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Kancha Ilaiah has written an edit-page article in Deccan Herald, 3 December, on VP Singh. I was relieved that at last a newspaper had devoted space to Singh. Ilaiah begins by expressing his disappointment over the media’s lack of coverage and analysis of Singh’s death, and terms him the Abraham Lincoln of India.
(I wondered, fleetingly, why we always look to the US to understand what happens in India – be it calling what happened in Mumbai “India’s 9/11” or looking for an Obama moment in India.)
I too was dismayed over the lack of reporting on VP Singh’s death and the absence of any analysis of his significant role in post-independence politics comparable only to Kanshi Ram’s. But in what little I did see and read, I noticed that brahmin priests were at the forefront of performing the rituals. Vedic chantings were organised and he was burnt in brahmanical-Hindu way. In other words, it was a very religious funeral. It was not a secular event at an electric crematorium. According to the Hindustan Times, 29 Nov 2008:
The last rites of former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh were performed on Saturday with full state honours here on the banks of the Sangam, the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Amid chanting of Vedic hymns, his eldest son Ajeya Singh went around the funeral pyre before lighting it and consigning the body to flames.
All the way from Delhi, why was this kshatriya’s body taken to the Sangam in Allahabad? Was that his last wish? Nehru’s brahmin pandit body was treated no differently. So Singh’s social message did not translate into much in his personal life. That is sad. Hence the Lincoln comparison sounds hollow. We must remember that Singh was and is not Jotirao Phule, who ridiculed brahminism and brahmanic ritual.
Just contrast this with the way Mayawati organised the funeral of Kanshi Ram – a simple Buddhist affair that did not involve brahminical priests. There was very little religion in that funeral. “As per Kanshi Ram’s wishes, his mortal remains would not be immersed in any river but would be kept in the party offices in Delhi and Lucknow, Ms. Mayawati said,” reported The Hindu on 10 Oct 2006.