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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Even in jail, Raja Bhaiyya is a force to reckon with

The strongman from Pratapgarh district may be in jail, but his word is law in an area dominated by the Thakurs

Vinay Kumar

PRATAPGARH, U.P.

The plaque at the entrance to the district jail here proudly acknowledges the facilities such as TV sets and fans given to the prison by the then State Minister, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, a few years ago. Ironically, it is the same prison that now lodges the former Minister, better known as `Raja Bhaiyya', facing charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

Raja Bhaiyya has been languishing in jail for the past 18 months, ever since the Mayawati government filed cases against him under the Gangsters Act, POTA and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code. However, the high-flying former minister, who represents the Kunda constituency of Pratapgarh district in the U.P. Assembly, is hopeful that cases against him and his 65-year-old father, Uday Pratap Singh, will not pass judicial scrutiny.

On March 11, a special court at Allahabad provided some relief by dropping three cases under the Gangsters Act against him and his father. "I have complete faith in the judiciary; justice will be done to me sooner or later,'' he says.

Raja Bhaiyya says that he has been falsely implicated by the Mayawati government. "As an independent MLA, I had the courage to ask her to prove her majority on the floor of the House. It was a democratic demand but soon after that cases were registered against me and my father,'' he told this correspondent in jail here.

He claims that a majority of the 27 criminal cases filed against him include cases such as the extortion of Rs. 10 from a shopkeeper and theft of 200-odd bricks.

Raja Bhaiyya fought and won his first State Assembly election in 1993 as an Independent when he was just 26. Stories abound of his short temper, rash behaviour, rough ways and patronage to petty criminals in Kunda and Pratapgarh. Tales of rowdyism by his supporters are legion; these range from physically thrashing those who refused to listen to him to unleashing a reign of terror in the area. A product of Lucknow University, Raja Bhaiyya was the first in his family to take to politics. His Doon School-educated father, Uday Pratap Singh, remained a recluse, seldom stepping out of their Bhadri estate near Kunda, but his feudal ways were sufficient to make people bow to his wishes. "A political leader's life is like an open book, it is open to public scrutiny. A political leader is always under the public gaze and therefore even his smallest follies come to light; but nothing is said against others people,'' he says.

Describing Raja Bhaiyya as a `spoilt brat' and `political goon', Dr. Pankaj Kumar, Reader in Political Science at Allahabad University, objects strongly to labelling the strongman of Kunda as an `anti-national element', `terrorist' or `saboteur.' According to Dr. Kumar, people like Raghuraj Pratap Singh are better described as `haughty' and `immature.'

For Raja Bhaiyya, a typical day inside the jail begins with morning prayers followed by meditation that continues till noon. His evenings are generally spent watching a game of volleyball and meeting his supporters who throng the jail daily. The former minister says he is not happy with the way the Central Review Committee on POTA has been functioning. "It is yet to dispose of a single case but I am determined to fight the legal battle and take it to its logical conclusion,'' he says.

Asked whether he plans to contest the Lok Sabha elections, Raja Bhaiyya brushes aside the query. He says political parties have been sending feelers to him but he has not made up his mind yet. Whatever his decision, one thing is sure: the poll outcome in Pratapgarh will be influenced greatly by the Raja Bhaiyya issue which has brought the Thakurs together.

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