V. P. Singh, a former prime minister of India who was considered the father of coalition politics there and who stirred controversy by championing the rights of the country's poorest citizens, died on Thursday in New Delhi. He was 77.
The cause was blood cancer and renal failure, said his close associate, Wasim Ahmad.
Mr. Singh changed Indian politics significantly despite leading the country only briefly, from 1989 to 1990.
Having broken with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the wake of a scandal, he united the entire spectrum of parties against the Congress Party of Mr. Gandhi under one umbrella and forged the National Front, with additional support from the Bharatiya Janata Party and left-wing parties. The National Front came to power after defeating the Congress Party in the 1989 general elections.
On Dec. 2, 1989, Mr. Singh became the 10th prime minister of India. He gained wide notoriety by moving to carry out the long-forgotten Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal Commission recommendations to reserve a fixed number of all the jobs in the public sector for the historically disadvantaged members of the lower and backward classes.
This led to widespread protests by higher-caste youth in urban areas across India, including a series of self-immolations.
His government lasted less than a year, falling after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew its support and the plan went into abeyance.
Vishwanath Pratap Singh was born into a landed family in Allahabad in the northern state Uttar Pradesh on June 25, 1931. When he was 5, his parents gave him up for adoption by the childless Maharaja Bahadur Ram Gopal Singh of Manda, one of the small principalities in Uttar Pradesh. After a sheltered and lonely early childhood under armed guard, he passed into the care of a guardian at the age of 11 when his adoptive father died.
He studied law at Udai Pratap College, Varanasi, and later physics at Fergusson College, Pune. He studied physics with an eye toward becoming a nuclear scientist and joining India's atomic energy research center in Mumbai, but he gave up his studies for politics.