Lucknow/Pratapgarh: Six-time Independent MLA from Kunda, Uttar Pradesh, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiya, has been fighting a war of words with Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav ever since the former CM refused to acknowledge him on a visit to Pratapgarh district last November.
The ongoing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections have been dominated by an “anti-bahubali (strongmen)” narrative. While the BJP has repeatedly attacked the SP for its alleged “links” with the mafia, Raja Bhaiya, who has been accused of various crimes, finds indirect mention in Akhilesh’s speeches and remarks.
The animosity between Akhilesh and his former associate Raja Bhaiya only grew when, during a poll rally in Kunda, Akhilesh targeted him with a cutting “kundi band kar do (close the latch)” remark, urging people to “vote for change”.
Now, Raja Bhaiya has declared that he will not let the SP form government in the state.
A former ally of the SP, Raja Bhaiya was an influential member of Akhilesh’s state cabinet when he took over as CM in 2012. They fell out soon after his term ended, with Akhilesh stating during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that he wouldn’t associate with Raja Bhaiya in the future.
Raja Bhaiya, who has so far contested as an Independent, is fighting the assembly polls from the Kunda constituency for the seventh time. However, this time, he is fighting on a ticket of his party — Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik) — which he floated in 2018.
The party has fielded 18 candidates in the 2022 assembly election.
Kunda voted in the fifth phase of the UP assembly elections, on 27 February.
Faceoffs between Akhilesh, Raja Bhaiya
Soon after the cavalcade of the SP’s Kunda candidate Gulshan Yadav was allegedly attacked on 27 February, Akhilesh Yadav shared a news clip of the incident in a tweet, saying that breaking glass (of windowpane) won’t break their spirit.
On 1 March, Akhilesh tweeted a video of purported malpractices in a polling booth where a youth could be seen pressing a button on behalf of a woman. He said the video was from Kunda.
While the tweet was deleted soon after, Raja Bhaiya was quick to hit back at Akhilesh with a snapshot of the now-deleted tweet, pointing out that the video was from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Haryana.
“Respected Akhilesh Yadav ji, you are the national president of SP and senior politician, the video which you are citing to demand cancellation of the poll pertains to 2019. So much hatred in politics is not good,” Raja Bhaiya wrote.
Faced with a vociferous attack by the BJP over his party’s “connections with mafia and musclemen”, insiders say Akhilesh Yadav has made visible efforts this time to keep such allegations at bay.
“Akhilesh is making a point not to be seen with the musclemen and has repeatedly been attacking Raja Bhaiya, perhaps even overzealously,” Lucknow-based political expert Brajesh Shukla told ThePrint.
“It possibly helps him buttress the point that he does not side with those with criminal antecedents, but it only helps glamourise Raja Bhaiya,” Shukla added.
SP state spokesperson Rajkumar Bhati said “Akhilesh does not like those with a criminal background”.
“In 2011, when Shivpal ji tried to induct D.P. Yadav in the party, Akhilesh ji refused and later when Atiq Ahmed tried to join the party, he refused again. Akhilesh ji is against this mentality,” he said.
Both D.P. Yadav and Atiq Ahmed face various criminal charges.
Raja Bhaiya’s long political innings
Declared a “terrorist” by the Mayawati government in January 2003, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, or Raja Bhaiya, comes from the erstwhile ruling family of Kunda, and belongs to the Rajput caste.
In Pratapgarh district, within which Kunda falls, he enjoys immense clout.
He has served as a minister in five governments in the past — three BJP governments and two SP governments. These include the Kalyan Singh government (sworn in 1997) and the Akhilesh Yadav government (2012).
Asked why he was not part of the Yogi Adityanath government, Raja Bhaiya told ThePrint that it was not necessary to always be in government.
“I was not a minister in every government. I was not a minister during the Mayawati rule. I was not there in 1993 and 1996. So, it is not like that… I have got the chance of being in the ruling side and the Opposition too,” he said.
When asked which CM he liked the most, he said every CM he has worked with had “his own speciality and traits”.
Charges levelled by Mayawati
In 2002, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati accused him of trying to topple her government. She subsequently jailed him under the erstwhile Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
It was claimed that in a raid on his mansion in Kunda, many weapons were found, and a large lake spread over 600 acres behind it yielded a human skeleton (the allegation that he allegedly fed his enemies to crocodiles in the lake has now acquired mythical status).
The charges were vehemently denied by Raja Bhaiya.
Released from jail after the Mayawati government fell in 2003, he was made a minister in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP government. In 2010, three years after Mayawati returned to power, he was again jailed on charges of allegedly threatening a panchayat poll candidate.
He was released on bail in early 2011 on an Allahabad court order.
When the Yogi Adityanath government came to power in 2017, the denial of a ministerial berth to Raja Bhaiya led to speculation that his ties with the BJP would suffer.
However, Raja Bhaiya praised Yogi Adityanath last month, saying his performance was better in many spheres than previous governments.
The indispensable ‘Kunda ka gunda’
Former Uttar Pradesh CM and BJP leader Kalyan Singh had once called Raja Bhaiya “Kunda ka gunda (the goon of Kunda)” for his alleged criminal antecedents.
Yet, in 1997, he made Raja Bhaiya a minister in his cabinet. Raja Bhaiya’s influence grew after that.
Political expert Shukla said Raja Bhaiya’s “misfortune” began in the BSP regime.
“In August 2003, the government changed and Mulayam Singh Yadav came to power and dropped the POTA charges against Raja Bhaiya even before it proved its majority on the floor of the legislature. Later, he even inducted him in his cabinet after his release,” Shukla recalled, adding that since then, Raja’s respect for Mulayam grew multi-fold.
In 2012, when Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav formed his government, Raja Bhaiya was given the prisons as well as the food and civil supplies ministries.
However, Raja Bhaiya had to resign from the Akhilesh government soon after his name surfaced in the alleged conspiracy to murder Pratapgarh DSP Zia-ul Haq, who was shot dead on 2 March 2013.
While the CBI gave a clean chit to the ex-minister, the slain DSP’s wife is still fighting a legal battle. The clean chit was quashed by the Allahabad High Court, and the CBI is now re-examining the closure report.
‘Glamour, undiminished popularity’
Political experts say Raja Bhaiya is always in the news, is seen as a ‘royal’ strongman, and draws popularity from the glamour that these perceptions yield.
Then, there is the hold over the Rajput votebank in Pratapgarh and Kaushambi.
“He is someone who is always in the news, whether for good or bad reasons. He has a certain glamour attached to him, and the more he is attacked, the more he is in news. Also, he is popular among the Rajput community in Pratapgarh district as well as some pockets of Kaushambi,” said a local BJP leader.
Raja Bhaiya’s diehard supporters — and there are many — vouch for his ‘janta darbar’ (public court) and the annual community marriage event he holds.
He is the “pride of Kunda”, they said.
“Yes, he is a muscleman, but he is a messiah too. In his janta darbar, there is no bias on the basis of caste or creed…” added Surendra Singh, a supporter. “Those belonging to the Scheduled Castes & backward castes especially get quick resolution.”
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)