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

In the Hindi heartland, royals gird for electoral battle

Three decades after being stripped of their privileges, scions of ruling families still continue to dominate public life.

Vinay Kumar

ALLAHABAD

Old soldiers don't die, they only fade away, said the celebrated U.S. army general, Douglas MacArthur. But in the case of Indian royalty, they don't even seem to do that. More than three decades after they were stripped of their royal privileges by Indira Gandhi, they still continue to dominate public life, in some way or the other.

With elections round the corner, former Rajas, Mahants and Nawabs are all set to enliven the poll arena in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh. They are jumping into the electoral fray for various reasons: some of them see this as a way of protecting whatever remains of their royal legacies; others see it as a way to further their political careers. But the fact is that they are here to stay.

It was from this belt that V.P. Singh, the Raja of Manda, emerged to occupy the office of the Prime Minister. He is not the only one to have made it big in politics — there have been others such as the former Raja of Kalakanker, the late Dinesh Singh, elected from the adjoining Pratapgarh parliamentary constituency, who served as a Union Minister during the Congress regime. His daughter, Rajkumari Ratna Singh, represented the same constituency in the Lok Sabha in 1996 and in 1999. In 1991, Abhai Pratap Singh, better known as Bade Raja of Pratapgarh, won the seat on a Janata Dal ticket. His father, Ajit Pratap Singh, won from here in 1962 and 1980. Truth to tell, royals have always dominated the electoral scene in Pratapgarh. Yet another scion of Pratapgarh's ruling family, Vijay Bhushan Singh alias Babbu Raja, has also unsuccessfully contested the Assembly polls.

This time round, the Congress has renominated Rajkumari Ratna Singh from Pratapgarh. Another royal, the jailed independent MLA, Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya, may enter the fray too. Raja Bhaiyya's incarceration under POTA, by Mayawati's Government, has sparked a `sympathy wave' and has helped unite the Thakurs, political observers feel. Always an overriding factor here, the division along caste lines is sharp and complete. Any conversation here centres round Raja Bhaiyya — either you are with him or you are not.

"There was a time when royals built schools and shelters for the people and opened their granaries to them in times of crisis. In due course, several of them entered politics and won elections purely because they were so respected. But that is no longer the case; politics is no longer a noble profession. It is only a means to advance one's own interests," says Raja Bhaiyya, who hails from the royal family of Bhadri and became an MLA from Kunda in 1993.

Tales of his muscle-flexing and strong-arm tactics are legion but he brushes them aside. "Out of a total electorate of 2.40 lakhs, Thakurs account for just 6,000. I have been winning on the basis of support from all other communities," he claims.

In the nearby Amethi constituency, another royal, Sanjay Singh, has been active in politics for a long time: he has been with the Congress, the Janata parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He, along with his MLA wife, Ameeta Singh, are now back in the Congress. Though Amethi has been a traditional stronghold of the Gandhi family, Mr. Singh and his family are also known to wield a lot of clout here. It was from Amethi that Ameeta Singh had won the Assembly seat on a BJP ticket; she subsequently resigned and joined the Congress, necessitating a byelection which is also slated for April 26 along with the Lok Sabha polls.

Recalling the old days, Raja Abhay Pratap Singh says that personal enmity and petty rivalry were never a consideration in politics. "Dignity and decorum marked electoral campaigns," he says.

The sants (religious leaders) also constitute a kind of royalty, given the wide respect they command.

The `saffron sants' who cashed in on the Ram temple movement include Swami Chinmayanand, Minister of State for Home Affairs, who bagged the Jaunpur seat and Ram Vilas Vedanti who won the Pratapgarh seat for the BJP in 1998 but was subsequently defeated in 1999 from the nearby Machlishahar constituency.

In the nearby Gonda Lok Sabha constituency, Kunwar Kirtivardhan Singh, a scion of Mankapur's royal family, is likely to challenge Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of the BJP. From Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency, the firebrand young Mahant Adityanath of the Gorakhpur Peeth, a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, will be trying his luck again.

Elsewhere in western Uttar Pradesh, Begum Noor Bano of the prestigious Rampur Nawab family will be defending her Lok Sabha seat again in the coming polls. However, in the city of the Nawabs, Lucknow, scions of the Nawab families, have remained immune to the lure of politics.

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