THE use of muscle power is an integral part of elections in Uttar Pradesh. This fact was underscored once again when the Election Commission barred the State's Minister for Programme Implementation, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, from entering Pratapgarh constituency until the elections were over. The Commission's action followed complaints that the Minister and his supporters had beaten up police personnel and some supporters of the Congress(I) candidate, Ratna Singh.
Acting on a writ petition filed by Raghuraj Pratap Singh, the Allahabad High Court quashed the directive of externment on technical grounds. The Court said the Election Commission had no powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to give oral advice or direction that would curb a citizen's freedom. The Commission's order, however, highlighted a problem that is deep-rooted in the politics of the country's most populous State.
It is not for the first time that Raghuraj Pratap Singh or Raja Bhaiyya as he is known locally, has attracted attention with the use of strong-arm tactics. In fact, Kalyan Singh, in whose Cabinet he was a member when the recent controversy broke out, had described him in strong words of disapproval during the Assembly elections in October 1996. At that time Raja Bhaiyya contested as an independent against the candidate of Kalyan Singh's party. Raja Bhaiyya won the election and later helped the BJP secure a majority in the Assembly. He was duly rewarded with a ministerial post. Naturally his services became an important componeny in the BJP's campaign effort in Pratapgarh.
The fear that Raja Bhaiyya evokes in the Kunda Assembly segment of the Pratapgarh Lok Sabha constituency is evident: people do not even whisper a word against him, not even in private conversations. "Raja Bhaiyya will get to know: he has moles all over the place. Why invite trouble?" is the common refrain. The fact that he is the scion of the royal family of Kunda has helped him carry forward his kind of power politics.
The Election Commission ban placed Raja Bhaiyya virtually under house arrest on February 16, the date of polling in Pratapgarh. However, the trepidation with which the voters view him helped the BJP put up a better fight against Ratna Singh, a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha.
Pratapgarh is not the only constituency where muscle power is a critical component of electioneering. Candidates in constituencies such as Azamgarh, Baghpat, Bulandshahar, Mainpuri and Sambhal are also under the mercy of local tyrants who can make or break their chances. In Baghpat, once represented by former Prime Minister Charan Singh and later by his son Ajit Singh, the might of the Jat community is supreme. Charan Singh and later Ajit Singh have managed to secure with the help of Jat power more than 1.5 lakh votes from just two of the five Assembly segments in the constituency in every election. The two segments, Chapprauli and Baghpat, alone accounted for 1.60 lakh votes in Ajit Singh's favour in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls.
In Azamgarh, the Samajwadi Party's member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, Ramakant Yadav, has a reputation similar to that of Raja Bhaiyya. Supporters of Ramakant Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Akbar 'Dumpy' Ahmed reportedly waged a 45-minute gun battle in the constituency on February 17. In Sambhal, from where Samajwadi Party president and Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting against one of his former supporters, D.P. Yadav, the tension was palpable before February 22, polling day. D.P. Yadav has 30 criminal cases pending against him. The allegations against him include murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and extortion. Police officials maintained that the campaign of this Jantantrik BSP candidate, contesting on a BJP symbol, vitiated the atmosphere in Sambhal. D.P. Yadav himself complains that the Samajwadi Party leadership intimidated his supporters.
The police feel that the State Government has turned a blind eye to the volatile situation in the highly sensitive constituencies. The post-election atmosphere in the State could be worse.