LUCKNOW: In UP’s badlands, election season is prime time for criminals of all shapes and sizes to make hay. It’s no different this time around. In a state with the dubious distinction of having the largest number of ministers sacked on corruption and criminal charges, that also holds the record for maximum number of MLAs facing rape charges and that of MLAs in jail, parties desperate to increase their tally are not shying from fielding tainted candidates in the hope of capturing power. Even small, local outfits have joined the race to field musclemen, mafia dons, rapists, murderers and dacoits, despite repeated warnings by the judiciary and election commission, and social campaigns to stir the conscience of party leaders. The three M’s of money, muscle and machine (guns) still rule the state.
First the smaller parties, which didn’t attract attention of the unsavoury earlier. Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party (PMSP) has fielded notorious Brijesh Singh, currently lodged in a jail in Gujarat. Singh is a registered mafia don in Varanasi, and arch rival of another notorious eastern UP criminal Mukhtar Ansari. Their 20-year long rivalry has claimed three dozen lives, including that of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005. Together, they control coal, silk, transport and mining businesses in eastern UP.
“We have decided to give Brijesh Singh a chance to mend his ways, by fielding him as our candidate from Varanasi’s Sayyd Raja seat,” said Prem Chand Bind, president of the Pragatisheel Manav Party (PMP) at a presser today, that was managed by some media persons and BSP supporters, lending creedence to rumours that the don is being backed by the ruling party. Annapurna Singh, the don’s wife, is an MLC of the ruling BSP. His nephew Sushil Singh is also a BSP MLA. Annapurna will campaign for her husband, making clear the proxy connection. Brijesh’s rival Mukhtar Ansari, imprisoned since 2005 in the Rai murder case, is also in the fray as an independent. Ansari, who hails from Ghazipur, is the sitting MLA from Mau.
Apna Dal, another small outfit of the Kurmis (OBC), after struggling over a decade to get into the Assembly, has taken the surefire route to UP’s Vidhan Sabha by announcing Ansari’s deputy Munna Bajrangi as their candidate. Bajrangi, whose name is synonymyous to terror in the state, is also in the jail. Apna Dal chief, the young Supriya Pathak, has described Munna Bajrangi as a “clean man”. With three top dons in the fray, the task of UP’s police and election commission, which has already recovered Rs 4 crore in smuggled cash meant to buy votes, is cut out.
Muslim-dominated Peace Party, that has been gaining popularity in eastern UP swallowing the traditional lower-caste Muslim votes of the SP and the Congress, also changed tack and came up with jailed Jitendra Singh Babloo and mafia don-turned Rae Bareily MLA Akhilesh Singh as candidates.
Among major political parties, the BJP, “the party with a difference” that claims to have “chaal, charitra, chintan and chehra” (direction, character, ideology and face). Desperate to get back to power, it accepted Babu Singh Kushwaha and Badshah Singh, and is reported to be dallying with MP Dhananjay Singh as well.
Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which is blamed by many for the widespread criminalisation of state politics, and lost the last elections partly because of that, is trying to shed its image of being a safe sanctuary of criminals. That doesn’t mean that this time they are not fielding any tainted names. But they sure are avoiding bigger names like D P Yadav. For example, it has fielded Bhagwan Sharma, alias Guddu, sacked from the BSP on charges of rape and murder. Abhay Singh, another don, is also on their list, beside a number of other tainted candidates.
In the 2007 polls, Mayawati fielded 135 criminals as candidates, out of which 68 won, with a number of them getting ministries. This way, it not only snatched power in the state from the SP, but also took over from them the mantle of safest sanctuary of criminals, with nine MPs, 68 MLAs, 13 MLCs and 11 ministers who face charges. This includes those who were recently dismissed from the party and government.
The presence of criminals, musclemen and the mafia dons in the BSP has scarred the image of Behanji, maybe for good. “We’ve suspended 500 criminals from our party,” she announced at a press conference in Lucknow on May 2, desperately trying to win back the political capital she has lost. Her anti-criminal stand had been her USP in 2007. However, she too fell under the spell of the mafia, inviting dons like Ansari, Dhananjay Singh, D P Yadav, Kapilmuni Karwaria, Arun Kumar Shukla alias Munna and others as “saviours”, fielding them as candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Gangsters like Ramu Diwedi and kins of Brijesh Singh were made MLCs, and she described Ansari as “messiah of the poor and the downtrodden”, fielding him from Varanasi in the Lok Sabha. That’s when the tide began to turn against her.
In UP, no party hesitates to field criminals. In this respect, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was the first to field dacoits and mafia dons as candidates, is the least hypocritical about this. Mulayam has more credibility among criminal MLAs than Mayawati, Rajnath and Kalyan Singh, all former UP CMs. The SP is trying to clean its stables, even though a section of the party still wanted to reinduct D P Yadav, a move opposed by state president Akhilesh Yadav. According to Election Watch, an NGO keeping a tab on UP polls, the Congress has also fielded 26 tainted candidates. In the end, in UP politics, the saying, “kaante ko kanta hi nikal sakta”, still holds true.