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September 30, 1999


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Constituency/ Ghosi

Where the Rais wash their dirty linen

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Ghosi

The election campaign in the Ghosi Lok Sabha constituency is pretty much like a B-grade Bollywood product -- with mother and son standing against each other in the election, both berating each other and then beseeching the public to come to their aid.

Main ek widhwa hoon, aur widhwa ke pida koi nahin jaan sakta. Aaj mera parivar bat chuka hai, main akeli ho gai hoon. Mujhe aap ka sahara chaiye, isliye tum Congress ko vote de [I am a widow and nobody can understand a widow's plight. My family has been divided, I have been left alone. I need your support, so vote for Congress party], says Sudha Rai, Kalpnath Rai's widow.

Standing against her is the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate and her step-son, Siddharth Rai. The BJP has backing from the Janata Dal-United.

Sudha Rai has taken over one half of the White House, the ancestral Rai home, while the stepson and his sisters have taken over the other half. The police are a constant presence there, if only to avoid any flare-up between the family members.

If Sudha Rai's appeal was a little melodramatic, Siddharth Rai goes one better: Mujhe to apno ne mara, gairo ki kya kahen. Meri kashti wahin dubi jahan pani kam tha. [My own people have stabbed me, why speak of strangers. My boat overturned where there was no deep water].

The candidates have apparently no issue regarding the constituency to address; both assert that Kalpnath Rai's achievements are sufficient to see them through.

The son tells the people that in the Hindu dharma -- or in any other dharma for that matter -- the son, and not the stepmother, succeeds the father. His slogan is both ad line and entreaty: Siddarth kahan anaath hai; Ghosi Kalpnath hai [Where is Siddharth an orphan; Ghosi itself is Kalpnath].

Sudha Rai has a weaker slogan though it too tugs pretty hard at the heartstrings: Main akeli pad gai hoon unke jaane ke baad; aap sab log mera saath de.

This is an important constituency -- locals term it the second Amethi of Uttar Pradesh -- and it goes to the polls on Sunday, October 3.

I reached White House at 2000 hours and found both entrances locked. There is no watchman, no guard, nobody... A passerby tells me that all the residents are out campaigning and that I would have to return the next morning. I returned at 0800 hours and find the gates open. There are nearly 40 cars, spilling out from the compound to the road outside. And there are about 50 metres to cover from the gate to the house. You step into the house and find about 50 people waiting for Sudha Rai.

I pass on my visiting card and the lady emerges after about 20 minutes draped in the white sari considered becoming for a widow. She says she will speak to me if I am willing to interview her in her car. She is too busy to speak at the moment.

Visitors are not allowed past the first two rooms. And they are only allowed into the first two after they take off their footwear -- Sudha Rai does not want her spotless white marble dirtied.

There are two photographs of Kalpnath Rai smiling down benignly from the walls. Visitors bow before these before taking their seats.

One person waiting there told me there were nearly 20 rooms in the house, not including those in the servant quarters.

I went over to six Muslim clergymen waiting for her and asked them what chances did they think Sudha Rai had. Not realising I was not another Congressman come to the aid of the party, one of them replied, "We too are from Delhi. We have come yesterday and our duty is to give report to madam (Sudha Rai) as to how the Muslims will vote. We can only tell you after we tour the Muslim locality."

When it was about time for Sudha Rai to begin campaigning, two youngsters went over to her.

"Madam, can we take the car today?" one of them asked.

She shouted back, "You won't get the car. You've been just sitting for around the past three days, doing no work. Is this why I called you over from Delhi?"

Kalpnath Rai married Sudha in 1985, two years after his first wife died. His first marriage had yielded four daughters and one son. Two of the daughters were already married and Siddharth was only 13 years old at that time.

Sudha has no support from within the family since all the sisters are busy campaigning for Siddharth Rai, their brother. But Sudha's parents and other relatives are coming over to aid her cause.

In fact, her six-year-old daughter also helps her, going up on stage to tell the audience, Aap mere mummy ko vote de.

Sudha asserts that the BJP alone is responsible for the divide in the Rai family.

"They have divided the country on the basis of religion and now they have divided my family. They purposely chose Siddarth who is 28. I told him it was not his right age to contest elections. But he didn't listen to me.

"He has been brainwashed by the wrong people. What I feel bad is that he joined the BJP against whom my late husband fought tooth and nail in his lifetime. You see, it was only because of him [Kalpnath] that the BJP failed to win a single election in Ghosi," she says.

Apparently, Siddharth Rai had wanted to contest the election as a Congress candidate and with that end in mind went to meet Sonia Gandhi adviser Makhan Lal Fotedar. But Sudha Rai apparently told Fotedar that Siddarth was under 25 and because he was mentally retarded.

Priyanka Rai, Siddarth's youngest sister, is indignant about that all.

"Siddarth wanted to contest elections on a Congress ticket. He also met Fotedarji. But my mother showed Fotedar a false birth certificate and claimed he was underage." When Siddharth met Fotedar later, the veteran he was shocked to find the boy was not as young as his stepmother had claimed, she says, adding that the Congress also did not tell him if they intended to give him a ticket. Which, she claims, is why he joined the Janata Dal-United.

According to Priya, Union Defence Minister George Fernandes was the only politician who campaigned for Kalpnath Rai when he was in jail in 1996. "Not a single Congress leader came to his help then. So, we thought there was nothing wrong in Siddharth contesting for the Janata Dal-U."

Sudha Rai has done some damage with the story of Siddarth being mentally retarded. And the injured party fights back hard.

"Do I look mad?" he asks people at a public meeting in Rasra, Mau. "But my stepmother claims I am. She should know that insane people are not given Lok Sabha tickets." And he seems to have got his message through.

"Ee to ek dam pagal nahin dikhat hai ( He does not seem to be mad.) Phir iski maan kis liye jhoot bolat rahin (Why is his her mother is lying then?)." But since psychiatry is not a strong point with the electorate here, Siddharth realises his stammer and the difficulty he has in getting over some words may be read as signs of retardation.

Already a general impression is gaining ground that Sudha should have stepped down and not contested against her son. Ask her about that and she tells you she decide to contest only at the behest of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, since there was no one to replace Kalpnath Rai. "If you check the facts, you will find I filed my nomination on the last day."

Kalpnath Rai has indeed done Ghosi much good. It has good roads and three flyovers, a sugar factory, and a cold storage for potatoes. The huge Banarasi sari industry flourishes here. Locals claim the Banarasi saris were originally made here and only sold in Varanasi.

Kalpnath has won the seat ever since he first contested the Lok Sabha seat in 1989. Before that he was a Congress Rajya Sabha member when Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi held sway.

He ensured that Ghosi gained whenever he made progress. So unlike other constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Ghosi is well developed and does not suffer from frequent power cuts. Locals put the latter down to the many power stations bequeathed to the constituency by Kalpnath Rai when he was the power minister.

The Communists had won this seat till then, but their citadel fell to Kalpnath Rai when he joined the Congress in the late sixties.

Says Shambhu Chauhan, 65, a small farmer from Nathpur village and a family friend of the Rais, "The Communists used to claim they would distribute land to the landless and would get jobs for everybody. But after electing them for 20 years, we realised they were liars. So we started voting for the Congress because Vikas Manus [Kalpnath Rai] had joined them. He turned the face of Ghosi and everyone is proud of him."

"My stepmother divided our family ever since she married my father. She packed our bags and sent us to a hostel. My father wanted a mother who could love us. But she threw us out of the house and brought her sister's family to stay in our house," alleges Siddharth Rai.

"There is only one sugar factory here. And the maximum people employed here are from Devaria (a place near the UP-Bihar border) from where my stepmother comes. She always saw that her people got better jobs with my father's help. She did not do anything for our constituency. So, why should people vote for her?" he asks.

Sudha Rai has already lost an assembly election from Nathupur in 1996, coming in a lowly third.

"This happened despite my father campaigning for her. She is very arrogant and that is why the people of Ghosi taught her a lesson then," says Siddharth. Ask Sudha about the allegation and she claims that Kalpnath was in jail at that time.

"I was contesting as an Independent and was busy with his cases. I could not go to visit my constituency. So this is a blatant lie," she says.

Caught in the middle of it all are the bemused voters of Ghosi, who had hoped to voted for a Rai, any Rai.

Says Vinay Pandey, a cloth seller in Ghosi, "We always voted for Vikas Manus since he has done a lot for our constituency. But this time, I don't know for whom to vote."

Both Sudha and Siddharth have paid little attention to the caste factor, which affects the constituency just it does any other constituency in UP.

Of the 12,70,000 voters, there are 200,000 Yadavs, 60,000 Bhumihars, 105,000 Thakurs and 75,000 Brahmins. But an important votebank is that of the Dalits and the Muslims, which encompass about 560,000 votes. It could decide the winner here.

The Bahujan Samaj Party made inroads into this constituency, losing the last election against Kalpnath Rai by about 22,000 votes. That margin had something to do with the fact that Kalpnath Rai was then a Samata Party candidate and had support from the BJP.

The Congress, without Kalpnath Rai, bagged just 14,000 votes.

That Kalpnath Rai, a Bhumihar, could win this seat is an achievement in itself. Even in 1996, when he was in jail, his wife campaigned for him, roaming around with his photographs and reminding voters about the work he had done. Then too he won by about 14,000 votes; the Congress candidate bagged just 16,000 votes.

Says Rahmat Ali, a tailor, "For Vikas Manus, there was no issue of caste and religion. We always voted for him because he used to think of Ghosi's interests."

There are five assembly constituencies in Ghosi -- Ghosi, Mau, Nathupur, Rasra and Sargi. Of these, two are held by the BSP, two by the Samajwadi Party and one by the BJP.

SP candidate Dara Singh Chauhan is a Rajya Sabha member; the BSP candidate is Balkrishna Chauhan and the CPI candidate is national general secretary Atul Kumar Anjan. The CPI candidate bagged only 14,000 votes in the last election. The BSP and SP are worried that since their candidates come from the same caste, it could split a votebank.

And while the other contestants wonder how to make some headway, the two Rais wash their dirty linen and beg for sympathy.


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