19 December 2011

With Lucknow in Mind, Ajit Singh Gets Civil Aviation

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh was inducted into the union cabinet and given charge of the civil aviation ministry, days after his party joined the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ahead of upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh.

In the fourth expansion of the council of ministers, the Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh was the only one to take oath at a brief ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. President Pratibha Patil administered the oath.

 Son of former prime minister Charan Singh, Ajit Singh 72, is a six-time member of the Lok Sabha and represents the family bastion Baghpat. His RLD wields considerable influence in western Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and some senior ministers were among those who saw Ajit Singh take oath in Hindi.

On the advice of the prime minister, the president allocated the civil aviation ministry to Ajit Singh, the Rashtrapati Bhavan said.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had held additional charge of civil aviation.

Ajit Singh's induction came barely a week after his party formally joined the UPA in a move that is expected to strengthen their electoral prospects in agriculturally rich western Uttar Pradesh.

The RLD has five MPs in the Lok Sabha. With the RLD, the UPA's strength in the 545-strong lower house goes up from 272 to 277.

After taking oath, Ajit Singh struck an upbeat note, saying the RLD-Congress alliance will provide a "clear-cut alternative" to the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh.

"People are fed up with the Mayawati government but there was no clear-cut alternative. The alliance provides the people a clear-cut alternative," he told reporters.

He added that the Uttar Pradesh outcome will have a national impact. But Ajit Singh, who has worked for 15 years in the computer industry in the US, declined to comment on the Lokpal issue.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who played a pivotal role in bringing the RLD into the UPA, was present on the occasion.

He was seen chatting with Jayant Chaudhary, son of Ajit Singh, a RLD MP who represents Mathura in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress admitted the RLD into the ruling alliance to improve their combined prospects in the coming Uttar Pradesh polls where the other three major actors will be Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party.

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Ajit Singh was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Ajit Singh has in the past forayed from the Lok Dal, founded by his late father, to Congress. He has also allied with the BJP and Samajwadi Party.

The RLD contested the 2009 Lok Sabha battle in alliance with the BJP.