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Faltering steps of a giant-killer

May 30, 2014 12:11 IST

Word from the BJP is that following the controversy over his comments on Article 370, Jitendra Singh has been asked to desist from talking about his favourite topics and focus instead on the business of governance and the sizeable portfolios that he has been entrusted with, writes Archis Mohan.

Jitendra Singh, the 57-year-old minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, is a man of many facets. He is a practising diabetologist, an author of eight books, a columnist, and lately, a politician. In the recent elections, Singh, clearly the underdog, defeated Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir.

Having earned the sobriquet of giant-killer, Singh perhaps wanted to live up to that name, for soon after assuming his ministerial post in New Delhi, he declared that the Narendra Modi government would work to repeal the special status to Jammu and Kashmir accorded under Article 370 of the Constitution.

Singh's reference to the controversial topic ate into any good press that the other newly appointed ministers had expected on their first day in office. The print and electronic media, as well as social networking sites, went into overdrive over the first-time junior minister's comments, leaving a stunned Singh pleading he had been "misquoted".

Word from the Bharatiya Janata Party is that the minister has been asked to desist from talking about his favourite topics and focus instead on the business of governance and the sizeable portfolios that he has been entrusted with.

Apart from being a minister of state in the PMO, Singh has been entrusted with the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions, the department of atomic energy, and the department of space. Singh also holds the independent charge of the ministries of science and technology and earth sciences.

His supporters, including senior ministers in the new government, have attributed the 'misstep' to Singh's 'reflexes'. Says a party leader: "Article 370 is an emotive vote-catcher in Jammu, and Singh, as the party spokesperson there, has frequently talked about it. But this is Delhi and he is no longer in the opposition."

But Singh isn't new to controversies. In 2008, he had become the face of the agitation led by the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti over the transfer of land to build shelter for Hindu pilgrims. The protest had brought Jammu and Kashmir to a standstill for 61 days. He was so prominent during the agitation that in 2011 it cost him a US visa.

But elsewhere, the doctor's performance was noted in a more favourable light. Four years after the agitation, Singh quit his job as a professor of diabetes and endocrinology at the Jammu Government Medical College to join the BJP. The party recognised his talent by appointing him the party spokesperson.

Perhaps this also had to do with the fact that Singh has written provocatively on the issue of Kashmiri domination of Jammu in his column, called Tales of Travesty, in The Kashmir Times for almost 25 years now.

Interestingly, Azad, the Congress stalwart he vanquished in Udhampur, as Union minister of health, had honoured Singh as the 'Distinguished Personality of the Region' in 1994.

His comments on Article 370 not only riled the ruling National Conference and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, but also his younger brother, Devinder Singh Rana. Ironically, the siblings are on opposing sides of the political divide in the state. Rana was earlier an adviser to Abdullah and is now the president of the Jammu unit of the National Conference.

The irony didn't stop there. Singh's comments received the severest rebuke from Abdullah, who on Twitter said the talk of revoking Article 370 was not just "ill-informed" but also "irresponsible".

Not surprisingly, on Thursday, ministers received a directive to restrict their comments and tweets to affairs pertaining to their ministry.

Archis Mohan in New Delhi
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