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February 21, 1998


The goonda from Kunda

Sharat Pradhan in Pratapgarh

They call him Raja bhaiyya.

Not out of any fraternal feeling, but inspired by pure, unadulterated fear.

Come to think of it, a Bollywood mogul could easily shoot a blockbuster in Pratapgarh, sans sets, highly paid artistes et al. The trappings are all there -- two warring feudal landlords, their respective muscle-squads of gun-toting henchmen, blood-drenched clashes, kidnappings, murder...

It is the shadow of Independent candidate Raja bhaiyya -- Raghuraj Pratap Singh, to give him the name that appears on the electoral roll -- that looms large over the area. And "independent" is in quotes simply because the scion of the erstwhile ruling family of Pratapgarh has the open backing of UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

Raja bhaiyya needs no introduction -- least of all to the police personnell in the vicinity, thanks to a record that boasts two cases of murder, three failed attempts at same, plus sundry kidnappings and other relatively minor peccadilloes.

The funny thing is, Raja bhaiyya was not even in the contest -- he is merely the shadow for BJP candidate Ram Vilas Vedanti.

Opposing both the shadow and the BJP substance is Congress leader Pramod Tiwari -- the Brahmin landlord fronted by sitting Congress MP and candidate Ratna Singh.

The lady, too, boasts an impressive pedigree, as an erstwhile princess of the royal house of Kalakankar, daughter of Raja Dinesh Singh, Indira Gandhi confidante in the late sixties and sometime Union minister.

But if Vedanti and Ratna Singh are engaged in the battle of the ballot, it is the other battle -- of bullets exchanged by the rival factions of Tiwari and Raja bhaiyya -- that has held UP in thrall.

On the surface, it would appear an unequal battle, between the much fingerprinted bhaiyya and the squeaky clean Brahmin. But locals aver that if Tiwari has a spotless record with the local constabulary, the reason is not a rigid adherence to the tenets of the IPC, but rather a continued proximity to power that has enabled him to whitewash his alleged sins.

"Raja bhaiyya plays an open game, Tiwari is much deeper, that is the only difference," says a former Congressman turned BJP activist.

What is interesting is that the last time round, Ratna Singh had sought and obtained the help of Raja bhaiyya, to whom she is distantly related. This time round, the political equation has changed, and all Ratna Singh has going for her are her royal origins, and the name of her late father, which is revered in the region.

The nexus between Kalyan Singh and Raja bhaiyya goes back to October 1997, when Mayawati pulled the BSP rug out from under the former's feet. At this point, Raja bhaiyya bailed the CM out by providing the support of nine Independent MLAs including himself -- an act which earned him a ministerial berth by way of reward.

Raja bhaiyya hit the spotlight last fortnight when Chief Election Commissioner Dr M S Gill directed that he stay away from Pratapgarh -- the reason being bhaiyya's overt intimidation of police personnel who had dared haul up some of his henchmen.

According to the Pratapgarh police, the minister, with goon squad in tow, went to the extent of brandishing a revolver at the police party. The police, in fact, are demanding his arrest, while branding the CID probe ordered by Kalyan Singh as an "eyewash".

Raja bhaiyya for his part promptly moved the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court -- and got instant relief, the court quashing the EC's order. There is a rider attached -- that he has to inform the district magistrate and the superintendent of police when he visits the area, but that is a minor matter for the minister.

Officially, Raja bhaiyya has little to do -- his portfolio is the vaguely titled 'programme implementation.' However, in his stronghold Kunda, he virtually is government, judge and jury all rolled in one -- in a throwback to regal regimes of olden days, he holds his daily durbar, listens to complaints and dispenses instant judgements that none may defy, on pain of death.

The federal government may have abolished zamindaari ages ago, but someone forgot to tell the 29-year-old Raja bhaiyya and his 52-year-old father Raja Udai Pratap Singh about it.

Thus, the royal flag still flies atop the Bhadri Palace, where the father rules, or the Raj Mahal, where the son holds court.

Thus, the locals step nimbly aside and salute as any car belonging to the father-son duo come in sight.

Thus, in direct contravention of existing land laws, the family continues to exercise fishing rights over a lake spanning almost 100 acres in the Pratapgarh region.

The family brooks no opposition. Thus, during the previous assembly election, a group of Muslims who dared murmur against Raja bhaiyya's candidature had their homes in Dilerganj village torched; four young girls seeking to escape the conflagration were chopped down, and the male members fled for their lives and have not been seen since.

Ironically, given the BJP's constant tirades against criminalisation of politics, Raja bhaiyya had the dubious distinction of having a non-bailable warrant taken out against him in a kidnapping case on the same day he was sworn in as minister.

But then, Kalyan Singh, in course of the 1996 election campaign, had also proclaimed to the locals, "I will get you freedom from the goonda of Kunda!" -- and look what happened to that one.

Raja bhaiyya for his part professes innocence, and blames the Congress for any and all charges against him, saying that he has been framed.

What about the extra-constitutional authority he exercises, his durbars and such? "As long as the people welcome it, and find a solution to their problems, what is the harm?"

"Yes, I have criminal cases against me, but you media people tend to blow things out of proportion, and at the same time you black out everything Pramod Tiwari does. Why," he demands, did the EC not take cognisance of our complaint against Ratna Singh and Pramod Tiwari's men?"

Raja bhaiyya points to his recent vindication by the court, vis a vis the EC's fiat, and says, "I am sure the courts will do me justice in the other cases registered against me, as well."

He could well get off scot free -- if only because no one in the region will ever testify against him.

Part of the reason is fear. The other part, however, was succinctly explained by a Kunda native thus: "Raja bhaiyya's darbars are our only recourse if we want justice done. Here, land disputes are common, and everyone knows that if we approach the courts to get back our land that has been illegally occupied, or to get compensation for crops that have been unlawfully harvested, it will take years. Raja bhaiyya's justice is immediate, and unchallenged..."

Elections '98

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