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Phoolan's den rues 'apathy': Mirzapur fondly recalls ‘Bandit Queen’ tenure, fumes at BJP MP Anupriya Patel

'We voted for (BJP ally) Anupriya Patel in 2014 and 2019 at Narendra Modi’s request but she has ignored the constituency these 10 years,' Bajrang Pandey, a panda (temple guide) from Vindhayachal, Mirzapur said

Piyush Srivastava Varanasi Published 28.05.24, 06:20 AM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with minister of state Anupriya Patel (extreme right) at a public meeting in Allahabad last week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with minister of state Anupriya Patel (extreme right) at a public meeting in Allahabad last week. PTI picture

“Bandit Queen” turned MP Phoolan Devi has been dead 23 years but she has enough admirers in her former constituency of Mirzapur to have become a talking point this election.

Cutting across castes, many people said that when Phoolan was MP from 1996 to 2001 — with a yearlong gap in between — they needed only to tell officials that they were from Mirzapur to be able to get “any work done” in Lucknow or Delhi.


Now, the constituency stands as “a monument to the apathy” of the central and state governments, said Bajrang Pandey, a panda (temple guide) from Vindhayachal, Mirzapur.

“Phoolan was elected Samajwadi Party MP from here in 1996 and 1999 (she lost to her BJP rival in 1998). There were multiple Prime Ministers and (Uttar Pradesh) chief ministers during her tenure, but no minister or officer in any government would ignore us,” Pandey said.

Phoolan Devi.

Phoolan Devi.

“They respected Phoolan. Our roads were better and we had most of the basic facilities. Everything started deteriorating after her time. Today, nobody cares for us. Mirzapur is a monument to the apathy of successive governments.”

The 1963-born Phoolan allegedly led a group of bandits that shot dead 22 Kshatriyas in Behmai village, Kanpur district, in 1981. She surrendered in 1983. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi government dropped all the charges against her in 1993 and inducted her into the party.

Phoolan became a celebrity — even something of a hero in some progressive circles — and developed contacts across the political spectrum. She was assassinated in Delhi in 2001.

“We voted for (BJP ally) Anupriya Patel in 2014 and 2019 at Narendra Modi’s request but she has ignored the constituency these 10 years,” Bajrang said.

Mirzapur’s rutted roads, drinking water shortage and lack of many other amenities appear to have made Anupriya unsafe this election.

“She remained busy keeping her Apna Dal (S) close to the BJP and Modi for the growth of her own political career,” said civil contractor Shashank Singh.

“All she did after winning from here and becoming a central minister was wangle from the BJP a legislative council seat for her husband Ashish Patel. He is now the state’s technical education minister.”

Singh added: “But the BJP divided the family of the Apna Dal founder, the late Sonelal Patel. Today, Anupriya runs Apna Dal (S) and her mother Krishna Patel and elder sister Pallavi Patel run Apna Dal (K).”

Anupriya is Union minister of state for commerce and industry, and is expected to be made a minister again if the BJP returns to power.

“Anupriya is in trouble not only because of her 10 non-productive years as MP but also because of the Modi government’s failure to provide employment or control inflation,” Singh said.

He said Anupriya faced a challenge from the INDIA nominee, Ramesh Chand Bind.

Bind was BJP parliamentarian from adjoining Bhadohi but denied re-nomination this time, shifted to Mirzapur to contest on a Samajwadi ticket.

Many believe that Manish Tiwari of the Bahujan Samaj Party can harm Anupriya by dividing the BJP’s Brahmin vote.

Modi recently invoked religion to try and help Anupriya, telling a rally in Karchchana, Mirzapur, on Sunday that the Samajwadis intended to provide 15 per cent reservation to Muslims in the police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary.

“The Constitution clearly says there cannot be reservation on the basis of religion,” the Prime Minister added.

But caste is a bigger reality than religion in the area.

Anupriya has angered the Kshatriya community — a BJP vote bank — by telling a rally in Pratapgarh last week that “Kings are born out of EVMs and not the wombs of queens”.

The comment drew immediate protest from a controversial Kshatriya strongman and MLA who was sharing the stage with her.

Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiyya, the “Raja of Benti” and Kunda MLA from the Jansatta Dal — a non-aligned party — shot back from the dais: “Only people’s representatives are born out of EVMs, kings are not.”

Sanju Mishra, Jansatta Dal district president, said: “What Patel said has hurt the Kshatriyas.”

Tarunendra Singh Gaharwar, president of the powerful Rashtriya Hindu Kshatriya Vahini, a social organisation, condemned Anupriya’s “unacceptable” remark. “We will not be able to support her this time,” he said.

Ashok Singh of the Pratap Vahini Kshatriya Sangathan said: “She has hurt us and
we will give her the reply on polling day.”

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