A sense of disillusionment had gripped the people of Ballia last July when none of Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet ministers or ruling party MLAs turned up for the ninth death anniversary function of former prime minister Chandrashekhar. It was a clear departure from past practice.
The apathy of the Samajwadi Party (SP) leaders towards the former PM, in the run up to the assembly polls, did not go down well with old-timers. Chandrashekhar, during his lifetime, was the axis around which the poll outcome of six assembly constituencies of Ballia district depended. The district had always stood behind the socialist stalwart in the ‘personality versus development’ cacophony.
Chandrashekhar’s legacy loomed large even after his death. His two sons tried their luck in politics. The eldest, Neeraj Shekhar, became a Rajya Sabha MP on an SP ticket, while the other son, Pankaj Shekhar, was not so lucky.
“There is no denying that Ballia’s politics revolves around Chandrashekhar even today. Even his son got elected because of his name,” said Kanhaiya Singh, a social activist.
Also cashing in on Chandrashekhar’s legacy were his grandson, Ravi Shankar alias Pappu Singh, and nephew Praveen Singh Babbu. Pappu contested the 2009 Lok Sabha polls on a JD (U) ticket and again in 2014 on a BSP ticket before finally becoming an SP MLC. Babbu is with the Congress.
“At one point of time, Chandreshekhar’s house in Ballia sported the flags of three parties,” recalled Vijay Pratap Singh (89), once the pointsman in Balia of the then PM.
Ballia and Chandrashekhar were synonymous with each other. Electoral politics was dictated by the larger than life personality of the Young Turk, as he was known then for carving a separate niche for himself for nearly three decades. But the magic seems to be waning.
Barring 1984, Chandra Shekhar never lost a Lok Sabha election from 1977 to 2004. While the son may be struggling to keep the father’s flag flying, even today leaders of other parties use Chandrashekhar’s name to strike a chord with voters.
“He commands respect in all parties even today,” says Manoj Singh, former SP district chief from Bairya. Singh is contesting independently with support from the former PM’s party Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya). The SJP (R), which contested 12 seats in 2012 is contesting just five this time.
The open squabble among his relatives and ex-aides over assets worth crores of rupees parked in various trusts in the name of his mentor Jayaprakash Narayan, has earned a bad name for the family. With electoral politics divided on caste lines, the Chandrashekhar magic is clearly on the decline.