Beni Prasad Verma started his politics in the anti-Congress camp, growing under the peasant politics steered by Charan Singh in UP. (File Photo)
Former Union Minister and senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Beni Prasad Verma (79) died at a private hospital in Lucknow on Friday. Verma, a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh, had been ailing for some time.
Born in a peasant family belonging to the Kurmi community, Verma was a lawyer before he joined politics under the tutelage of Socialist leader Ram Sewak Yadav in Barabanki in the early 1970s. He went on to first serve as a minister in the state government, and then as Union minister in the United Front (1996-1998) and the UPA-II governments.
A Socialist, Verma started his politics in the anti-Congress camp, growing under the peasant politics steered by Charan Singh in UP. He was among the few pre-Emergency Socialist leaders active in current national politics.
Verma was first elected to the Assembly in 1974, under the banner of Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD). Though a term senior to him, Mulayam Singh Yadav was also elected as a BKD member the same year. And thus they became comrades in arms.
Charan Singh groomed both, as he tried to stitch together a social coalition against the politics of the Congress. He ensured that both were included in the post-Emergency Janata government in Lucknow. When Janata Party split in 1980, both these leaders opted for Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal.
Verma remained Mulayam’s loyal fellow traveller through Mandal politics — when Mulayam became UP chief minister for the first time in 1989, when he split from Janata Dal to contest separately in 1991 Assembly polls, and when Samaj-wadi Party was founded in 1992.
Having parted ways from the Janata Dal, Mulayam got a reality check in the 1991 Assembly polls, when his Janata Party won just 34 seats in the 425-member House, despite being hailed by secularists for his defence of the Babri Masjid during the karsevak agitation of 1990. Verma was instrumental in winning a cluster of five Assembly segments. So, when Mulayam floated the SP, he kept Verma by his side.
When Mulayam played an instrumental role in the formation of the United Front government at the Centre, he chose Verma, along with Janeshwar Mishra and himself, to represent the SP in the coalition government. Verma was later elevated to Cabinet rank. The Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, 1997, which guided the opening up of the telecom sector, happened under his watch as the Communications Minister.
But in 2009, Verma parted ways with Mulayam, when the latter collaborated with Kalyan Singh, the protagonist of Kamandal politics in UP. He joined the Congress, and was invited to join the then Manmohan Singh government in January 2011.
Verma, known to be plainspoken, refused to attend the swearing-in ceremony when he found out that the seating order indicated that his rank was Minister of State (independent charge). He only relented after an assurance that he would be elevated soon.
Months later, he was elevated to Cabinet rank and was inducted into the Congress Working Committee, ahead of 2012 UP Assembly polls. The Congress’s poll setback marked the beginning of Verma’s disenchantment with the party, that ended with his return to SP in 2016, when he was sent to Rajya Sabha.
Verma was averse to BJP’s politics till the end. Early during his stint in Congress, his derogatory remarks against Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Parliament in 2009 forced Manmohan to apologise. But Verma did not apologise.
“Anguished by the passing away of Shri Beni Prasad Verma. My thoughts are with his family and supporters in this sad hour. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister's Office tweeted, quoting Narendra Modi, on Friday.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav also condoled his death.