It's 11 at night and Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, is campaigning in a village in Beti in his Kunda constituency. It is well past the 10 p.m. deadline the Election Commission has set for campaigning but people aren’t talking about that. Instead, they are discussing how ‘Raja saheb’ has, for the first time, gone out to seek votes.
“This time, he is going door to door, asking for votes. Gone are the days when he used to summon gram pradhans and order them to get 1,000 votes polled,” whispered a villager. Others saw this as a sign of changing times. “The ruler does not go to the ruled. Maybe there is a hidden message in these visits,” said another villager. But they were too scared to give out their names — Raja still spells terror in Kunda.
Though the fear is palpable, clearly, Kunda is witnessing a change. For the first time, people are talking of “change”, though it takes a little bit of prodding for them to get going.
Ask them who will win the seat and the reply is a quick and predictable: “Raja saheb”. Prod further and then comes the cryptic comment, “Can’t say, there is a triangular contest, but eventually Raja may win.” Some more effort and some of them say, “This time, nobody knows; it can go either way.”
Raja Bhaiyya is pitted as an Independent against Prakash Singh of the Apna Dal and Shiv Prakash Mishra Sainani of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Singh said, “His henchmen went to Bindasin village threatening people not to attend our leader Sone Lal Patel’s meeting the next day. But in the end, they came knowing I was there to protect them. People are mustering courage and asking for change.”
And true enough, Kunda has seen some changes this time. For one, the two major candidates are locals. They have opened their offices in the constituency and are campaigning actively. Raja Bhaiyya’s main rival, the BSP's Sainani, is campaigning with his advocate wife and two children. In the 2002 elections, parties could not set up their party offices here. Whenever they did, members of Raja Bhaiyya's youth brigade ransacked them. Plus, with talks that Mulayam Singh Yadav may not come back to power, Raja Bhaiyya, who is the food minister in the Samajwadi Party-led government, seems somewhat less invincible than the last time around.
Raja Bhaiyya’s rivals claim he has issued 40,000 fake ration cards for “fictitious voters”. Apna Dal’s Singh said, “It is not difficult for Raja to smuggle in 10,000 to 15,000 people.” In the absence of identity cards, people use ration cards to vote. Both Singh and BSP’s Sainani have lodged complaints with the EC, which has stepped in by distributing identity cards within two days and suspending officials involved in the distribution of fake ration cards.
This is an election Raja Bhaiyya and Kunda aren’t used to. But as an advocate said, “The Election Commission is cracking down but what after the elections are over? These villagers have to live here, who will protect them?”