FEW PEOPLE are able to maintain a life in politics coterminous with a life in crime. Raja Bhaiya, a strongman in Uttar Pradesh, has done exactly that for two decades. But comeuppance is the staple of the men of the mafia who straddle politics. Raja Bhaiya had his this week when an uproar over the killing of a policeman and two others near his hometown forced him to quit as a minister in the stateâs one-year-old government.
If one goes by the criminal cases filed against him over the years, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, as the 46-year-old politician was named at birth, took to the life of an outlaw barely a year after he was old enough to vote. When he became a minister in the state government in March 2012 for the fifth time in 15 years, UP Police had 45 criminal cases against him. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is also probing him in two cases.
The latest charges emanate from the 2 March mob lynching and shooting of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ziaul- Haq after he reached a village to investigate the killings, allegedly by Raja Bhaiyaâs shooters, of the village chief and his brother.
The nickname Raja Bhaiya draws on his lineage as an upper-caste Rajput from a family of landlords that once owned vast stretches of land for generations. He is also known as Raja (king) of Kunda, the name of his hometown of about 35,000 people. It is widely known that he still controls enormous tracts of agricultural land as well as many illegal trading activities such as those relating to sand mining from the riverside. Those who are especially in his thrall also call him ânoor-e-nazarâ (the light of the eyes). Of course, he is also feared as the âKunda ka gundaâ (the don of Kunda).
âKunda has been a hotbed of all kinds of anti-social activities and crime since Raja Bhaiya first became a legislator from there 20 years ago,â says Rajkumar Ratna Singh, the Lok Sabha MP from Pratapgarh, which includes Kunda. âBoth the BJP and the Samajwadi Party are guilty of effectively protecting this criminal by making him a minister.â
Singh, who is from the Congress party, claims the slain police officer had been on Raja Bhaiyaâs hit list as he had put an end to illegal sand mining allegedly carried out by Raja Bhaiyaâs men near the Ganga river. The DSP, she says, was trying to enforce a Supreme Court ruling that most others had been frightened to implement. âLocal policemen act like Raja Bhaiyaâs servants,â says Singh. Zia-ul-Haq had dared to raid the mining site and seized trucks full of the illegal consignment that are still parked at the local police station. âThat is why the policemen with him abandoned him and ran away. It was pre-planned murder.â
Few are shocked at the turn of events involving Raja Bhaiya. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads the Samajwadi Party that rules Uttar Pradesh, had made worsening crime under the previous governmentâs rule a key issue in his campaign for the 2012 Assembly election. But old-timers werenât surprised when Raja Bhaiya wormed his way into the government of Yadavâs son, Akhilesh, who became chief minister after the Samajwadi Party won the election. The Yadavs need Raja Bhaiya to mollycoddle the Rajputs, who are numerically and politically significant in the state.
The last time Mulayam was chief minister, from August 2003 to May 2007, he had made Raja Bhaiya the food minister. That tenure resulted in the CBI filing a case over alleged embezzlement of hundreds of crores of rupees in a scheme to supply subsidised food to the poor. Filed in December 2007 after Mulayamâs bitter rival, Mayawati, became the chief minister, that case is still continuing. In her previous tenure during 2002-03, Mayawati had launched an all-out war against Raja Bhaiya and sent him to prison. Last year, Akhilesh had wanted to keep Raja Bhaiya out but his father overruled him. Raja Bhaiyaâs tenure as prison minister was marked by violence by jail inmates, such as by a gangster named Brijesh Singh who had been brought from Gujarat. Last month, Akhilesh divested Raja Bhaiya of the prison portfolio.