Squadron Leader Rajeshwar Prasad Singh, Indian Airforce

Squadron Leader Rajeshwar Prasad Singh

Rajeshwar Prasad Singh(aka Rajesh Pilot) was a squadron leader in the Indian Air Force, flying both fighter and transport aircraft. Later he took the plunge into politics. He first contested and won an election in 1980. As a "Young Turk" within the party, he often took on the leadership and was considered as President material. Rajesh had a modern mind with a rural background and could converse equally well in both Hindi and English. He had tremendous mass appeal and following among backward farmers in western UP and Rajasthan. His death dealt a major blow to Kashmir, as he had been deeply involved with the problem and wanted restoration of peace in the entire state.

Born in Punjab's Ghaziabad district, Rajeshwar Prasad was the son of a retired army havaldar. To earn money for his studies at Delhi's MB Higher Secondary School, he sold milk to army canteens. Joining the Indian Air Force, he was the first member of his Gujjar community to earn his wings, in 1966.

Flight lieutenant Ramesh Kaul recalls: "I and Rajesh were in school at Mandir Marg. When we joined the air force it was the same selection batch. In June 1964, we joined the southern training camp. The day he was commissioned as an officer with the rest of us, he pointed toward the chief guest on the occasion, the then Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh and said that he would like to have all those fitis on his shoulder and left pocket. We all laughed at him because he had barely been commissioned and he was already dreaming of becoming IAF chief. But then that was Rajesh Pilot.

Rajesh Pilot was given duty in the transport sector but requested his boss that he be allowed to fly fighter aircraft. His wish was granted as a special case. But as time passed his priorities changed and he started dreaming of the days when we would receive him as a minister in the central cabinet. We would not take him seriously, life was fun for him, he was adventurous then. He went on a number of bombing missions in the 1971 war and each time he came back, he told us stories about the missions.

Even when he was on duty he was looking ahead and dreaming. He got an honourable discharge from the IAF because he told them that he was joining politics. Later when he became a minister, he did not forget his friends in uniform. He said he wanted to join politics because of the hardships he had seen in life. He did not want others to go through that. He was a simple man and when his daughter got married, the chief guest was former air force chief Arjan Singh."

Rajesh left the IAF as a Squadron Leader in 1979, and entered politics. He was given a ticket for the Bharatpur constituency by Sanjay Gandhi for the 1980 elections, when he changed his name to Rajesh Pilot. He used to visit far flung areas and looked into the problems of the people living in the areas which were normally cut-off by heavy snowfall. The Congress leader often used to break away from the high security cover and mix with the people, listen to their woes and ensure speedy justice.

Pilot quickly made a name for himself as a political peacemaker and troubleshooter. He played a key role in bringing about the Assam accord, which led to the 1985 election there. In 1984 he was made Minister of State for Transport by Rajiv Gandhi. He contested later from Dausa constituency in Rajasthan, and was made Minister of State for Internal Security by Rao in January 1993.

As minister of internal security he was involved in negotiations with secessionist groups in Kashmir and the northeast. Pilotís love for the Valley was an extension of the legacy of former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi who had this state and its people close to their heart.

The 55-year-old Pilot had spent most of his tenure as Home Minister of the P.V. Narsimha Rao Ministry in Kashmir in an effort to bring peace back to the Valley. He had openly voiced his opposition to the pro-active policy against the militants and was a firm believer in holding talks with the misguided youths.

Pilot was the author of the first ever talks between some militant groups and the Centre. With his political skills flavoured with his soft voice, he broke the back-bone of militancy in the state in mid-90ís. But his work remained incomplete because of his bickerings with the Home Ministry.

During his last and incomplete tenure following 1999 elections, Pilot had been visiting the valley to find ways and means to bring back lasting peace. However, his cherished dream remains unfulfilled as death snatched him away.

On June 11, 2000, After addressing a meeting in his constituency of Dausa, he was on his way to catch a flight at Jaipur on his return to Delhi. Pilot was seriously injured when his jeep collided head-on with a transport bus, he succumbed to his injuries at the Sawai Mansingh hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

The Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee paying tributes at the body of Shri Rajesh Pilot.

On June 12, 2000, President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Home Minister L.K. Advani and leaders from various political parties visited the departed leaderís residence to pay homage to him. Pilotís body was later taken to the AICC headquarters to enable the party workers to pay tributes to the deceased leader. All religion prayers were recited as hundreds of party leaders and workers filed past the body at the AICC headquarters.

Then draped in the Congress flag the body was brought to the 'Nigambodh Ghat' cremation ground in an Airforce vehicle in a procession which wound its way from AICC headquarters amidst the chanting of slogans ĎRajesh Pilot Amar Raheí and ĎNeta Nahi Fakir Tha - Desh Ka Taqdeer Thaí. Thousands of people including party workers and Seva Dal volunteers lined up on both sides of the route from AICC office to the Nigambodh Ghat as the flower-bedecked carrier crawled.

Tight security arrangements were made both at the cremation ground and all along the route during the final journey beginning from the party headquarters. It took nearly two hours for the funeral procession to reach the Nigambodh Ghat. Media people including TV crews jostled with each other as frenzied supporters surged forward to catch the last glimpse of their departed leader.

Buglers sounded the last post as a contingent of Delhi Police reversed arms and fired thrice in the air as a mark of respect. Congress workers led by Sonia Gandhi, along with his innumerable admirers, sobbed as Pilotís son Sachin lit the pyre at 1820 hours under a cloudy sky at Nigambodh Ghat in the presence of his crestfallen mother Rama and his sister Sarika and her husband Vishal.

Mrs Rama Pilot is consoled by a relative

On June 15, Rama Pilot and her son Sachin carried an urn containing Pilot's ashes from Delhi by a private helicopter to Bharatpur where a prayer meeting was held in the college ground. Thousands of Congress workers paid floral tribute to pilot when another urn containing his ashes was placed for darshan at the party headquarters in Bharatpur, Dausa and Jaipur.

The ashes were finally immersed at many places including - the Pushkar lake in Ajmer district and the confluence of three seas at Kanyakumari.

Rama Pilot and her son Sachin immersing the ashes in the Tawi river.

Mrs Rama Pilot was determined to carry forward her husband's legacy. In October 2000, she rode the sympathy wave to win the Dausa Lok Sabha seat defeating the nearest rival by a margin of over 65,000 votes.

On August 30, 2001, Vice President Shri Krishan Kant conferred the "Nath Pai Sevangan" award posthumously to Shri Rajesh Pilot for his performance as a Parliamentarian at a function in New Delhi. Mrs Rama Pilot, M.P., received the award on her husbands behalf.

Mrs Rama Pilot receiving the award from Shri Krishan Kant.

More on Mrs Rama Pilot

J&K House pays rich tributes to Pilot
(excerpts from the Excelsior 20/6/2000)

Chief Minister , Dr Farooq Abdullah paying homage to Mr Rajesh Pilot in Legislative Assembly.

SRINAGAR, June 19: The special session of the state legislature paid rich tributes to senior Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, who died in a road accident in Rajasthan on June 11 last.

Initiating the obituary, Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah described Pilot as a great leader of his time who devoted his life completely for the service of people. He said that the tragic death had created too big a vacuum to be filled in near future.

The Chief Minister described Mr Pilot as a great friend and well-wisher of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and said that, both as Minister as well as a politician, he had left behind indelible impressions for the contemporary times and posterity. Dr Abdullah said that Pilot was the first Indian leader who introduced and maintained the Centreís human face in Governorís rule over Jammu & Kashmir. He visited the Valley frequently defying all threats and risks to his personal life and he always yearned for Kashmirís peace and prosperity. Four days before his death, Pilot visited Gund Khwaja Qasim and shared the grief of death with the families of eleven innocent civilians who had been killed in a mine-blast.

CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami said that Pilot was a great human being who believed in mitigating the peoplesí suffering at any cost. He said that Pilot was among the few national level leaders who had no conflict between their act and intention. Tarigami said that he had never imagined that anybody in Kashmir would ever shed tears on the death of an Indian leader. "But, I was surprised to find every Kashmiri in tears when the news of Pilotís death reached here", he said. What better could be the evidence of Pilotís popularity, he asked and said that whenever the politicians did good work, it was never forgotten by the people.

Jammu & Kashmir Awami League chairman Mohammad Yusuf Parray, better known by his counter-insurgent sobriquet "Kukka Parray", paid rich tributes to Pilot. Messers Shiv Charan Gupta (BJP), Jagdish Raj Dubey(JD), Tara Chand (Congress) and Abdur Rehman Veeri (PDP) also spoke and paid rich tributes to Pilot. In his presidential address, Speaker Abdul Ahad Vakil paid eloquent homage Pilot while describing him as a Messiah for humanity.

The House observed two minutes silence in honour of Mr Pilot.