The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rediscovery of Nehru land

Allahabad, April 25: History has played a cruel joke on Jawaharlal Nehru — a bandana-wearing mafia don who is accused of murder has taken his place.

Everything about Atiq Ahmad is quietly sinister, down to the curl of his moustache. But his fawning followers compare him with the first Prime Minister of India.

Atiq, they point out, is a five-time MLA and first-time MP from Phulpur, the seat in Allahabad district that elected Nehru to the first Lok Sabha. He is also the man the Congress is banking on to deliver a seat in Allahabad — Nehru’s hometown — to them in the Assembly.

“I always support ladies,” he says patronisingly, not bothered about what chief Mulayam Singh Yadav would make of a Samajwadi Party MP backing a Congress candidate. Rita Bahuguna Joshi is the Congress nominee he has chosen to support.

Atiq’s Samajwadi Party, which counts the Nehru family among its sworn enemies, has its own nominee for the seat — also a lady, Jamunotri Gupta.

In the stifling room overcrowded with waiting admirers, campaigners and poll managers, the comparison with Nehru sounds almost obscene.

Atiq has a string of extortions, kidnappings and killings to his name — it is alleged that he murdered Raju Pal, the former MLA from Allahabad West. Pal had dared defeat the don’s younger brother Ashraf in the 2002 Assembly elections. Ashraf is now the MLA, elected in the bypoll held after Pal was killed.

The comparison has even brought strident critic Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP to the defence of Nehru. “Absolutely disgusting,” is what Joshi had to say of the attempts by Atiq’s supporters to link him with the first Prime Minister.

But the don does not flinch, he smirks — twice over, because he knows he is billed to play a deciding role in the prospects of Rita Bahuguna, the daughter of another stalwart, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna. “Let us be realistic. There is no SP, BSP or BJP here. The contest is either pro- or anti-Atiq,” he says.

Rita is up against the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit president Kesri Nath Tripathi, infamous for his role in splitting the BSP to install Mulayam as chief minister when he was Speaker. It is now well established even in BJP circles that Tripathi is in deep trouble in Allahabad South. Not because Rita Bahuguna alone poses a serious challenge but because the “Don of Sangam” has decided to throw his might behind her.

Atiq is not afraid to voice his opinion on the widely discussed possibility of Mulayam backing the BJP from outside to prevent a BSP-Congress government from coming to power.

“Mulayam Singh ne Ayodhya main goli chalane ki rotiyan seki hain. BJP ke saath ja kar khudkushi kyon karenge' (Mulayam has made political capital of firing at the volunteers in Ayodhya. Why would he want to commit political suicide by teaming with the BJP now')” he asks.

Atiq has an opinion on all matters, social and political. Much as the educated elite of this riverbank city — home to the Nehru-Gandhis and almost all the famous Hindi/Urdu poets from Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ and ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri to Mahadevi Verma and Harivanshrai Bachchan — squirm, there are no two ways about who rules here.

“I am here. It does not matter who is in power,” he declares.

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