The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong takes on Mayavati with Dalit home

Lucknow, Dec. 19: The race to woo Dalits has hotted up in Amethi with the Congress buying a plot to resettle a man evicted by Thakurs a day after Mayavati turned the Gandhi pocket borough into a district and named it after a Dalit icon.

The Congress has bought a plot in Punnupur village for Ram Bhajan near the spot where his house was razed by Thakurs. “This is our dignified reply to Mayavati’s outburst at her Amethi rally on December 11. We will construct the house through shramdaan and ask Priyanka (Gandhi) to formally hand it over to Ram Bhajan,” Sultanpur District Congress Committee chief Jaya Ram Gautam said after a meeting in Amethi today.

Rebuilding the house had become a prestige issue for the Congress since Priyanka had met Ram Bhajan during her Amethi visit last month. Moved by his complaint, she had taken him to the Sangrampur police station and forced police to register the case. She had announced that the house would be rebuilt by partymen through shramdaan.

In a sharp reaction to Priyanka’s gesture, Mayavati had justified the administration’s stand that the land on which the house stood belonged to a Thakur. Her government had also stopped Priyanka from proceeding to Punnupur for shramdaan.

At a rally in Amethi later, Mayavati had ridiculed the Nehru-Gandhi clan’s claim to champion the cause of Dalits and announced plans to make Amethi a district named after Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj. The Cabinet endorsed her decision yesterday.

“A biswa of land on adjoining plot 869 has been brought by the AICC from Pratap Narain Shrivastava of Punnupur and now, no one can stop us from building a house there. We will ask Priyankaji or Soniaji to hand it over to Ram Bhajan,” Rajiv Singh, president of the Amethi Block Congress Committee, said.

The Amethi Congressmen are unhappy with the move to name the new district after Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj. They plan to stage sit-ins throughout the parliamentary constituency on December 24 to press their demand that either the new district retains its earlier name or is named after Rajiv Gandhi.

Mayavati is facing stiffer resistance from an unexpected quarter, ally BJP. Immediately after the decision, the scion of Amethi’s ruling family and former MP, Sanjay Singh, denounced the move. Singh — whose wife Amita is the local MLA and a minister in the Mayavati government — claimed that the BJP leadership had assured him that the name would not be changed.

A section of the BJP feels that rechristening Amethi Chhatrapati Sahuji Maharaj could undermine the influence wielded by the royal family of Amethi. Singh wants the new district to be renamed after his father, Raja Rananjay Singh.

While Singh and his supporters engage Mayavati in the name game, the Congress has decided to go ahead with rebuilding the house. “We want to expose Mayavati’s claim that she stands for the Dalit cause. While her government has failed to give justice to a Dalit of Punnupur, we have decided to rebuild his house to show the people that the Congress really cares for them,” said Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Arun Kumar Singh Munna.

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