The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Priyanka’s Dalit does another flip

Sultanpur, Jan. 3: Less than a week ago, Ram Bhajan, a Dalit from Punnupur of Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, had shocked Congressmen by rejecting their offer of Priyanka Gandhi’s gift of a house to him.

He had switched sides to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party then. Now, he has switched right back to the Congress.

“There is no question of refusing the gift after Priyankaji has done so much for us,” Ram Bhajan said. The Dalit’s cause was taken up by Priyanka during her Amethi tour in November after Thakur landholders had razed his house.

Today, he was presented to journalists by local Congressmen. “They forced me to sign on the dotted line,” he said, sobbing, when journalists asked him about his earlier switch.

Last Sunday, Ram Bhajan had told the media in front of state sports minister O.P. Singh, also the local BSP MLA, that there was no question of accepting the Congress’ gift of a house because he was a Mayavati supporter.

“This shows how low Mayavati and her stormtroopers can stoop for political gains,” said a jubilant Sultanpur district Congress committee chief Jayaraj Gautam.

As Ram Bhajan vowed eternal gratitude to Sonia and her daughter Priyanka, his brothers, Ram Nath and Gaya Prasad, and his two sons stood by his side.

“We have started constructing a house for his family. The work will be completed by January-end,” said Sultanpur youth Congress chief Yogendra Mishra. “It will be formally gifted by Soniaji or Priyankaji at a function.”

Rebuilding Ram Bhajan’s house had become a bone of contention between the Congress and Mayavati after Priyanka escorted the man to the Sangarmpur police station to file a complaint against Thakur Babban Singh, who allegedly razed the house.

Priyanka had declared that Congressmen would rebuild the house through shramdan (free labour). The Mayavati government foiled their attempts when she claimed that the Thakur owned the land on which the house had stood.

Mayavati dubbed the Congress move a political gimmick and countered it with a rally in Amethi on December 12. There, she lashed out at the Congress and alleged it was trying to politicise the issue.

Thwarted by obstructions from the local administration, the Congress bought a plot adjoining the site of Ram Bhajan’s demolished house. The party announced it would rebuild the house there as a gift to the family.

The Congress gameplan was marred last Monday when Singh presented Ram Bhajan to the media and he publicly rejected the Congress gift. Singh also obtained an affidavit from Ram Bhajan, saying Congressmen had misled him.

The Congress had cried foul and accused Mayavati and her partymen of terrorising Ram Bhajan and family to get their way.

Now, however, it is the BSP’s turn to sulk. “The Congress can stoop to any level to pander to its votebank politics. But the Dalit masses will not be fooled any longer,” Singh said, reacting to Ram Bhajan’s latest U-turn.

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