Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav had promised a regime without criminals. Three months later, some of the most dreaded ganglords in the state are strolling in and out of prison as they wish. Ashish Khetan exposes a disturbing trend
• I •
MY PHOTOGRAPHER and I have been waiting in a taxi for over two hours outside the Gorakhpur Divisional Jail. It is 7 June and the sun is unbearably harsh. The jail is heavily garrisoned. A dozen-odd policemen with rifles are posted at the typically imposing jail gate. Additionally, a posse of cops is deployed outside the compound. To avoid any suspicion, we are parked under a tree, at a short distance from the jail boundary. At around 1 pm, a white Tata Sumo (registration number UP-53 AS 8797) with black tinted windows, pulls over. Two men step out of the vehicle. Both have walkie-talkies tucked under their belts. For the next half hour, these men and the jail guards chat, occasionally patting each other on the back and laughing over shared humour.
Around 2 pm, a dark blue police mini-truck with 207 Vajra painted on its side pulls up. Three constables and a sub-inspector step out of the vehicle. The men with walkie-talkies have been waiting for them. The sub-inspector and these men chat for a few minutes. A little later, as the constables wait outside, the sub-inspector enters the jail gate. After 15 minutes, he comes out accompanied by Amarmani Tripathi, Uttar Pradesh’s dreaded gangster and now a heavyweight Samajwadi Party (SP) politician. Tripathi, 58, is serving a life-term for the murder of Madhumita Shukla, a young woman who he had an affair with. Madhumita came from a poor family and was a budding poet. She was only 20 when she was gunned down at her Lucknow residence in May 2003. Madhumita was killed because she had refused to abort the love child she had with Tripathi. At the time of the murder, Madhumita was six months pregnant and Tripathi was a minister of state in the BSP government. Faced with a media outrage, then chief minister Mayawati had not only sacked Tripathi from her government and party but also ordered a CBI investigation, which ensured a guilty verdict.
However, ever since Akhilesh Yadav has taken oath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on 15 March, Tripathi is a life-convict only on paper. In reality, he is a free man. For the past three months, every afternoon, a police vehicle arrives at the prison to escort Tripathi, ostensibly to take him to BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, for some medical procedures. Tripathi’s private vehicles also reach the jail around the same time. Once out of the jail complex, Tripathi, instead of being ushered into the police truck with its spare interiors, climbs into his luxury vehicle. With the police truck behind them, the vehicle drives straight to the BRD Medical College where Tripathi parks himself in a private luxury room. For the next several hours, a durbar is held in this room, where a crowd of 100-150 people, comprising his followers and gang members, gather every day to meet the gangster. Tripathi takes petitions, makes phone calls, writes letters to officials, negotiates property deals, mediates in land disputes and holds meetings with his gang. Later in the evening, he drives back to prison to keep the façade of life imprisonment going.
A life-term means imprisonment for life, but in practice, a convict can move for premature release after 14 years, which is almost always granted. The newly formed Samajwadi Party government with its absolute majority is slated to be in power till 2017. Tripathi has been in jail since 2003. Hence, it is reasonable to deduce that with the formation of the Samajwadi Party government in UP, Tripathi’s jail sentence has, for all practical purposes, come to an end.
• II •
AS TRIPATHI walks out of the jail gate, the men in the Tata Sumo bring the vehicle right outside the jail compound. One man jumps out and stands by the door, ready to open it. Dressed in a crisp blue kurta, freshly polished leather sandals on his feet and expensive looking sunglasses to shade his eyes, Tripathi walks towards the Tata Sumo. My photographer starts clicking pictures. Tripathi spots us. He turns around and walks straight to us.
Gorakhpur SSP Ashutosh Kumar sent a report to the Home Department detailing Tripathi’s illegal movements outside the jail. No action has been taken so far
“It’s not a good thing to take somebody’s pictures against his wishes,” he says in a threatening tone.
“I know my limits. I am standing on a public road and doing a work of public interest,” I reply.
“Who are you?” asks Tripathi.
“I’m a Delhi-based journalist,” I say, giving Tripathi my visiting card.
“Why didn’t you meet me first?”
Tripathi then turns towards my photographer. He recognises him instantly. He is a local photojournalist. “Bachuwa tum to yehi ke ho. Sab achha hai?” (Kid, you belong to this place. All’s well, I hope?) Issuing a veiled threat, Tripathi holds the photographer’s face in his hand and squeezes it hard. By now, the policemen and Tripathi’s men have also surrounded us.
“Delete the pictures,” he commands the photographer. “The pictures will not be deleted,” I intervene.
Tripathi leaves my photographer and turns towards me. “Please leave now,” he says after a few moments of silence.
“After you,” I say.
“Nahi. Hum aapke protocol me khade hai.” (No, you first, I am waiting in your decorum.)
I get into the car and ask my driver to leave. After driving for about 100 metres, we again stop for a few seconds and take a few more pictures. Later, we dropped the idea of filming Tripathi’s durbar at the medical college. We reckoned that since we had been seen, there was a fair chance we could be assaulted at the hospital. Living to tell the tale is the maxim of every reasonable journalist.
Tripathi runs an organised crime syndicate in eastern UP. His criminal record spans over three dozen cases, covering a wide spectrum of offences — murder, extortion, abduction, assault, attempt to murder, etc. Until the Madhumita murder investigation by the CBI, no local court could return a guilty verdict against him. Invariably, the witnesses would turn hostile or the evidence would disappear. On the CBI’s application, in February 2007, in order to ensure a free and fair trial, the Supreme Court had ordered the Madhumita murder case to be tried by a special CBI judge in Dehradun, more than 800 km from Tripathi’s stronghold, Gorakhpur.
But while the Supreme Court considered Tripathi to be a threat to the administration of justice, the Samajwadi Party nominated him as its candidate from Lakshmipur constituency in Maharajganj district in the 2007 Assembly elections. Tripathi contested the elections from jail and won by 20,000 votes. Six months later, in October 2007, the Dehradun Court awarded him a life-term for Madhumita’s murder.
During the five years of Mayawati’s rule, Tripathi remained incarcerated in a Dehradun jail. He was kept away from the state, his ties cut with his gang. In June 2011, he was permitted by the court to come to Gorakhpur to attend his mother’s funeral. At the funeral ceremony, he feigned illness and collapsed, after which he was taken to the BRD Medical College. With the help of hospital authorities, he managed to stay admitted in the medical college for more than two months. When this was brought to light, the Mayawati government sent him back to Dehradun Jail and took departmental action against a police inspector and four constables, while ordering a probe against the doctors who gave Tripathi tailor-made medical reports. But on 15 March, even as Akhilesh was taking oath as UP chief minister, Tripathi was being transported to the Gorakhpur Divisional Jail.
Tripathi is an important Brahmin leader for the otherwise Yadav-dominated Samajwadi Party. Since he is now a lifetime convict and thus disqualified from contesting the polls, the Samajwadi Party in 2012 gave the ticket to his son, Amanmani Tripathi, from the Nautanwa constituency in Maharajganj district. However, it was Amarmani who was the de-facto candidate. He released a video from jail, in which he exhorted his constituents to vote for his son.
“Your vote will help me in securing my release from jail. I have always made you proud. I have made and unmade chief ministers. It was your vote that gave me this strength. I have always protected you and now it’s your turn to protect my and my family’s honour,” Amarmani was seen addressing in the video clip.
• III •
TEHELKA DISCOVERED that to engineer his homecoming, Amarmani got three bogus cases of cheque-bounce instituted against himself in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts. The complainants in these cases are Tripathi’s own people, say local police officials. His advocates pleaded before the court that it would be more feasible for Amarmani to attend the court proceedings from the jail at Gorakhpur than Dehradun. A favourable court order was procured. No sooner was Amarmani back in Gorakhpur Jail, that he was a free bird. “An independent probe can reveal the truth behind these bogus cheque-bouncing cases,” says a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. “It will reveal how Amarmani Tripathi is making a mockery of justice.”
That the cheque-bounce cases are fakes is not a secret in Gorakhpur. The amount of each cheque is in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh — a pittance for Tripathi, who is worth several hundred crores.
Everyone in the town talks — albeit in hushed tones — how these cases were manufactured by Tripathi to stay in Gorakhpur. According to local journalists, Amarmani is free to receive visitors any time he wishes, and that he freely uses a mobile phone and computer inside the jail. We had ourselves seen a laptop bag in the hands of his aide when Amarmani stepped out of the jail premises.
On 20 April, Gorakhpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ashutosh Kumar sent a confidential report to the Home Department detailing Tripathi’s illegal movements outside the jail. Sources say that the SSP had also videographed the illegal assembly of Tripathi’s supporters outside the jail and their free access to the jailed gangster. But till date, no action has been taken on Kumar’s report.
Goonda Raj redux?
After coming back to power, Samajwadi Party leaders haven’t shied away from taking the law into their own hands
7 MARCH 2012
THE DAY the poll results were out, Samajwadi Party candidate Chandra Pal Singh Yadav from Babina in Jhansi district abducted BSP candidate Krishna Pal Singh Rajput. Yadav also assaulted the media crew that had turned up to film Rajput’s abduction and destroyed their cameras. An FIR was lodged against Yadav but no action has been taken till date
19 MARCH 2012
TEXTILES MINISTER Mehboob Ali’s cronies fired in the air and openly waved firearms in public during a welcome procession taken out for him in Moradabad
5 MAY 2012
AN FIR was registered against Samajwadi Party MLA Mahesh Narayan Singh for threatening Harivansh Yadav, officer in-charge of the Saidabad police outpost. The Handiya MLA allegedly threatened the police officer saying: “Do as I say or I will thrash you with my shoes”
27 MAY 2012
UNDER PRESSURE from Horticulture Minister RK Singh, the executive engineer of Basti district cancelled road construction tenders worth 50 crore. It is alleged that the minister coerced the engineer to award the tenders to one of his supporters
31 MAY 2012
SAMAJWADI PARTY leader Mansur Ilahi allegedly assaulted Ravendra Singh Yadav, an executive officer of the Faizabad Nagar Palika in his official chambers. Following the attack, the municipality employees went on a strike
6 JUNE 2012
IN AMBEDKAR NAGAR district, a Samajwadi Party leader named Raj Bahadur Yadav, who was also the contractor in the Tanda Thermal power plant of the NTPC, allegedly assaulted the staff of a private firm handling the removal of fly ash from the plant. One person was thrown from the first floor and had to be admitted in a trauma centre at Lucknow
Amarmani’s son Amanmani lost the elections by a slender margin of 7,837 votes to Congress candidate Kaushal Kishor. But that hasn’t stopped Amarmani and his son from calling the shots in the district administration. From inside the jail, Amarmani brazenly shoots off letters to district officials issuing instructions as if he is a minister and not a convicted criminal. Two such letters in TEHELKA’s possession show that the district administration is not only receiving Amarmani’s letters, but also acting as per his directions.
Consider this. On 4 May, Amarmani wrote a letter to Additional Chief Executive Officer of the District Panchayat, Maharajganj. The letter says: “Under the state finance commission scheme, I am proposing the following four works in my Assembly constituency. Kindly get it done in public interest on a priority basis.” A week later, on 12 May, Amarmani wrote another letter to the same official. This time, he gave a list of half-a-dozen road and drainage construction works and asked the official to execute the same. The official issued instructions to the engineer, ordering him to approve the list of works pointed out by Amarmani.
Interference in development work is the least of Tripathi’s crimes. Congress MLA Kaushal Kishor from Maharajganj district has written to the CM that after the formation of the SP government, Tripathi’s gang has grabbed a piece of government land measuring 68,000 sq ft. “If the government fails to act against the former MLA, then I will raise the issue in the ongoing Budget Session of the state Assembly,” says Kishor.
• IV •
AMARMANI TRIPATHI is not the only gangster-criminal who is back in business under Akhilesh Yadav’s rule. In Faizabad district, notorious don and Samajwadi Party MLA Abhay Singh is now calling the shots.
For a good part of Mayawati’s five-year reign between 2007 and 2012, Abhay Singh spent time in Hamirpur Jail, 300 km from his constituency, Faizabad. The rationale given by the BSP government for not keeping Singh in Faizabad Jail was i) to control his gang activities and; ii) to improve the law and order situation in the district. But on 17 March, two days after Akhilesh Yadav took over as CM, Singh was shifted to Faizabad Divisional Jail. The state government claimed that Singh’s life was not safe in Hamirpur Jail. Back in his domain, Singh lived like a king in prison.
“Every day, 100-150 supporters came to meet Singh in Faizabad jail,” says local journalist VN Das. The jail manual restricts the number of visitors to six per inmate, per week. “It was alleged that he had access to even computers and mobile phones inside the jail,” adds Das, who works as a district correspondent with Navbharat Times. Das also wrote about Singh’s alleged illegal activities in jail for his newspaper’s Delhi edition. But neither the jail authorities nor the district administration took cognisance of the article.
The government withdrew the only case against Abhay Singh the court had refused bail on, allowing him free rein of his home district Faizabad
On 24 May, the Samajwadi government (vide its letter number 104 WC/Seven-Justice-5-2012-42) took the decision to withdraw a case registered in Faizabad district under the UP Gangster Act — the only case out of 18 pending cases in which Singh had not got a bail and was thus forced to cool his heels in jail. The government told the Faizabad court that the case was being withdrawn in the “interest of justice”. The district police under the new SSP, Ramit Sharma, gave its consent. Exactly two years ago, the same district police had booked Singh under the UP Gangster Act. It had then noted in the FIR No 677/10: “Such is Singh’s terror and fear in the area that no common man could dare to complain or give testimony against him.”
Singh’s affidavit filed before the state Election Commission reads like the Bare Act of the Indian Penal Code. As mentioned earlier, as many as 18 criminal cases — with charges ranging from murder, extortion, assault on public servants, rioting, unlawful assembly, illegal possession of sophisticated arms, etc — across three districts are pending against him. This is in addition to the cases in which he has been acquitted.
It’s almost next to impossible to convict a mafia don in UP. Either the investigation is lax or the witnesses turn hostile. Singh got acquitted in the sensational murder of Lucknow Jail Superintendent RK Tiwari as all 36 witnesses turned hostile. Singh’s gang is closely associated with another dreaded gangster from eastern UP, Mukhtar Ansari. The two gangs have a lot in common, like indulging in murder, abduction and extortion.
But a Samajwadi Party nomination and a strong wind of anti-incumbency against the BSP ensured that Singh won the elections from the Gosaiganj Assembly constituency in Faizabad by a sizeable margin. By withdrawing the prosecution, the state government cleared the deck for Singh’s release from jail as well. Making a mockery of the law, on 28 May, Faizabad Sub-Inspector, Sanjay Nagvanshi — who had originally recommended the booking of Singh — did a u-turn and told the court that he had no objection if the case was withdrawn. Singh was released from judicial custody the same day.
The perversity of the Samajwadi government’s decision is brought out by the fact that Singh is currently being tried under the Gangster Act in two other similar cases in Faizabad (Case No. 361/05 and 2808/05). In addition, Singh is facing trial under the same Act in four other cases registered in Lucknow (Case No. 224/2001, 310/2008, 269/2000 and 428/1999). The last four digits of each case number denote the year in which it was registered. It shows that between 1995 and 2012, under every regime — be it the BJP, BSP or the SP — the police had slapped criminal cases against Singh. Singh’s main source of income, the police had alleged in all these cases, was from extortion or goonda tax and forcible acquisition of government tenders and contracts.
It is an irony of sorts. While in six other instances, state prosecutors are trying to prove that he is the head of an organised crime syndicate, in the one case where the court had denied him bail, the Samajwadi Party government has dropped charges against Singh. Merits asking why the state does not see him as a threat to public order in a specific case, when it wants to prove he’s a gangster in six others?
• V •
WE THOUGHT of posing this fundamental question to Faizabad SSP Ramit Sharma.
“What is the rationale for withdrawing the case against Abhay Singh?” I ask Sharma in his office.
“The matter is between the police and the court. We have given the court our opinion,” replies Sharma.
“Which, I presume, was a favourable one?”
“Who are you to ask?” darts Sharma angrily.
“I think it’s in public interest to know why the police considers Singh a threat to law and order in two other cases, but not in the third one.”
“Pick your notebook and leave.”
“But I think the people have a right to know,” I persist, trying to enforce the Constitutional principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
“Leave or I’ll have to take action against you,” Sharma says, signalling to his constable to throw me out of his office.
I picked my notebook and left. Over the next two days in Faizabad, TEHELKA discovered that while on the one hand, the district administration is withdrawing cases against Singh, on the other, it is slapping dubious cases against Singh’s political adversaries.
Rameshwar Singh Yadav, son of notorious dacoit Lala Ram and with a history of over 50 criminal cases, was fielded from Aliganj in Etah. Yadav won the election
On 18 May, Vijay Gupta, a member of Singh’s gang, filed a police complaint that some people had demanded goonda tax (extortion money) from him. Bordering on the ridiculous, Gupta is himself an accused on charges of demanding goonda tax besides attempt to murder under the UP Gangster Act. But the district police under its SSP Ramit Sharma immediately arrested two of the four persons named by Gupta and sent them to jail. On 30 May, while releasing the two arrested persons on bail, Additional Sessions Judge Matambar Singh noted that the police had not presented any credible evidence or an independent witness to establish that Gupta was issued a threat to his life. Vinay Singh, one of the persons named by Gupta, is from the same village as Abhay Singh. “In the Assembly elections, we had campaigned against Abhay Singh,” says Vinay. “The district police are now acting at his behest, and persecuting us for political reasons.”
District officials in charge of development works in Faizabad say that almost all tenders issued by departments like the PWD, Irrigation, Uttar Pradesh Rajkiya Nirman Nigam and Jal Nigam in the district are now being cornered by Singh and his gang. This should not come as a surprise. For the past 15 years, every police agency in the state that has dealt with Abhay Singh and his gang, has accused him of taking commission in development works by threatening officials and contractors.
• VI •
CHIEF MINISTER Akhilesh Yadav had announced his arrival on the political firmament by declaring a complete break-up with the Samajwadi Party’s unsavoury past. The nexus between the government and criminals, ganglords and lumpen elements was a defining feature of every Samajwadi Party government. When western UP ganglord DP Yadav was denied a party nomination, the media saw it as a proof of the young CM’s sincerity.
But caught between several power centres — his father Mulayam, uncle Shivpal and Muslim party veteran Azam Khan — Akhilesh was clearly not a free agent. Many in the media failed to question his move in giving tickets to at least eight candidates, who, if the police record is to be believed, are hardened criminals.
1. Shairbaz Khan, with a history of over a dozen criminal cases, was fielded from the Chandpur constituency. In his election affidavit, Khan gave a description of nine criminal cases that the court has taken cognisance of. The charges against him range from forgery and cheating to the UP Gangster Act. All these cases have been registered between 1997 and 2011. Khan lost the election.
2. Bhagwan Sharma alias Guddu Pandit was given the party ticket from Debai, Bulandshahar. Pandit is accused of offences like rape, abduction, obscene acts, polygamy, inflicting grievous hurt, breach of peace, trespassing, cheating, criminal breach of trust, extortion and wrongful confinement. In his affidavit, he gave a list of 13 cases registered across four districts between 1997 and 2011. Pandit won the election.
Mitra Sen Yadav was sentenced to death for a murder dating back to 1966. But political parties lobbied for him and the President granted him pardon
Minister of State for Prisons Iqbal Mahmood feigned ignorance about the freedom Amarmani enjoyed even though he was in jail
6.Mahboob Ali, 59, with 12 criminal cases pending against him — registered between 1999 and 2011 — was given the party nomination to contest from Amroha constituency in Jyotiba Phule Nagar. In 2006, he was caught in a TV sting operation claiming before the undercover reporters that he could ferry drugs in his official vehicle. Ali is now Minister of State for Textiles and Sericulture.
7. Abhay Singh
8.Mafia don Vijay Mishra, 58, with a history of 25 criminal cases, was fielded from Gyanpur constituency in Sant Ravidas Nagar. The charges against Mishra covered a wide spectrum of offences ranging from murder, attempt to murder, robbery, cheating, rioting, adulteration, forgery, criminal intimidation and criminal breach of trust. Mishra had earlier been elected MLA twice in 2002 and 2007, as a Samajwadi Party candidate from the same constituency. Mishra won the election this time around too.
• VII •
OF THE eight names listed above, three — Abhay Singh, Shairbaz Khan and Vijay Mishra — contested the polls from behind bars. While Singh is now a free bird, Mishra is still in jail, but again only on paper. For the past two weeks, he has been staying in an air-conditioned private room in Balrampur Hospital, Lucknow. The court had permitted Mishra to attend the ongoing Assembly session in UP but on the strict condition that he would put up in an ordinary barrack of the Lucknow District Jail and every day after the session was over, he would be taken back to jail. However, on the pretext of illness, Mishra has got himself admitted to the hospital. He drives to the Assembly every day in a white Toyota Fortuner instead of a police truck. Both the Fortuner and the police truck were parked outside Mishra’s private ward.
During Mayawati’s tenure, Mishra spent 13 months in Meerut Jail, 600 km from Allahabad, Varanasi and Sant Ravidas Nagar, his area of influence. He was accused of carrying out a bomb attack in Allahabad city on 12 July 2010, which was designed to kill Mayawati’s minister Nand Gopal Gupta ‘Nandi’ but instead killed an Indian Express photographer and grievously injured Nandi and his security officer. For eight months, Mishra remained a fugitive and was finally arrested by the UP Special Task Force with the assistance of Delhi Police from a hideout in South Delhi on 11 February 2011. On 15 March, soon after Akhilesh’s oath-taking ceremony, the government passed an order transferring Mishra to Naini Jail in Allahabad, his hometown.
When we met Mishra in his private hospital room, he rattled off an array of ailments to explain his hospitalisation — spondylitis, slip disc and high cholesterol — and claimed he was kept in the hospital for medical check-ups. During an hour-long stay, we didn’t see Mishra in any visible pain. Two thick gold chains around his neck, a gold ring on all four fingers of his right hand and a gold wrist watch on his left hand, Mishra sat straight on the bed. Half an hour into the conversation, he jumped off the bed and came and sat on the couch, next to us. Mishra had a retinue of private staff serving him dry fruits, tea and cigarettes, and was not taking the food served by the hospital.
We later learned that the government is already considering the withdrawal of cases of bomb attack and Gangster Act lodged against Mishra. Two letters written by Mishra to CM Akhilesh Yadav asking him to withdraw as many as 15 criminal cases against him are in TEHELKA’s possession.
• VIII •
IRONICALLY, THE day TEHELKA caught Amarmani Tripathi’s illegal movements outside jail, Minister of State for Prisons Iqbal Mahmood was on a visit to Gorakhpur for a review meeting of jail officials. The same evening at the Gorakhpur Circuit House, we told him what we saw. Mahmood said he had no idea. We told him that Tripathi gave us a veiled threat and asked us to delete the pictures. The minister launched into a speech: “A conspiracy is afoot to malign our young chief minister. The enemies have realised that this young man is not going to be dethroned for at least the next 20 years. That’s why they are spreading canards.” Just as we were about to leave, he asked: “So did you delete the pictures then?”
Towards the end of our travels, we met Ambika Chaudhary, Revenue Minister and part of Akhilesh’s core team, in Lucknow. When we told him about our findings, he assured us that free rein to criminals was not a government policy. “Let me assure you, there is no approval from the top for any illegal activity. Governance had completely collapsed during Mayawati’s regime. The new government needs at least six months to set things right,” he said.
With additional reporting by Virendra Nath Bhatt.
Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations with Tehelka.