In the badlands of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where caste, politics and gang wars combine to make a lethal cocktail, anything is possible: A minister can cool his heels in jail and a prisoner can head to cabinet. Raghuraj Pratap Singh, or Raja Bhaiyya, straddles both zones, and with some ease, going by the legion of awe-struck accounts of the power he wields — as much in his own fief in Kunda in Pratapgarh as in the forbidding world of politics. At age 44, he has done three ministerial stints, one each in the governments of Kalyan Singh, Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav. Last week, the law once again caught up with the ‘Raja,’ forcing him to resign over accusations of involvement in the murder of Kunda Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia-ul-Haq. The policeman was himself investigating the murders in the Kunda region of a village headman and his brother. The DSP’s wife is emphatic that Raghuraj Pratap was behind his murder, and on Thursday, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which has twice before investigated complaints relating to the Kunda overlord, formally named him in one of the four FIRs registered in connection with the three murders. It is a measure of the former minister’s extraordinary clout that he has prospered politically in almost direct proportion to the many serious charges against him. Not surprisingly he has still not been arrested in the current case.

Whether or not Mr. Singh, an upper caste Thakur, is directly involved in the DSP’s murder — he says he was in Lucknow at the time — what is clear is the endemic nature of caste violence in the Pratapgarh area. Yet this has not stopped successive governments from inducting him as minister. Just how bizarre things can get at the intersection of crime and politics can be seen from the fact that Akhilesh Yadav gave Raghuraj Pratap dual charge of Prisons and Food and Civil supplies. The choices could not have been more ironic: the prison connection aside, the ‘Raja’ was Food and Civil Supplies minister in an earlier regime when a food scam brought his ministry under the CBI scanner. Akhilesh Yadav’s one refrain through the 2012 State election campaign was that he would purge the Samajwadi Party of goonda elements. Yet once in power, he surrendered abjectly to the compulsions of caste and muscle politics, admitting into his cabinet precisely those elements he had vowed to keep out. The Thakur factor is said to be the reason why the Bharatiya Janata Party and the SP equally kowtow to Raghuraj Pratap Singh. However, for that very reason he has been anathema to Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati — who alone has had the guts to arrest him.

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