By hook or by crook

Published : Feb 28, 2003 00:00 IST

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati consolidates her position in power by manoeuvring a split in the Congress Legislature Party and pleasing her Dalit constituency with her controversial action against Raghuraj Pratap Singh, a politician known for his money and muscle power.

SINCE October 2002, when Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav launched the "topple Mayawati" campaign, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has been under tremendous political pressure. However, the split in the Congress(I) Legislature Party (CLP) in Uttar Pradesh on January 28, which happened obviously at her behest, has put her on firm ground. Similarly, her crusade against Raja Bhaiya, former Minister and MLA from Kunda, at the cost of antagonising her coalition partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is likely to consolidate her Dalit vote bank further. Also, the split in the Congress(I) has given her a much-needed reprieve - with eight more legislators on her side, Mayawati can breathe easy because even if the S.P. gets the support of the Congress (I), the numbers will not be enough to topple the government.

The CLP split on January 28 after eight of 23 MLAs broke away and formed a group called the Akhil Bharatiya Congress Dal. Speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi recognised it as a separate party. The Speaker cited the rulings of the Supreme Court and the Guwahati High Court to include Akhilesh Singh, the MLA from Rae Bareli, an "unattached member", in the breakaway group. This step ensured that it had one-third the number of the total Congress MLAs. This made it a `split' in the party rather than a case of desertion, which would have disqualified the legislators concerned under the anti-defection law.

Although the Congress(I) leadership in New Delhi described it an "illegal and unconstitutional" move and threatened to challenge the Speaker's decision in court, besides moving a no-confidence motion against him Mayawati remained unfazed. She convinced four of the breakaway MLAs to join her party and made them Ministers. The Congress (I) high command got the jitters as there was the possibility of an exodus of the remaining 15 members. They were summoned to New Delhi to meet party president Sonia Gandhi and they were later sent to Shimla on a sojourn. In order to convince the legislators that their future was not as bleak as it seemed, Sonia invited Mulayam Singh Yadav for a meeting with the proposal to forge a "broader unity of secular forces". However, Mulayam Singh remained "cool" to her offer as he realised that it was too late in the day to win in the toppling game. "I am not interested in forming any more morchas. I am for giving and taking issue-based support," he told Sonia Gandhi. He announced that his party would bring a no-confidence motion against the government. And if the Congress(I) wanted to do so, it could support the move.

By reopening cases against Raja Bhaiya, and booking him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), Mayawati has literally caught the bull by its horns. She has stirred up a political storm in Uttar Pradesh because Raja Bhaiya enjoys the support of the Rajputs within both the BJP and the S.P. Mayawati's move has raised the hackles within the BJP. General secretary Rajnath Singh, who is known to be Raja Bhaiya's patron, and State BJP president Vinay Katiyar criticised the Chief Minister severely for the "misuse of POTA". But Mayawati declared that she would not withdraw the charges under POTA even if she had to sacrifice her government. Consequently, the party's central leadership advised local BJP leaders to tone down their criticism.

While the BJP gave in to the compulsions of coalition politics, the S.P. has been vocal in its criticism. Mulayam Singh wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to prevent the "misuse of POTA".

Mayawati seems to be training her guns against those who had taken up cudgels against her last October. Raja Bhaiya revolted against her in October 2002 and led a group of independent MLAs to the Governor to announce the withdrawal of their support to her government. Encouraged by this move, some BJP MLAs told the Governor that they had "lost faith" in the government and demanded that a special session of the Assembly be convened. Although Mayawati survived the crisis soon thereafter she had Raja Bhaiya arrested for "intimidating" a BJP rebel into giving statements against her. Since then Raja Bhaiya has been in jail facing charges under POTA. His father has also been arrested under POTA. Several other cases have been reopened against Raja Bhaiya under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. His family property has been seized, the educational institutions run by it has been taken over by the government, and its other sources of income (most of them allegedly illegal) have been blocked. A huge pond in Raja Bhaiya's "palace" in Benti has been declared a reserved bird sanctuary and named after B.R. Ambedkar; it has been handed over to the Forest Department for upkeep.

Mayawati's actions against Raja Bhaiya smacks of political adventurism. Such was his ability to unleash terror and so strong were his political connections (he faced charges of kidnapping and extortion even when he was a Minister in the Rajnath Singh government), that nobody could have imagined that the long arm of law could reach him. He shot into limelight when he led a group of independent MLAs to support Kalyan Singh's government in 1997 after Mayawati withdrew support. His action-packed defence of the Kalyan Singh government in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, when mike handles were thrown at Opposition MLAs, was graphically covered by the media with telling visual images.

Mayawati is said to have made out a foolproof case against Raja Bhaiya. The evidence against him includes copies of first information reports that had been registered against him, a list of lethal arms and ammunition that were recovered from his palace, including an AK-56 rifle, and the picture of a skeleton that had been dug up from a pond at his residence. The skeleton was allegedly that of Santosh Mishra. A scooter-borne Mishra allegedly refused to give way to Raja Bhaiya's cavalcade and, in effect, overtook it. In Kunda, people are expected to stand with folded hands when Raja Bhaiya passes by.

Adding to the murkiness of the situation, Rajendra Yadav, the prime witness against Raja Bhaiya in the Santosh Mishra case and in the POTA case, was gunned down in broad daylight in Kunda on February 3. The murder took place when Raja Bhaiya and his father Uday Pratap Singh were being produced before courts in Kunda and Allahabad respectively. Both have been named as conspirators in the crime.

By taking action against Raja Bhaiya, Mayawati has earned the goodwill of a number of people in Uttar Pradesh and has consolidated her base among Dalits, who have been at the receiving end of Raja Bhaiya's atrocities.

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