Born to a humble Dalit family in Jalandhar’s Mustafapur in 1934, Buta Singh rose to prominence in the Congress hierarchy and went on to serve as India’s Home Minister and the Governor of Bihar.
Known for his tenacity — a trait he exhibited early in life by pursuing higher education in times of deep caste prejudices — Buta Singh rose to win late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s trust and, as Home Minister in the latter’s cabinet, toppled state governments of varied hues.
The penchant for executing his leader’s orders won Buta Singh the sobriquet of “demolition man”, while he served as Home Minister between 1985 and 1989.
A graduate from Jalandhar’s Khalsa College, Buta Singh took to Bolshevik literature in student days, but cut political teeth in the Akali Dal winning his first Lok Sabha election from Ropar reserved segment on the Akali ticket in 1962.
The Akali Dal split saw him side with Master Tara Singh, but the association was shortlived as he moved on to the Congress, a party to which he remained most committed through a long political career, in which he briefly flirted with the BJP.
An eight-term Lok Sabha MP (four terms from the Jalore SC segment in Rajasthan where he migrated when Punjab was hit by militancy), Buta Singh served as a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet in 1998, the time when he was chargesheeted in the JMM bribery case. The development saw AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha distancing from the NDA government on the issue of corruption.
Singh returned to his parent party Congress and was made the Bihar Governor in 2004 only to see an unceremonious step down after the Supreme Court castigated his “whimsical dissolution” of the state assembly in 2005.
After the apex court declared the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly null and void, Buta Singh resigned as Governor — his last political posting. He was later appointed chairperson of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes in 2007.
Although Singh was instrumental in rebuilding the Akal Takht in the aftermath of the Operation Bluestar besides helping restore other gurdwaras desecrated in the communal fires of the 1984 Sikh carnage, he faced excommunication from the Sikh Panth over Operation Bluestar.
Buta Singh cleaned shoes and washed utensils at the Golden Temple as a mark of atonement before he could return to the Sikh religious order. Another eventful chapter in Buta Singh’s life was his active supervision as Home Minister of the 1989 “shilanyas” at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site.
It was in the aftermath of Congress’ poll loss in the Lok Sabha elections the same year that Buta Singh defected to the BJP only to return to the Grand Old Party later.