Sunday, October 12, 2003

Whip hand in cow belt

AMIT SHARMA

Sunday, October 12, 2003

''Meri sarkjar ne Raghuraj Pratap aur unke sambhandiyon par se POTA hatane ka nirnay kiya hai (My government has decided to withdraw POTA cases against Raghuraj Pratap Singh and his relatives.''- Mulyam Singh Yadav, minutes after being sworn in as chief minister on August 29

By the time Mulyam said his piece, Raghuraj Pratap alias Raja Bhaiyya had already been moved to Lucknow's Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute (SGPGI) after seven months in Kanpur jail. ''Jail ka phatak tuta, Raja Bhaiyya chhutha (Jail gates have opened, Raja Bhaiyya is free.'' The slogan rent the air as Thakurs in their thousands thronged to the SGPGI. MLAs across party lines queued up to congratulate Raja Bhaiyya.

Thakurs in Uttar Pradesh are not a formidable number - six to seven per cent of the electorate as compared to Dalits (22 per cent), Yadavs (nine per cent) and Brahmins (eight per cent) but they wield considerable muscle and monetary power. They also have an enviable clan loyalty.

This explains why Mulayam is set to reap a political harvest. Dalits, former chief minister Mayawati's vote bank, and Thakurs are traditional antagonists. That Mayawati ''went after'' Raja Bhaiyya emboldened Dalits in villages and caused Rajputs to close ranks. Now the tables have turned.

The BJP has the maximum Thakur MLAs, 29, in the 405-strong state assembly. This is a reflection of the community's blanket support for the party in the 2002 election. As Mayawati sought to attack Thakurs, the BJP squirmed but continued to back Mayawati's government. No wonder it gave away Rajput loyalty to Mulayam and his man Friday, Amar Singh.

''Not only Thakurs, a majority of BJP MLAs are not happy with their party leadership for its silence on the autocracy of Mayawati,'' Raja Bhaiyya told The Sunday Express while ''recuperating'' in a Lucknow hospital.

Rajputs are reaping a political bonanza. They are the single biggest caste group in Mulayam's 98 member ministry, with 17 ministers. Akhand Pratap Singh retires from the IAS in November. Never mind; Mulayam deemed it appropriate to appoint him chief secretary. In the districts too, Rajput DMs and SPs are grinning away.

The days are reminiscent of the Congress chief ministries of V.P. Singh and Veer Bahadur Singh in the 1980s. About the only one feeling left out is Sanjay Singh, former MP from Amethi. In a remarkable display of bad timing he jumped ship from the BJP to the Congress, just as the rest of the Rajputs were gravitating towards Mulayam.

Rajnath too must be ruing his luck. Despite despite cultivating his community, despite ''arranging'' support for Mulayam, he could not emerge as the numero uno Rajput leader. His party's studied neutrality on the Mayawati-Raja Bhaiyya issue has hurt him.

The most influential Thakur in the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh, has just been appointed chiarman of the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Development Council. But he is known more as a drawing room politician, rather than one schooled in the grime and sweat of the cow belt.

That leads to the question: who is the pan-Uttar Pradesh Thakur leader, like V.P. Singh was a generation ago. Rajnath is handicapped by his party, Amar Singh by his grassroots (in)experience and nobody seriously believes Raja Bhaiyya is a mass leader in the making. Oh these complicated Rajputs...

Source: The Times of India, October 12, 2003

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