Congress workers celebrate return of former minister Lal Singh to party fold in Jammu

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Jammu: Congress workers on Wednesday celebrated the merger of the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party (DSSP) led by former minister Choudhary Lal Singh with their party here on Wednesday, expressing hope that his joining will boost the party’s prospects in the Udhampur parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir.

The 65-year-old Singh, who hails from Kathua district, rejoined the Congress at its headquarters in Delhi amid speculations that he will be fielded against BJP minister Jitendra Singh from the Udhampur parliamentary constituency which is going to polls in the first phase on April 19.

A group of Congress workers assembled at the Shaheedi Chowk party office here and chanted slogans to praise Singh’s decision to rejoin the party.

“We welcome the merger of DSSP with Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The return of Singh is a big boost for the party as he is a veteran leader with a clean image and secular outlook. He came forward voluntarily to support Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir,” state Congress working president Raman Bhalla said.

Singh, who had won the Udhampur parliamentary seat twice on a Congress ticket in 2004 and 2009, switched from the Congress to the BJP in 2014 and was also a minister in the previous PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir which collapsed in June, 2018 after the national party pulled out of the alliance.

Several months before the fall of the government, Singh resigned from the BJP and floated the DSSP following uproar over his participation in a rally in support of the accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in January 2018. However, he defended his participation in the rally stating that he was there to “defuse the situation”.

On November 7 last year, he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a money laundering case against an educational trust run by his wife and former legislator Kanta Andotra. However, he was released on bail three weeks after his arrest.

The money laundering case stems from an October 2021 charge sheet filed by the CBI in this case which alleged criminal connivance in the issuance of land between January 4 and January 7, 2011, without mentioning details in respect of violation of the ceiling limit of 100 standard kanal imposed under Section 14 of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, thereby giving undue pecuniary advantage to the trust.

Based on this, the trust acquired multiple pieces of land of about 329 kanal vide three gift deeds executed on January 5 and January 7, 2011, the CBI charge sheet claimed.

Union minister Jitendra Singh retained the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by defeating Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh, the grandson of erstwhile Maharaja Hari Singh, by a margin of 3,53,272 votes. Lal Singh only got 19,049 votes.

In 2014, Jitendra Singh had defeated former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad from the Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 60,976 votes.

Reacting to Lal Singh joining the Congress, chief spokesperson of the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) Salman Nizami said the development was “utterly shameful for Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi”.

“…this betrays the core principles and ideology of Congress. It vindicates our decision to leave a party that harbours supporters of rapists. Shame on you, Congress!” Nizami wrote on X.

Ghulam Nabi Azad along with dozens of Congress leaders, including Nizami, formed the DPAP in September 2022.

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