Political power, Mao Tse Tung said, grows from the barrel of the gun. In Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal Valley and Bundelkhand, known for dacoits, politics has seduced dacoits—both active and surrendered. In Bundelkhand’s Satna, the Congress complained to the Election Commission last week that Sudesh Patel alias Balkhedia—a nom de guerre after his stiff spiky hair—was terrorising villagers in the Tarai forests bordering Uttar Pradesh to vote for BJP candidate Ganesh Singh. Results of each polling booth issued under Form-20 by the EC make it easy to identify which hamlets voted for whom in communities that vote en bloc. Balkhedia, who has backed the BSP and the Samajwadi Party in the past, has allegedly thrown his lot with the BJP as Mr. Singh and him are Kurmis—a backward caste.

The police in the border districts on M.P. and U.P. have distributed pamphlets encouraging the public to report about Balkhedia, who carries a reward of Rs.5 lakhs.Mohar Singh Gurjar, known as the gentleman dacoit, was one of the early entrants to the BJP. Feared for his brutal elimination of the police informers, Gurjar now 80, surrendered with 400 others in front of Jayaprakash Narayan in 1972.

He joined the BJP in 1996 and was the chairman of Mehgaon municipality in Bhind.

He is currently campaigning for the BJP’s Bhagirath Prasad who is contesting for the seat.

The latest and most high profile entrant to the BJP is former dacoit Malkhan Singh, who surrendered before former Chief Minister Arjun Singh in 1982. Malkhan led an agile and almost invincible 80-member gang that plagued the Chambal Valley in the ‘70s. Both he and Gurjar took up arms in the late ‘50s and ‘60s respectively due to caste-related land disputes. Malkhan was last spotted during the Congress’ campaign in Assembly polls last year, which he says was only due to respect for “Maharaj”—Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia. He is now campaigning for Mr. Prasad and BJP State president Narendra Tomar in Gwalior.

“I can’t tolerate injustice. We were baghees (rebels) not dacoits. The Congress reneged on its promises of rehabilitating us and withdrawing cases we face. Instead, innocent men were killed in fake encounters,” 70-year old Malkhan told The Hindu . He added, “We have sold all our land to fight these cases. No leader listens to us, hence I am campaigning for Shivraj Chauhan’s BJP as he got our daughters married and sponsored pilgrimages for elders”. Ironically, Mr. Prasad was the State’s Home Secretary when the encounters took place during former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh’s regime.

Malkhan blames the encounters of the then Home Minister and incumbent Opposition leader in the Assembly Satyadev Katare, MLA from Ater in Bhind.A.P.S. Chouhan, head of the Politics Department in Gwalior’s Jiwaji University, told this paper that it was only natural for ex-dacoits to back the ruling party.

“They have campaigned for the Congress earlier. However their influence among their castes has eroded considerably, thereby reducing their ability to extort money from property disputes. The support for the BJP is in the hope of some leeway in cases pending against them and their families,” he said.

‘Congress reneged on its promises of rehabilitating us’