Raja Bhaiyas resignation from the Uttar Pradesh council of ministers,after being accused of murdering Kunda DSP Zia-ul-Haq,must renew national attention on a phenomenon that has been a drag on democratic politics,particularly in the Hindi heartland. Raja Bhaiyya has been accused of,and jailed for,attempt to murder,dacoity,abduction,even terrorism. He has also won assembly elections five times from Kunda. Once close to the BJP and a minister in Kalyan Singhs cabinet,he gravitated towards the Samajwadi Party. Mayawati put him in jail twice,in 2002 and 2007,but the SP extricated him,sought his support during elections and rewarded him with ministerial posts. In fact,this time Raja Bhaiyya strode out of prison,where he had been for the past five years,and was given charge of the prison department in the Akhilesh Yadav government. He is seen to be the bahubali,one among the many strongmen who oust and supplant the state,still,in so many parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Even as the rest of India talks grandly of governance reform,in these swathes,the mission remains far more basic to restore the states writ and to extricate the police and administration from the grip of feudal overlords and strongmen. This was far more marked in Bihar,where the state had receded,or allowed its apparatus to be captured by the ruling party. With menace and benevolence rolled into one,these men appropriated the system,ran things in their own arbitrary way,dispensed patronage and their power was affirmed by elections. That story has been changing in Bihar,partly because of firm political leadership and because public tolerance and cynicism had bottomed out. Uttar Pradesh,though,still has unreformed areas of darkness like Pratapgarh. The Akhilesh Yadav government,instead of providing the hoped-for re-imagination of the state,has continued to disempower the law and order machinery. SP workers continue to flout the rules.
The bahubali phenomenon is an affront to democracy and a throwback to a darker feudal past. It gives the lie to the larger story of India,of free elections and open aspirations. It begs the most fundamental questions about the states mandate to ensure security and freedom from fear. Uttar Pradesh is the most influential state in Indian politics,and rescuing it from this feudal-criminal swamp should be a priority for its leadership.