A curious video surfaced on Twitter on Thursday evening. A BJP MLA had threatened a journalist, it seemed.
The tweet maintained that BJP MLA ‘Pranav Champion’ from Uttarakhand abused journalists as "दो कौडी का नौकर" (people of no consequence) when he was confronted after he allegedly waved his revolver to a reporter. In the video, he threatened to kill the reporter and make his body disappear. He then claimed to be the uncle of Raja Bhaiya.
What was new?
I was about to close it when the MLA boasting that he is after all the uncle of Raja Bhaiya caught my attention. My ears perked up at the mention of Raja Bhaiya. First an independent MLA in Uttar Pradesh, he was described by the then BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh as ‘Kunda Ka Goonda’ ahead of an assembly election. The Goonda won and proceeded to join the BJP and become a minister. This was way back in 1998-99.
And now after all these years the uncle of the ‘Goonda’ was confirming on camera that his nephew indeed made dead bodies disappear!
Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya was then a slightly built, serious and soft-spoken man, I remember and his physical presence was less than intimidating. But he was credited with various criminal activities including giving shelter to high profile criminals from Mumbai who needed a cooling off time. For a price of course. Raja Bhaiya’s fort-like palace at Kunda, police said, provided refuge to these fugitives from the law.
Worse, his men were accused of kidnapping and killing dozens of men from Pratapgarh near Allahabad. The Pratapgarh SP told me that all the ‘missing’ men had been last seen with Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya or with his men. And thereafter they had disappeared without a trace.
Local legend held that Raja Bhaiya had crocodiles in a pond inside the Kunda palace and that he fed the dead bodies to the crocodiles. The SP, a Sikh officer with a short service stint in the army, claimed he even had a confessional statement from one of the chieftain’s men who fell out.
Colourful stories about Raja Bhaiya appeared in the media. Most of them were fawning pieces magnifying his Robinhood-like image. Pictures of him holding court or cutting a dashing figure on a horseback adorned many of them.
The police had a different version. The man had terrorised people and his men ensured that as in medieval days, nothing moved in Pratapgarh without his permission. He had a finger in all the pies, contracts and nobody dared cross his path. Even the Sikh SP who did, was made to pay a price with not just shunting posts but he was also arrested in Madhya Pradesh, where he had gone in civilian clothes to investigate into charges of gun-running he had received against the legislator.
The urge to meet the character was irresistible. And we decided to pay him a visit unannounced. The then Statesman correspondent in Lucknow Mohan Sahay also decided to come along. Kunda turned out to be a typical, dusty town with a single road. A kutcha road led to the palace. It was a long drive even after the palace loomed into view. It was a sprawling campus surrounded by high boundary walls. On both sides of the kutcha road were open fields. Just as we could see the fort or palace from a long distance, from the palace also people could see approaching vehicles or people from a long way off.
As the large iron gate loomed closer, we could see a man frantically tying his dhoti and running from the field to the gate. Apparently the gatekeeper or watchman, he had gone to relieve himself and had seen our white Ambassador car, a taxi, approaching. The taxi driver had put a red beacon on top –as many taxi drivers did those days—to give the impression that his was an official car. And the watchman was also fooled into believing that Raja Bhaiya himself or someone close to him had arrived.
Huffing and puffing he had swung the gates open and we asked the driver to move in without stopping at the gate. As we drove in, the poor man realised that he had let in strangers and began shouting. Our sense of triumph at foxing him was short lived . Two huge dogs came galloping towards the taxi. They looked ferocious and frightening. As the car screeched to a stop, the apparently trained dogs stood on their hind legs and took up position on both sides of the car. We froze and waited for their master to arrive.
A few men did come out and watched us warily. We finally managed to tell them that we had arrived from Delhi—not Lucknow—to see Raja Bhaiyya. We were tersely told he was not there. We tried striking a conversation but all that they obliged us with were cold stares. In a bid to prolong our stay we took out cigarettes and offered them one. They refused. Would they have a match box? Since one of them had taken out a cigarette and lit it, he reluctantly offered us the matchbox.
Could we see the pond, we asked casually. Their eyes dropped and they visibly stiffened but did not say anything.
The pond where crocodiles are kept, we ventured.
One of them shouted at the watchman to open the gate and show us out.
We beat a retreat. But till we left Pratapgarh, persuaded by policemen at the local PS who wanted us to leave the area before dusk, two motorcycle-borne men followed our movement.
And now, after all these years, Raja Bhaiya’s Mamaji, himself an MLA in Uttarakhand, appears to confirm that not all the stories we heard then about his nephew were fairy tales.