Politics

Is the Battle for Amethi a Struggle Over Who Should Be Queen?

The contest between Amita Singh and Garima Singh, the Congress and BJP candidates from Amethi, has turned the personal lives of the local ‘royal’ family into a political issue.

Sanjay Singh and Amita Singh (L) and Mahima Singh and Garima Singh. Credit: PTI (L) and Jahnavi Sen

Sanjay Singh and Amita Singh (L) and Mahima Singh and Garima Singh. Credit: PTI (L) and Jahnavi Sen

Amethi, Uttar Pradesh: As the fifth phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections take place on Monday, many eyes will turn to Amethi, known as a bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The people of Amethi have a strange choice to make this time: contesting against sitting MLA Gayatri Prasad Prajapati of the Samajwadi Party (accused in a gangrape case) are two ‘ranis‘ (queens), both claiming to be married to the same ‘king’, well-known Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh.

Prasad was the first minister to be dropped from UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet in September last year amidst the feud with Shivpal Yadav, but Akhilesh had to bring him back soon after, apparently under pressure from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. While Akhilesh campaigned in the Amethi constituency, one of the seats where the Congress and the SP are both fielding candidates, on February 20, Prajapati was missing from the dais. Mulayam was also supposed to address a rally in the region, but it was cancelled at the last minute.

The BSP has fielded Ramji Maurya, but most voters and political commentators in Amethi are looking at the Congress and BJP candidates – Amita Singh and Garima Singh respectively, both of whom claim to be the region’s rani. Garima, Sanjay’s first wife, returned to Amethi in 2014 after over 20 years, claiming that the high court and Supreme Court had declared their divorce as null and avoid (on account of an imposter being presented instead of her) and that she and her children still rightfully belonged in Bhupati Bhawan (the ‘500-room’ ancestral home of Sanjay’s talukdar family). Garima has been living there since and is now contesting against Amita. This is her first-ever election. Her campaign has focused on “justice” for her family, which she says can only be given to her by the voters.

At a rally in a village near Amethi, Garima told gathered voters that she had been wronged but never taken the property dispute to court because she respected her husband. She added that hers is a fight for “Bharatiya sanskar (Indian values)”.

Garima was accompanied by her daughter Mahima Singh. Speaking to The Wire, Mahima said her mother was still Sanjay’s legal wife, and that her mother and brother had been mistreated by Sanjay and Amita. She and Garima both insisted that Amita be called Amita Modi and not Singh, because of her first marriage to the late badminton player Syed Modi.

Modi was shot dead in Lucknow on July 28, 1988. The case garnered much public attention when police charged Amita, Sanjay and Akhilesh Singh (a political strongman from Rae Bareli whose daughter, Aditi Singh, is now contesting on a Congress ticket) for his murder. The cases were later dropped, soon after which Amita and Sanjay were married.

Amita, a three-time MLA from Amethi, has chosen not to speak about Garima during the campaign, focusing any attacks on the BJP. Speaking to The Wire, she said she prefers to talk about the work the Congress “has done and will continue to do” in the area. Meanwhile, Sanjay is actively campaigning for Amita.

While ‘the personal is political’ takes on a new meaning for this so-called royal family in Amethi, it remains to be seen how the people of Amethi respond to this unusual mix of candidates.