting in haste to recommend the dissolution of the assembly, thereby misleading the Union Cabinet. The court observed that the Governor acted in that manner because he waned to checkmate a particular party from staking claim to form a government. His immediate resignation would have been the normal consequence. But Buta Singh defied strong public demand for his immediate sack and didn’t lay down office till he had taken salute at the Republic Day parade in Patna. That the Congress high command rewarded him with Chairmanship of the National Commission for SCs and STs after his disgraceful exit from Patna Raj Bhawan shows he had acted in the manner he did at the instance of the high command. Like Bhajan Lal of Haryana, Buta Singh is known for his “man management” skills and the art of engineering defections. He is one of the stalwarts in the Congress establishment’s dirty tricks department. He masterminded and executed countless tricks played by the ruling party during the last three decades. This time round, his supporters blame unnamed powerful elements (read Sonia Gandhi and her loyalists) for trapping his son in a scandal to defame and dethrone him. CBI, on the other hand, claims that it has credible evidence that would link the Chairman of the Commission with the alleged bribery case and that it may question the Chairman at an appropriate time. Buta Singh is all set for a long and bitter battle. Survival by fair and foul means is his trademark. Who knows what is up his sleeves? Will the Congress allow his hatchet man survive or has the party come to the conclusion that the man has outlived his utility?