HE is the archetypal Chhote Thakur, straight out of a Mumbaiya Hindi potboiler. He holds court in his courtyard and delivers instant justice—slaps jurmaana (fine) on 'erring subjects' or orders a 'sound' thrashing. His subjects, poor men, women and children, touch his feet with their foreheads, pleading for mercy. Outside his fortressed Bainti Estate, people queue up every morning to offer salutations, their bodies bent at 90 degrees, hands raised in a namaste above their heads.
The 'raja' in question is Kunwar Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raghubir Singh alias Toofan Singh alias Raja Bhaiya. He also happens to be the minister of programme implementation in Kalyan Singh's criminal-studded jumbo Cabinet. Add to this the fact that he is the most dreaded name in Pratapgarh and Allahabad districts. With 25 cases against him, ranging from cheating to murder, the honourable mantri is a prime example of criminals making it good in politics.
In hometown Kunda, he is the awesome symbol of feudalism. Clad in a Rajput-style dhoti-kurta, the 28-year-old Raja Bhaiya rides majestic horses, keeps elephants, zips around in his Gypsy with armed supporters in tow. And police records say that he kills his opponents, organises kidnappings for ransom, commits dacoities and robberies.
But this has never prevented Raja Bhaiya's career graph from soaring. He was barely 24 when he fought and won his first election in 1993 as an independent, against the wishes of his father, Uday Pratap Singh. Three years later, he once again jumped into the fray and barring the BJP, no party dared oppose him. Kalyan Singh himself visited Kunda to campaign
for the BJP's Shyam Prasad Mishra. In a public meeting, he vowed to uproot Raja Bhaiya from Kunda: "Goonda viheen Kunda karoon, dhwaja uthai dou haath (I declare that I have taken the vow to uproot the goondas from Kunda)". But eventually, the BJP's candidate lost, and is now lodged in Pratapgarh jail in connection with a murder. Ironically, Kalyan accommodated the same "goonda from Kunda" in his cabinet.
Raja Bhaiya did his bit though to extend more than a friendly hand to Kalyan. After the September 1996 elections, Raja Bhaiya took the pragmatic step of supporting Kalyan when governor Romesh Bhandari refused to ask the BJP to form a government.
This time round, after Mayawati ambushed the government, Raja Bhaiya worked overtime to muster support for Kalyan. He kept in touch with a large number of MLAs who eventually helped the BJP sail through. A feat for which he was suitably rewarded with a berth in the Cabinet, and the programme implementation portfolio.
Raja Bhaiya has already chalked out his plan of action. He has to implement two programmes: fulfil the aspirations of his ministry, and his riyasat (fiefdom): "I am not a politician in the traditional sense of the term. People come to me because they have faith in me. Earlier, they had to pay the cops for getting an FIR filed. Now nobody demands money from them." After the history-sheeter joined politics in 1993, he took care to build up a rapport with the people. He revived the durbar, practised by his ancestors, and established his feudal supremacy. A Kunda businessman, requesting anonymity, says Raja Bhaiya often catches hold of opponents and beats them up mercilessly in public, in the marketplace or near a chauraha, just to teach others a lesson. People are so terrified that nobody dares to speak against him.
Instead, they flock to his court for instant justice rather than go to the local administration. Points out Rajendra Kumar, a local: "Yehan sher aur bakri ek ghaat par paani peete hein (in the raja's court, both the lion and the goat get equal treatment)".
At his Bainti Estate, the name of each visitor is noted in a register. At 9 am, the raja comes to the "court" and takes his Seat of Justice. Others squat on the ground around him. Three aides stand by the raja to help him conduct the proceedings. And then the names of the complainants are called out.
The grievances could be anything between land disputes to police harassment to matrimonial discord. Usually, both parties are summoned; the raja listens to both and gives a verdict which nobody dares question. The proceedings are conducted in the Avadhi dialect. Adarsh Shukla, a student, says his uncle faced the raja's wrath: "My uncle had usurped six bighas belonging to us but when the raja asked him to return it to us, he refused. The raja ordered that my uncle be caned in public."
The raja and his father follow their own unwritten law which is implemented ruthlessly. For example, in Bhadari—his father's estate—and Bainti, no one is allowed to break even a branch, let alone fell a tree. If someone is caught, say, plucking a mango, he is caned and fined or both, depending on the seriousness of the offence. The fine can range from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000or more. But Raghuraj Pratap Singh denies that he either terrorises or collects fines from them. "I may have fined my own employees, but not the people."
HIS father Uday Pratap Singh, also a history-sheeter, is a staunch environmentalist. And people who defy his code have to face the maharaja's ire. He has a distaste for "English" education, despite studying at Doon School. He was averse to the idea of sending his son to school. His fear: "padh likh kar yeh bujdil ho jayega (education will make him a coward)". Raja Bha-iya, however, was given primary education, clandestinely, by his mother and graduated from Lucknow University. One of his teachers, Hausala Pandey, is his Man Friday.
"My father was educated in Doon School and the environment has always been an obsession," says Raja Bhaiya. Stories of Uday Pratap's whims abound—he is so sensitive to noise pollution that he does not allow anyone to turn the ignition key of a vehicle on his premises. On a visit to the maharaja's estate, Bhadari, the Outlook team saw his son's Gypsy being lugged out to the main gate before the engine was switched on.
In his own comfortable world, the maharaja has a private wireless system to keep in touch with his armed henchmen at the gates. He rarely comes out to give a darshan to his people. "As talukdars we have seen enough of forests and wild life. Now it pains me when I see that forests are disappearing. So, I've employed a retired forest ranger to look after the forest of this area," says Uday Pratap Singh.
Originally, the Bhadari Estate, not too far from Bainti, belonged to Uday Pratap's uncle, Rai Bajrang Bahadur Singh, former Himachal Pradesh governor. But he didn't have a son and nephew Uday always had an eye on the estate. After his death, Uday fell out with his aunt Girija Devi and for 17 years, he was not allowed to enter the estate. Once Girija Devi passed away, Uday Pratap captured the estate. Notes his history-sheet: "He is fond of decorating himself with deadly weapons.... Wants to establish a separate state based on his illegal and anti-social ideas in this age of freedom."
Uday Pratap pleads innocence and says Girija Devi was very close to Indira Gandhi and that she used this connection to "implicate me". According to police records, Uday Pratap Singh has a 20-member gang and has faced 41 criminal cases of murder, kidnapping, attempt to murder and so forth. He was once arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) too.
Raja Bhaiya shares several traits with his father—the history-sheet says he began emulating his father from childhood itself. Like his father, Raja Bhaiya also runs a registered mafia gang (No D-3) with nine active members. Interestingly, one gang member, Kailash Nath Ojha, claims to be a sympathiser of the CPI-ML (Liberation), an anti-feudal party. Ojha justifies Raja Bhaiya's I-am-the-state stature and says he metes out justice to the downtrodden.
"The country is celebrating the 50th year of Independence but people of Kunda haven't yet attained freedom; they are still slaves of Raja Bhaiya," said Madan Singh, in charge of Kunda police station. Singh had been in the forefront of the efforts of the former superintendent of police of Pratapgarh, Jasbir Singh, to book Raja Bhaiya and his father. The SP was transferred five days after Kalyan took over as chief minister.
In Kunda, the raja is the boss. And with his elevation to minister status he will be able to crack the whip a lot harder in his hometown as well as in Lucknow.