The Congress on Thursday fielded five-time MLA from Varanasi Ajai Rai to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Uttar Pradesh constituency in the ongoing Lok Sabha election. Rai, beat new Congress general secretary from east Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to retain candidature from the star seat.
In 2014, Rai had finished a third with a little over 75,600 votes as Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had taken the second position securing around two lakh votes. On the other hand, Modi had won over 5.81 lakh votes registering-in a landslide victory. Prior to the polls, Rai had claimed confidently that he will cause the 'biggest upset of the year' and promised to defeat Modi.
Rai belongs to the Bhumihar community and has a considerable following among Brahmins and Bhumihars of the region. Interestingly, he began his political career in the BJP’s student wing and, was elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly from the Kolasla constituency three times in a row between 1996 and 2007 on a BJP ticket. In his first election, Rai had defeated nine-time CPI MLA Udal by a narrow margin of 484 votes. He went on to retain the seat defeating Awadhesh Singh of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by much larger margins.
However, after being denied a ticket by the party in the 2007 Vidhan Sabha polls, he joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) (which he has earlier called the party responsible for "all the ills plaguing the state") and fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections coming third behind BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and BSP’s Mukhtar Ansari. Rai's supporters had allegedly campaigned for Joshi to ensure the defeat of his arch-rival Ansari in a communally-polarised environment, a Hindustan Times report had suggested. Though, Rai denied any attempt to polarise votes.
The same year itself, he contested by-polls from the Kolasla constituency as an Independent candidate and was nominated to the state Assembly once again. Rai, however, alleged that BSP had pressurised him to join the party, and when he refused, his security cover was reduced, against which he had also moved court. During his campaign, he accused some police officers of pressurising his supporters to work for the candidate of the ruling BSP. And alleged that when he protested against the harassment, he and seven of his supporters were arrested.
In 2010, Rai staged a sit-in to protest the arrest of the local corporator Sanjay Singh and his associate Jitin Jha. The two had been arrested for assaulting and robbing a hotel owner. After Rai refused to end his protest, he and his supporters were also arrested for creating a ruckus.
Later, the Kolasla constituency was delimitated and, thereafter, Rai joined Congress and, contested and won the 2012 Assembly elections from Pindra — a constituency that falls in the Varanasi district and which comprises a sizeable portion of the Kolasla seat. He routed the BJP candidate, who received just 3,000 votes.
During this election, Rai was an accused in 16 criminal cases and was booked under the Gangster Act and Goonda Act. Thereby, in the subsequent 2017 Assembly polls, he lost the seat to BJP’s Avadhesh Singh.
On 5 October 2015, Rai was arrested for his alleged role in the violence and arson in Varanasi during a march by seers and other local leaders against police action on protesters opposing a ban on immersion of Ganesha idols in the Ganga river. Twenty-five people, including eight policemen, were injured as protesters went on a rampage, pelting stones and setting afire at least four police vehicles, booths, nearly half-a-dozen motorcycles and some shops. They also, reportedly, hurled a crude bomb.
Rai was arrested from the Lal Bahadur Shastri International airport and sent to the Fatehgarh jail. He was charged with unlawful assembly, dacoity, obstruction of official work and also for the destruction of public property. Subsequently, on 13 October, 2015, he was detained under the National Security Act (NSA). The Allahabad High Court on 29 March, 2016 set aside his detention under the NSA. He was released seven months later when the high court granted him bail.
Rai has been reported to be a member of notorious criminal Brijesh Singh's gang and is a history-sheeter of the Chetganj police station. He joined Brijesh after his elder brother Awadhesh Rai was shot dead in Varanasi's Lahurabir area in 1994, allegedly by Ansari and his men. Rai's name also figured in the attack on former deputy mayor Anil Singh in 1990, The Indian Express had reported. In his FIR, Anil had stated that Rai and others had fired at his jeep in the Cantonment area on 20 August 1991. Rai, however, was later acquited in the case.
Rai has also been termed to have a bahubali' (strongman) background and identified as someone who moves around with his 'gun-toting private army'. Earlier, he had been associated with Brijesh and Tribhuvan Singh in several criminal cases since 1989.
The Indian Express also reported that, according to police records, there were seven cases against Rai in 2009 — two each at the Cantonment and Chetganj police stations of Varanasi and three at the Mughalsarai police station of Chandauli district. Investigations in two murder cases lodged in Chetganj and Cantonment police stations against Tribhuvan had found Rai as a co-accused.
In 2017, Rai lost the Assembly election from Pindra as a Congress candidate. Since then, he has participated in various protests against Modi in Varanasi.
Meanwhile, among the candidates in the fray from Varanasi is Shalini Yadav, who is contesting from Varanasi for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. Shalini is the daughter-in-law of late Shyamlal Yadav, former Congress MP from Varanasi and an ex-Union minister.
Varanasi votes on 19 May in the last and seventh phase of the general election. The result of Lok Sabha polls will be declared on 23 May.
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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2019 15:26:09 IST