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The Hindu
The Hindu
Anuj Kumar

BJP’s bahubali outreach in eastern U.P. gives mixed results

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be looking towards bahubalis to help it solve the Purvanchal puzzle in the ongoing Lok Sabha election. Often attacked by the Opposition for seeing the tainted figures through a communal prism, the three strongmen the ruling party is beholden to belong to the Rajput caste, a community that has given the party some tough time at the hustings during this election.

Troubleshooters worked overtime to rein in Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya, who has influence over Pratapgarh and Kaushambi. Raja Bhaiyya had a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah in Bengaluru. The party also sent Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan to seek his support but Raja Bhaiyya, after mulling over the offer, told his supporters to exercise free will this time.

The following day, workers of his Jansatta Dal Loktantrik raised slogans of ‘Akhilesh Yadav zindabad’ and ‘Raja Bhaiyya zindabad‘ at a rally of Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Pushpendra Saroj in Kunda, the epicentre of Raja Bhaiyya’s politics. Raja Bhaiyya had a long undeclared alliance with the SP, so much so that for two decades, the party did not field a candidate against the political heavyweight. This changed before the 2019 Lok Sabha election when Raja Bhaiyya voted for the BJP in a Rajya Sabha poll, leaving SP president Akhilesh Yadav enraged.

Further east, things looked better for the BJP as, after a series of flip-flops, another Rajput strongman, Dhananjay Singh, offered support to the BJP candidate on the Jaunpur seat. His influence could have an impact on the neighbouring Machhli Nagar seat as well. Mr. Dhananjay Singh’s wife Srikala Reddy, who till recently was a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate, has posted a photo of herself offering a bouquet to Mr. Shah but the last-minute switch has left her spouse with little time to shift votes. It has also stirred perception issues and possible infighting among bahubalis of different political weight categories who are supporting the ruling dispensation.

Many feel the reason behind Mr. Dhananjay Singh’s proximity with the BSP was SP MLA Abhay Singh, the alleged right hand man of deceased strongman Mukhtar Ansari. Facing several serious charges, Mr. Abhay Singh switched to the BJP during the Rajya Sabha election in February and was given Y-plus security. Once college friends, Mr. Abhay Singh is a bitter rival of Mr. Dhananjay Singh in the region. Political opportunism has now brought the two strongmen on the BJP’s side, but Mr. Abhay Singh continues to describe Mr. Dhananjay Singh as the biggest don of north India.

Mr. Dhananjay Singh was sentenced to seven-year imprisonment in the extortion and kidnapping of a project manager of the Namami Gange Project in March. Currently, he is on bail that came on April 28, a week before the last date of filing nomination for the Jaunpur seat. The timeline, local observers say, is also fresh in public memory.

On the other side of the Ghagra river, there is a different story for Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, who is with the BJP for more than a decade now. He canvassed for his son Karan Bhushan in his fiefdom of Kaiserganj on his terms. The party took an inordinately long time to declare the ticket, ostensibly to let the polling move on from the Jat belt, where the former chief of the Wrestling Federation of India is facing backlash because of his alleged involvement in the molestation of female wrestlers.

In his rallies, it has been clear who is the real candidate in Kaiserganj is, as Mr. Brijbhushan Sharan Singh doesn’t believe in half measures. He described himself as a bull without bounds, who could take on anybody. No wonder then that he spoke openly against “bulldozer action” in U.P. He claimed a large part of Gonda district was built on nazul (government) land. “Will you demolish the entire city?” he said.

Charged in the Babri Mosque demolition case as well as under the since scrapped Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act or TADA for allegedly harbouring the shooters of Dawood Ibrahim, Mr. Brijbhushan Sharan Singh fits into seemingly opposite camps seamlessly. Known to have acceptance among a section of Muslims, he maintains in his speeches that it took a lot of effort to build a house and reach out to the galleries, with the oft-repeated melodramatic reference that there is no difference in the blood of a Hindu and a Muslim.

Ironically, addressing a joint rally for Kaiserganj and Bahraich, with Mr. Brijbhushan Sharan Singh on stage, Mr. Shah talked of sending “mafias such as Azam Khan, Atiq Ahmad and Mukhtar Ansari behind bars”, and sought votes for the BJP to “free the region of the mafia”.

There is a Brahmin angle to the tale of Thakur strongmen as well. Local observers remember how Jitin Prasada propped up a Brahmin Chetna Parishad before he left the Congress for the BJP in 2021. Mr. Prasada would attack the U.P. government for targeting Brahmins and saving Rajput strongmen. It was the time when Vikas Dubey was killed in an encounter and the clout of Brahmin strongman Hari Shankar Tiwari’s family was tapering. Mr. Prasada has moved on since then but the anguish among Brahmin gangsters hasn’t entirely dissipated. Interestingly, an influential Muslim figure, who is supporting the SP, said the community was aligning with the Congress via SP. “We are waiting for the Brahmins to follow suit,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress is facing its share of bahubali blues. The State president and party candidate from Varanasi Ajay Rai is facing a dilemma as he is expected to canvas for the INDIA bloc’s Ghazipur candidate Afzal Ansari of the SP, whose late brother Mukhtar Ansari was serving a life term, for killing Mr. Rai’s brother Awadhesh Rai, when he died in March this year.

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