What makes Brijbhushan Sharan Singh so powerful?

He has successfully tapped into his popularity and religious-caste identity

PTI01_20_2023_000142A Talking point: Brijbhushan Singh addressing the media in Gonda regarding allegations against him | PTI

BRIJBHUSHAN SHARAN SINGH is something of an all-season fruit, having surmounted personal, political and criminal challenges through his career.

Just one example is enough to illustrate his somewhat inexplicable popularity. When he was in jail on charges under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the BJP gave a Lok Sabha ticket to his wife Ketki Devi Singh from Gonda in 1996. She polled 28,000 more votes than her husband―sympathy maybe, but more likely misplaced respect for a man who has the image of a staunch Hindu leader. In 1992, he had proudly declared himself as one of those behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In another lofty moment, an admirer described him as L.K. Advani’s charioteer.

Over the years, Singh further crystallised this image as a committed leader of the party in north India. His popularity stretches from Ayodhya to Gonda, with Balrampur and Kaiserganj thrown in. Last year, the Kaiserganj MP announced that five lakh people would congregate in Ayodhya on June 5 to protest the visit of Raj Thackeray. Two things stand out. One, the rally was organised on June 5, the birthday of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Two, much ahead of the set date, Thackeray had announced his decision not to make the trip, alleging that the ruling BJP might try to get him and his party workers in trouble. Singh’s rally itself was a damp squib, with the most optimistic estimates putting the turnout at 10,000. But the optics were perfect―a north Indian politician had scared off a rival who had made many a disparaging remark against people from the state.

The wrestlers’protest is an issue of a different order. Singh had tried to turn to his favourite form of strength show―yet again a rally in Ayodhya on Adityanath’s birthday. But he cancelled that through a vaguely worded letter. The district administration had reportedly denied permission as Section 144 was imposed in the city. There were sharp reactions against Singh among the city’s seers. Very few will voice it, but then very few will be open to meeting him either.

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Singh has not stopped trying, though. On June 2, a congregation of saints was held in Ayodhya. Singh was in attendance, but not given a place of prominence on the stage. He was relegated to the extreme end of the back row, out of the view of most attendees.

A BJP leader from Kaiserganj, not willing to be named, said, “Singh is an education mafia. Wherever he wants to gain prominence, he sets up schools and colleges. The teachers, students and staff work as his army during elections.”

The BJP’s slogan of choice is Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save daughters, educate daughters). However, what it actually believes in is Beti Padhao, Beti Patao (lure daughters). ―Dharamveer Chaudhary, BSP leader (with Sangeeta Phogat)

Ramesh Gupta, a Gonda resident who claimed to have known Singh for over four decades, said, “To grow and maintain his political position, he can go to any extent. Organising sports competitions and inviting prominent personalities to the area are merely tools to further his ambition.”

The BJP, however, sees a larger significance in Singh. According to party sources, Home Minister Amit Shah has had an internal inquiry into the charges against Singh. Though the findings are not known, it can be assumed they are not serious enough to implicate the MP.

In Singh, there is also a counterfoil to Adityanath. Note that Adityanath has hardly ever been seen with Singh or accorded him much attention, despite his penchant for rallies on his birthday.

“Had Singh not been a Hindu and from the same caste as the chief minister’s (Thakur), he would have been dealt with in a different manner,” said another BJP leader. “After all, how long does it take to overturn a car?”The reference is to the alleged encounter of gangster-politician Vikas Dubey in July 2020, who was killed while reportedly trying to flee from a police vehicle.

With the 2024 Lok Sabha elections inching closer, the BJP will have to think hard before taking the call to suspend Singh from the party till the inquiry report does not implicate him.

Dharamveer Chaudhary, a senior leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, said, “The BJP’s slogan of choice is Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save daughters, educate daughters). However, what it actually believes in is Beti Padhao, Beti Patao (lure daughters).”He goes on to offer a contrast from the time when Mayawati was chief minister. Umakant Yadav, a party MP from 2004 to 2009, was accused of demolishing huts in Azamgarh in an alleged land-grab case. Mayawati asked Yadav to visit her at the official residence in Lucknow, where she got him arrested. “The BJP lacks that kind of will,” said Chaudhary.

For the BJP, there is more at stake. One measure of Singh’s popularity will be on June 11 when he has announced a rally in Karnailganj (Gonda) to broadcast the achievements of the BJP-led Union government. It is a show of strength Singh cannot afford to fail. It is a show that the BJP will keenly watch. If the numbers at the rally prove his popularity, the party will find it very hard to deny him a ticket. For, if Singh decides to jump ship or even contest as an independent, he would eat into the BJP’s vote bank.

For now, Singh is making all the right noises―that he is willing to undergo a lie detector test, which has no validity in a court of law. And, the party has an unsaid ban on other members speaking about him.