With the Lok Sabha elections slated for early next year, the legacy of Maharaja Suheldev, who is said to have killed the Ghaznavid general Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud in the early 11th century is up for grabs for the NDA partners in Uttar Pradesh. The Rajbhars who constitute 20 per cent of the Purvanchal population are regarded as the second politically dominating community to reckon with after the Yadavs in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The tussle for the Rajbhar vote bank is out in the open with the BJP on Saturday releasing the postal stamp of Maharaja Suheldev. However, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief and UP minister Om Prakash Rajbhar has distanced itself from the programme in Ghazipur, claiming he was not invited for the event well in time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while releasing the stamp in Ghazipur, said effort was to take Maharaja Suheldev’s contribution to all Indians through the postal stamp. “It is said that when he was the king people did not lock doors,” he said.
Modi, who spoke at length on Suheldev starting his address in a local dialect of eastern UP, recalled his bravery and asserted that Suheldev belonged to all. “Such brave sons were not given proper honour by previous governments and we have taken it as our duty to accord them the respect due to them,” he said.
Addressing the function to release the stamp, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the government of India “has accorded the honour and respect to Suheldev after 1,000 years in order to ensure that his memory is kept alive for the future generations”. But, UP Minister for Backward Classes Welfare and SBSP chief Rajbhar, has opposed the release of the postal stamp on the ground that it does not bear the full name “Maharaja Suheldev Rajbhar”.
A similar situation was witnessed in 2016 when BJP president Amit Shah had unveiled the statue of Suheldev in Bahraich and SBSP, which was then not a partner in the NDA, had announced it would oppose the BJP’s efforts to appropriate the 11th-century king for political gains. The BJP, which also has Rajbhar leaders like Harinarain Rajbhar (MP from Ghosi) and Anil Rahbhar (UP minister of Sainik Kalyan, Food processing) has released the postal stamp as a mark of respect to Suheldev.
Maharaja Suheldev exists somewhere between the boundary of fiction and history. The only surviving account of him is the Mirat-i-Masudi, a historical romance written in Persian. Legends can barely agree upon his name, alternating between Sakardev, Suhirdadhwaj, Suhridil, Suhridal-dhaj, Rai Suhrid Dev, Susaj, Suhardal etc, much less on his caste or religious identity.
At the end of the day, what we have is a king with a Hindu-sounding name and a historically unverifiable personal identity who defeated a Muslim invader. The Rajbhar community has a presence in nearly 125 assembly seats in eastern Uttar Pradesh and constitutes 2.60 per cent of the entire state’s population and SBSP chief Rajbhar had claimed that in 62 assembly seats, the Rajbhars need a little support from other communities to win those seats.
Uttar Pradesh assembly has 403 seats. Rajbhar had formed SBSP in October 2002. During his tenure as Chief Minister, Rajnath Singh had got Raja Suheldev’s statue installed at the Lalbagh crossing in Lucknow.
The BSP, on its part, had another statue installed in Sarnath. The party also has important Rajbhar leaders in its fold in the form of former state president, Ram Achal Rajbhar and former assembly speaker Sukhdev Rajbhar.
It’s no wonder that the legend of Maharaja Suheldev has been marshalled for the cause of vote bank politics.