The Gangster’s Last Gamble

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Surrogate Genes Pappu Yadav with wife Ranjita, leaving for an election rally in Purnea
Surrogate Genes Pappu Yadav with wife Ranjita, leaving for an election rally in Purnea
Photo: Vijay Pandey

AT 8.45 AM THE bell rings, followed by knocks on the door, followed by more persistent ringing. Two associates of Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav stand stiffly at the door. “You had visitors last night,” one says, as they politely but firmly push their way into my hotel room in Purnea in east Bihar. “MP saheb wants to know about it.”

The “visitors” they want to know about is a former hired gun of the most dreaded criminal-politician ever — as Pappu Yadav is widely seen — who had turned his back on Pappu a few years earlier and is now an elected member of the municipal corporation. Called to the hotel by a local contact without being told why, the former protégé’s face had lost colour when asked about his ten years with Pappu Yadav. “I know nothing,” he had mumbled, shaking with fear like in the movies, and hurried out.

Four nights earlier, deep in the poverty-stricken countryside, the faint glow of oil lamps in village huts silhouetting his gargantuan frame atop a motorcycle, Pappu’s grubby hand had swallowed mine. “Brother,” he said softly with a disarming smile. “What brings you to me?” The next morning, as lakhs of people began queuing up for the ballot, Yadav sighed: “The police have shackled me and I can’t move around. Is this fair?”

The story of Pappu Yadav began in the mid- 1980s, when his parents joined a secret cult

But ten years in jail and a conviction for murder hasn’t dented Pappu’s appeal for the multitudes that throng his sprawling village estate and double-storied house, where he sits around on a plastic chair throughout voting day. They hang on every word as he explains the electoral prospects of his wife, Ranjita Ranjan, an MP in the outgoing Lok Sabha. “I know you will follow her now and not me,” Pappu mischievously tells a local leader. Everyone breaks into laughter as if on cue.

Ranjita, a Sikh who was playing tennis at the national level when Pappu Yadav courted and married her in 1994, is permitted by election rules to move around the newly formed constituency of Supaul on voting day. As she is driven through the dirt tracks, she phones her sister who is looking after her 13-yearold son and six-year-old daughter at the Yadavs’ MP bungalow in New Delhi. “My daughter was less than a year old when I fought the last time,” Ranjita says, remembering how tough it had been to leave the baby behind in New Delhi.

Secret Ammunition Ranjita, Pappu’s wife, addresses a rally in Madhepura in 2009 as a Congress candidate
Secret Ammunition Ranjita, Pappu’s wife, addresses a rally in Madhepura in 2009 as a Congress candidate
Photo: Sonu Kishan

Now, at booth after booth, Ranjita’s workers complain her opponents are obstructing voters. But when she gets short with election officials, an open van draws up and a cameraman, hired by the Election Commission, begins recording her relentlessly for the next two hours. “This is ridiculous,” she says, irritated. “Really, rajniti shareefon ke liye nahin hai [politics is not for the respectable].”

For thousands though, the Yadav household is anything but respectable. Many hope that Ranjan and Pappu’s mother, Shanti Priya, a housewife now standing as an independent candidate from Purnea, will be defeated. They fear a victory for either wife or mother would revive Pappu Yadav’s reign of terror: murders, extortions, kidnappings — all the dark headlines that took years to bury after he was accused of murder and sent to jail in 1998.

“The man has been convicted of murder but he still flies around in a helicopter,” fumes Madhavi Sarkar, widow of Ajit Sarkar, the Marxist leader for whose brutal murder Pappu was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment last year. Adds Rabindra Singh, Sarkar’s former comrade and a key litigant in the case: “Pappu fears nothing, not even the law.”

Pappu hurled bombs at his rival thrice in broad daylight; Singh lost most of his back

THE STORY of Pappu Yadav, who turned 41 last December, began in the mid-1980s when his parents became full-time followers of Anand Marg, a secretive and controversial religious sect that practiced occult. Founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarcar, a Bengali who declared himself god incarnate, the cult was in the news as recently as 2004, when the Supreme Court banned its ritual dance in public, because it involved snakes, daggers and human bones. “They got sucked into the cultish life of the Anand Marg and ignored their children,” recalls an old Purnea resident who knew the family socially, and obviously refuses to be named.

Pappu, their eldest son, began to stray. First, he extorted money from rickshaw pullers and petty shopkeepers. Then, a former policeman recalls, he graduated to selling cinema tickets in black. Soon, he attracted other disaffected youth and the group took to bullying merchants to give them goods for free. One time, Pappu and two others tried to bully a shopkeeper into giving them free ‘cut pieces’. “The shopkeeper downed the shutters and thrashed Pappu,” recalls a trader. A decade later though, the tables had turned: the merchant wound up and left town.

And fire! Pappu is shifted by train from Patna jail to Tihar jail to stall his continuing influence
And fire! Pappu is shifted by train from Patna jail to Tihar jail to stall his continuing influence
Photo: Sonu Kishan

In the mid 1980s, Pappu was arrested after a rash of criminal acts. Ordered by the district magistrate, the police placed a plaque around his neck that read, “I am Pappu Yadav, a thief” and paraded him around town. But Pappu’s notoriety continued to grow. He allegedly tried to run a car over an inspector who had once arrested him. Another time, he allegedly set fire to a shop whose owner had objected to being extorted.

But Pappu’s graph really surged when an upper caste college student was murdered in a nearby town. The police claimed Pappu was behind the sensational killing. Although the charge was never established, Pappu attracted the attention of a reigning don, Arjun Yadav, and soon joined his gang. When a rival gang of high-caste Rajputs allegedly killed Arjun in 1987, Pappu vowed vengeance and became the gang leader. This was his turning point.

Pappu hurled bombs at his rival thrice in broad daylight; Singh lost most of his back

FROM PETTY crime, Pappu had now graduated to being the don of a caste-based grouping — that of the Yadavs, who are numerically the largest in Bihar’s northeastern Kosi belt, named after the infamous river that often floods the region. The unflinching support of the Yadavs would turn into a key factor in Pappu’s stupendous electoral victories in one assembly and four Lok Sabha elections until 2004.

In the saddle, Pappu’s first target was the Rajput gang-lords, specifically a tall, mustachioed goon named Dilip Singh, who was one of Purnea’s most dreaded gangsters at the time. Singh had, on occasion, chased Pappu out of Purnea, and it was believed he would eventually get the better of him. But in true Vito Corleone fashion, Pappu allegedly hurled bombs at Singh thrice in broad daylight. In one attack, Singh was badly wounded and lost much of his back. Soon after, Singh’s brother was shot dead and Singh “surrendered” to Pappu’s might, moving on to a life as a contractor. (“I have nothing to say,” Singh told TEHELKA at his house last week, stunned that someone was interested in him 20 years later. “That life is dead.”)

‘Pappu Yadav is an angel,’ says Amar Kumar, 13, treated free of cost for his burns

Now began Pappu’s real caste wars with another notorious don of Bihar, Anand Mohan, which lasted a decade. “Hundreds were killed over the years on both sides,” a local political worker claimed, speaking on a strict condition of anonymity. (Ironically, in this election, both Pappu and Mohan, a former MP himself, find themselves in the Congress. Like with Pappu, the party has fielded Mohan’s wife, Lovely Anand, a former MP, from another Bihar constituency for the Lok Sabha. Mohan himself has been awarded life imprisonment for the murder of a district magistrate in 1994.)

IN 1990, when elections to the Bihar Assembly were held, Pappu, then only 23, contested from a constituency neighbouring Purnea. He won. His luck soared higher because a rag-tag Janata Dal had come within striking distance of a majority, wiping out the decades-old Congress hold on the state. Through some trickery, Lalu Yadav edged out another popular leader and seized the leadership of the Janata Dal legislators. His majority was short by 11.

Pappu’s legend grew with the number of times he escaped close brushes with death

“Pappu threatened 11 independent MLAs and forced them to support Lalu,” a Rajya Sabha MP and former associate of Lalu Yadav, recalls. With this, Pappu gained unrestricted access into Lalu’s world. “He would travel in government helicopters accompanied by inspectorgenerals of police,” another politician recalls. Predictably, the police in Purnea fell in line. This is when extortions and kidnappings, especially of businessmen began in Purnea and nearby districts. Many cases were registered against Pappu but the police had been neutered.

Purnea used to have a flourishing plywood industry. With the surge in crime against them, more than 75 percent of the units relocated to Haryana in just five years. A flourishing annual cultural and trade fair — made famous by the Raj Kapoor-Waheeda Rahman starrer, Teesri Kasam — collapsed as criminals began to invade it and loot at will. “This was where Waheeda Rahman danced to paan khayen saiyan hamar,” recalls businessman Shyam Goyal wistfully.

Curiously, as his criminal reputation ballooned, Pappu also began developing the image of a Robin Hood. “He gave out money to the needy, forced the administration to supply electricity and other civic services to far flung areas, beat up corrupt bureaucrats,” recalls a medicine shop owner. “He would force doctors to admit poor patients and treat them for free.” Scores of people sing Pappu’s praise on this front. “Pappu Yadav is an angel,” says 13-year-old Amar Kumar, who was treated free-of-charge in New Delhi’s AIIMS for seven months after suffering massive burns, thanks to Pappu’s munificence. His family was put up at Pappu’s house for that entire period.

“He never shouts or screams at people,” says another admirer. Outwardly humble and soft-spoken, Pappu is known to be highly theatrical on stage, bursting into tears while talking about the grave injustice the law has done him by incarcerating him in jail. A teetotaler who dislikes both smoking and chewing tobacco, he apparently loves Bollywood singer, Mukesh’s songs and is himself a soulful performer. When he married Ranjita, he flew in dozens of film stars from Mumbai to attend the week-long celebrations.

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Hard History

Pappu first shot into public eye with the murder of an upper caste student

Pappu took over Arjun Yadav’s gang after his murder by upper caste Rajputs. Caste wars became the real source of his power

Pappu helped Lalu Yadav defeat the Congress by threatening 11 MPs into his camp. With that, he became Lalu’s political protégé

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Pappu Yadav’s legend also grew because of the many times he survived close brushes with death. Once, on the way back from attending a massive rally in Patna to celebrate Lalu’s installation as chief minister, Pappu and hundreds of his men reportedly attacked many upper-caste towns and villages. In angry retaliation, his group was fired upon; one of his female relatives was killed, but Pappu miraculously survived.

A few years earlier, Anand Mohan’s men had given chase and waylaid Pappu’s car. As he hid under a seat, they mistook one of his close associates for him and shot him dead. When he traveled, he always rode in a cavalcade of cars and motorcycles with “guns sticking out of the windows”.

In 1991, Pappu decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Purnea. Amid reports of massive booth capturing, the election was countermanded. Four years later, when the voting was re-held, he won on the support of both the Yadavs and Muslims, who had by then cast their lot with him in a bid to defeat the BJP. The Muslim-Yadav combine is still his most trusted base. He hopes his wife and mother will romp home on their support.

But while Purnea groveled at his feet, one man launched a campaign against him: Ajit Sarkar of the CPI-M, a four-term MLA who had never lost an election since 1980. Long-haired, sporting sunglasses, the maverick Sarkar was hugely popular in Purnea for his unflinching support to the landless, many of whom he forcibly resettled on the land of erstwhile zamindars. In fact, many of these landlords, Bhumihar by caste, turned to Pappu for protection, and eventually became another key vote base for him.

Sarkar’s fatal face-off with Pappu came in 1998, when he defied his CPI-M party bosses who had shockingly decided to support Pappu, and asked his followers to vote BJP instead. Pappu lost to the BJP candidate. Three months later, in June, armed assailants pumped bullets into Sarkar and two of his companions inside Purnea town. Public outrage swelled; the case was handed to the CBI. Pappu was arrested as the key conspirator and finally convicted last year.

Today, Pappu’s swagger is considerably muted, compared to the 1990s when his unparalleled muscle power forced even the biggest of Bihar’s criminal-politicians to pay obeisance to him. (A journalist visiting him in a Patna jail a few years ago was struck by the alacrity with which another dreaded criminal-politician, Suraj Bhan, chucked aside his cigarette as Pappu approached them.)

Released on bail in February this year, Pappu dumped the Rashtriya Janata Dal, on whose ticket he had won as MP in 2004, and joined the Congress. But in April, the Patna High Court denied Pappu the right to fight the Lok Sabha election, citing his conviction for Sarkar’s murder. “[The] offence of murder is heinous. But when one hires killers, plans it and gets the plans executed as meticulously as in the present case, the very quality of the man and his deeds are reflected,” the judges wrote. “The man could be said to be a habitual killer and criminal.”

Sonia Gandhi’s party quickly gave his wife, Ranjita, a ticket. And although Pappu’s mother is an independent candidate from Purnea, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told a Congress rally there, “Delhi has sent me to tell you that Pappu Yadav’s mother is our candidate.”

Neither his conviction nor the fact that his bail has been challenged in the Supreme Court has proved sufficient to rein Pappu in. The Purnea administration filed six cases against him as he held rallies beyond electioneering time, violating the code of conduct. He also grabbed headlines for landing his helicopter near his house without permission. On April 27, the Purnea police finally slapped Bihar’s Crime Control Act on him, severely restricting his movement and ordering him to report twice a day at a local police station. Characteristically, Pappu thumbed his nose at the police, and nonchalantly held court at his village estate.

Still, Pappu Yadav, arguably Bihar’s most notorious ganglord ever, stands at a crossroad today. “It is true the people of Purnea were fearful after he was given bail,” says superintendent of police, Nayyar Hasnain Khan, who seized Yadav’s helicopter and grounded it for a week. “But I think people have realised nobody is above the law.” Meanwhile, CPI-M leader Singh’s appeal against Pappu’s bail has been accepted by the Supreme Court and will probably be heard after the vacation in July. If the recent past is any indication, Pappu should be back in jail soon.

Since his arrest in 1998, and before he was convicted for Sarkar’s murder, Pappu had moved the Patna High Court a record nine times for bail. It was denied six times. The three times he was granted bail, the Supreme Court cancelled it promptly and sent him back to jail. In fact, the apex court finally shifted him out of Patna jail when it was found he was continuing his illegal activities from there. “He has no respect for the rule of law,” the Supreme Court judge said and shifted him to Delhi’s Tihar jail.

But as long as political parties are willing to export him out of jail to bail them out for nuclear trust votes and other sundry crises, the raj of Pappu Yadav — and others like him across the country — will not fade.

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