Uttar Pradesh: The Downward Spiral

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ON 16 MARCH 2012, a day after she lost her job as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, a grim Mayawati walked in at her party office in Lucknow, the state capital, to speak with reporters. “In six months, the people of Uttar Pradesh will realise they have made a huge error by voting for the Samajwadi Party,” she said, her face deadpan as ever. “And how good law and order has been under my government.” Less than a year after that press conference, Mayawati’s chilling prophecy has come true — and how.

On 2 March 2013, the government of Mayawati’s successor, Akhilesh Yadav, plunged into yet another crisis after a mob in a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh killed a police officer minutes after he had arrived to investigate the murders of a village chief and his brother who had been shot dead hours earlier. The reason the killings have snowballed into a crisis for Akhilesh’s government is that the man accused of orchestrating them is Raja Bhaiya, an alleged mafia don and a leading state politician, who has since been forced to resign from Akhilesh’s Cabinet as the minister for food and civil supplies.

The fact that the slain officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia-ul-Haq, was a Muslim made it worse for Akhilesh’s father, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has long positioned himself as a champion of the Muslims. But even though Raja Bhaiya resigned from his job, the damage was done. The violence has revived memories of the crime, violence and gangsterism that marked the earlier rule of the Samajwadi Party in 2003-07 when Mulayam was chief minister. In hindsight, the Yadavs must be wondering if they could have averted the 2 March tragedy.

Gram pradhan (village chief ) Nanhe Yadav, who was killed that day allegedly by political and business rivals linked to Raja Bhaiya, had earlier petitioned the police for protection citing threats to his life. But the police had turned down his request. That made it easy for six unidentified gunmen to accost him as he sat at a tea stall in Balipur village in Pratapgarh district and pump bullets into him. He died on his way to the hospital. Sources say Nanhe Yadav had a longstanding dispute with one of the alleged assailants, Guddu Singh, who is an aide of Raja Bhaiya.

As the news of his killing spread in the village, an angry mob attacked the houses of those they suspected to be behind the killing. A gun battle ensued, which is when DSP Haq rushed in with other policemen. By then, Suresh Yadav, Nanhe’s younger brother, too, had been shot dead. A mob attacked the policemen who quickly fled, abandoning Haq. His dead body was later found with multiple gun wounds. His service revolver is yet to be recovered. The role of the policemen with him is being probed. Three policemen — Inspector Sarvesh Mishra, Sub-inspector Vinay Singh and Haq’s gunner Imran — were suspended. Four FIRs were registered. On the basis of an FIR filed by Haq’s widow, Parveen Azad, Raja Bhaiya has been charged with murder. Police have also arrested two of his aides named in the FIR, Rohit Singh and Guddu Singh.

Additional Director-General of Police Arun Kumar, who is in charge of law and order in the state, ruled out arresting Raja Bhaiya on the ground that the sequence of events leading to the killing was yet to be established. Kumar claimed a single bullet hit Haq. But that version changed on 6 March when Kumar’s subordinate, Inspector- General Rajkumar Vishwakarma, told a press conference that the autopsy had revealed two bullet wounds and 10 injury marks on Haq’s body. The injuries showed he was beaten before he was shot. Vishwakarma declined to speak further as the chief minister has announced a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But Haq’s widow rejected the report saying Raja Bhaiya had influenced that autopsy. She said she saw three bullet wounds, one each in the shins and a third in the stomach, and demanded a second autopsy. Shockingly, the police have failed to recover the DSP’s mobile phone or the weapon and the bullets that caused his death.

Initially, Akhilesh was reluctant to order a CBI investigation. But once protests across the state ratcheted and newspapers and TV news channels went to town with their coverage of the killings, the chief minister sensed the volatile situation and announced a CBI probe. Anti-government slogans greeted him when he later visited Haq’s family. According to the police officer’s widow, her husband was under “pressure” with regard to his investigation of communal violence in a village named Asthan last June. Haq was reportedly close to filing his report in a case in which some 60 houses of Muslims in the village were allegedly set on fire. It was alleged that the arson was in retaliation for the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit girl. Haq’s final report would have indicated Raja Bhaiya’s involvement in that violence, sources told TEHELKA.

Haq’s death has triggered a wave of anger in his village, Zaufar, in Deoria district. Villagers remember him as a bright boy who fought hardships to become the only Class I officer from among them. “Zia came from a very poor family,” says family friend Dawood Ansari. His father worked at a hotel in Mumbai. Later, Haq’s younger brother Sohrab, who, too, worked in Mumbai as a welder, paid for Haq’s graduation at Allahabad University. “Zia was a role model for the youth in our village,” says Ansari. In 2009, Haq passed the entrance exam for the state-run Provincial Police Service. Last year, he married Praveen, a medical student.

RAGHURAJ PRATAP SINGH alias Raja Bhaiya is not new to controversy and criminal activities. In April 2012, a month after the Akhilesh Yadav government was formed, TEHELKA exposed how the minister was involved in pilfering foodgrain meant for the poor (The Raja Who Stole from the Poor, by Ashish Khetan, 2 April 2012). TEHELKA exposed how within a month of becoming a minister, Raja Bhaiya had swindled more than Rs 100 crore from the Public Distribution System (PDS) he presided over as food and civil supplies minister. A close aide of Raja Bhaiya told the CBI and the Supreme Court that in his last stint as minister during 2003-07, Raja Bhaiya had made a personal fortune of more than Rs 100 crore in less than four years by smuggling foodgrain meant for the poor under the PDS. The total magnitude of the scam, which stretched for over a decade, could be a staggering Rs 2 lakh crore. To support his claims, the witness produced a sensational diary in which entries of illicit money received were meticulously maintained. Raja Bhaiya’s wife allegedly countersigned each illegal entry in the diary.

This story is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with our democracy — the abuse of power and authority, criminalisation of electoral politics and the nexus of politicians with murderers and gangsters. In December 2011, Rajiv Yadav, 38, who had been Raja Bhaiya’s public relations officer (PRO), walked into the CBI office at Hazratganj, Lucknow, and handed over a copy of the diary. It was the diary that Yadav and Ashok Kumar, another officer of the Secretariat Administration cadre, had maintained during 2006-07 when they were his official staff as food minister. For almost four years, Yadav and, in his absence, Kumar, had meticulously kept records and made diary entries of the cash received from the sale of stolen foodgrain and kerosene allocated to fair price shops (FPS) at subsidised rates under the PDS. Some of the money Raja Bhaiya made was invested in properties and luxury cars. Rajiv Yadav provided details of two such bungalows in south Delhi’s upmarket Green Park, and Lucknow’s MG Road.

According to Yadav, four aides of Raja Bhaiya collected the money: Akshay Pratap Singh alias Gopal Singh (then a Samajwadi Party MP from Pratapgarh), Yashvant Singh (then Member of Legislative Council), Jayesh Prasad (then Samajwadi Party MLC and currently a BSP MLC) and Rohit Singh (Raja Bhaiya’s driver). And yet, the Samajwadi Party continues to defend Raja Bhaiya. Party spokesman Rajendra Chowdhary told TEHELKA: “The chief minister has already said that all the cases against Raja Bhaiya were registered during the two previous regimes of Mayawati out of political vendetta. There is no substance to those cases.”

BUT CORRUPTION is not the only issue here. Raja Bhaiya’s latest episode is only a symptom. The rot had already started setting in when the government was formed last year. Even before the new government could be tested for the promises Akhilesh had made, criminals and goons started having a field day. The much-touted suraj (a new dawn) was on its way. Notorious criminals and dreaded ganglords began getting in and out of jail at will, as TEHELKA exposed in the government’s first three months.

In an investigation (Jailhouse Rock, by Ashish Khetan, 23 June 2012) done to assess the first three months of the Akhilesh government, it was clear that gangsters were ruling the roost in the state. One such man is the dreaded underworld don Amarmani Tripathi, 58, who is currently serving a life-term in the Gorakhpur Divisional Jail for the 2003 murder of a 20-year-old poet, Madhumita Shukla. As the story showed, Tripathi lives in the jail as he would in his residence. Policemen and goons toe to his whims; SUVs wait to transport him around; he holds a durbar in his cell where his men come to meet him. Ironically, Tripathi was a former BSP minister who was sacked by the then chief minister Mayawati under pressure from the media. For all practical purposes, Tripathi is in jail only on paper. In reality, he is a free man.

The government is yet to act against Tripathi even though Gorakhpur SSP Ashutosh Kumar has sent a report to the state home department detailing Tripathi’s illegal movements outside the jail. Another example is Samajwadi Party MLA Abhay Singh. For a good part of Mayawati’s fiveyear reign until 2012, Singh spent time in the Hamirpur Jail, 300 km from Faizabad. The BSP government reasoned that keeping Singh in Faizabad Jail would allow him to direct his gang’s activities from the jail. Quite like Tripathi, on 17 March 2012, two days after Akhilesh took over as CM, Singh was shifted to Faizabad Divisional Jail. The government claimed he was not safe in Hamirpur Jail. Back in his domain, Singh lived like a king in prison.

On 24 May 2012, the government decided to withdraw the only non-bailable case that was keeping Singh in jail. The Faizabad court was told that the case was being withdrawn in the “interest of justice” and the district police gave its consent. Curiously, it was the same district police that had booked Singh under the UP Gangster Act and had noted in the FIR: “Such is Singh’s terror and fear in the area that no common man could dare to complain or give testimony against him.” On being confronted, SSP Ramit Sharma had threatened the TEHELKA reporter and asked him to leave his office. Such examples of the Akhilesh Yadav government’s large-heartedness are legion. They all give the lie to the empty rhetoric of improving law and order in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, comparisons are being drawn on a regular basis between the lawlessness in the state today and the situation in 2003-07.

ON 29 DECEMBER, 2012, the police seized a truck carrying 50 oxen in Gonda district. Later, two men, Ashutosh Pandey and KC Pandey, national treasurer of the Samajwadi Party, came to the police station to meet Gonda SP Naveen Kumar Rana and offered him a bribe of Rs 2 lakh to look the other way. SP Rana recorded the entire episode on camera and presented it to his superiors. Pandey had just then been appointed as vice-chairman of UP Council of Sugarcane Research, which gave him the status of Minister of State. The sting operation created a flutter in political circles. Pandey called it a political conspiracy, and on 2 February, ADG (Law and Order Arun Kumar said that action will be taken against the guilty. A day later, Akhilesh told the media that an inquiry has been ordered into the case. On 4 February, Rana was shunted out from Gonda and Pandey was given a clean chit.

In another instance, on 21 February, Abhinav Gupta, son of Mulayam’s brother-in-law, slapped his teacher Archana Shukla at Amity University. Shukla’s crime? She had dared to deduct Abhinav’s marks due to poor attendance. After the incident, Shukla went to the police station to lodge an FIR, where the inspector on duty, Vijay Mal Singh Yadav, fled from the police station for fear of having to incur the ire of the state’s first family. The FIR could only be lodged after her husband and lawyer Anuraag Shukla approached senior police officers.

“The flag of the Samajwadi Party on their cars is like Superman’s costume for party cadres,” admits a Samajwadi Party insider on condition of anonymity. “They are licensed to stop trains, vandalise buildings, tease women and misbehave, do practically anything under the sun and no harm will come their way.”

It is not that Mulayam is not worried about this free-for-all. For several months, he has voiced his concern about a nonfunctioning bureaucracy and how certain leaders are spoiling the image of the party. On 12 October 2012, he sacked Vinod Singh, a party leader in Gonda when it came to light that he had abducted and thrashed the Chief Medical Officer. Mulayam has even twice publicly rebuked Akhilesh on his failure to control such elements. But, nothing really seems to change. It came as no surprise when Vinod Singh was back as a minister after the first Cabinet reshuffle last month. The chief minister could offer no cogent explanation for his re-induction. The decision to divest Raja Bhaiya of his prison portfolio was also done keeping in mind internal compulsions rather than any desire to rein him in.

Akhilesh also has to deal with the issue of the release of Muslims lodged in jail over terror charges. One of the election promises of the Samajwadi Party was that it would review and withdraw terror cases in which Muslim youth had been falsely implicated. After becoming CM, Akhilesh ordered a review of cases against youth lodged in jail on charges of attacks in Rampur as well as serial blasts in Faizabad, Barabanki, Lucknow, Gorakhpur and Varanasi.

But a spanner was thrown in the works when a lawyer, Nitya Nand Chaubey, filed a PIL in the Allahabad High Court, alleging that the state government was planning to withdraw criminal cases against the accused in at least one attack that had claimed the lives of seven security personnel. At a party convention for the Muslims on 2 March, Mulayam made a grand claim: “Akhilesh has told me he has released some 300 Muslim youths. The DGP has told me 400 youths of the minority community across the state have been released.” The declaration was met with scepticism. “We can’t openly defy Netaji,” says a Muslim leader close to SP, “but these are bogus claims that show his desperation to keep the Muslim votebank intact for 2014.” At the same meeting, Mulayam also apologised to the Muslims for tying up with former BJP leader Kalyan Singh in 2009. “Having electoral ties with Kalyan Singh was a mistake and I regret it,” he said. He has cause for worry. Muslim leaders close to the party admit that voters belonging to their community may vote for the BSP in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

A MUSLIM police officer’s brutal death will now add to Mulayam’s worries. With the General Election just a year away, he cannot afford a situation where the Muslims vote for either the BSP or the Congress. After a spell of communal violence in the wake of the VHP’s kar seva call at Ayodhya in 1990 and the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, Uttar Pradesh had witnessed relative calm for more than a decade. During the Mayawati regime, the state remained peaceful even when the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court delivered its verdict on the title suit of the disputed land at Ayodhya in September 2010. But violence has returned with a vengeance and Uttar Pradesh has witnessed riot after riot since Akhilesh became chief minister.

On 18 May 2012, Akhilesh met senior police officers to review the law and order situation. He issued strict instructions and gave the officers a month to set things right or face action. Two weeks later, communal violence broke out in Asthan village of Pratapgarh district where houses of Muslims were looted and burnt. On 1 June, tension erupted in Kosikalan town of Mathura district and more than a dozen shops were looted and several houses gutted. The town remained under curfew for more than a week. Alleging police discrimination, traders downed shutters for a month. Yet no political initiative was taken by the government to defuse the situation. A BSP MLC and his elder brother and former minister Chowdhary Lakshmi Narayan were booked for allegedly fomenting the riots, leading to a strong protest from the Opposition.

MORE RIOTS followed in July and August. On 22 July, the first day of fasting during the holy month of Ramzan, trouble began in Bareilly when a group of Hindu pilgrims reportedly clashed with some Muslims. The clashes spread to nine other places in the city and curfew was imposed. Two weeks later, the district administration allowed a Hindu religious procession in a Muslim locality. The procession was attacked, leading to a fresh bout of violence, in which two persons were killed.

The BJP alleges that the district administrations of Lucknow, Allahabad and Kanpur were to be blamed for the large-scale violence on 17 August. Several Muslim outfits had given a call for protest marches against the persecution of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, yet no preventive measures were taken by the administration. In Lucknow, a journalist, a TV cameraman and a few women were attacked. Statues of Buddha and Mahavir were vandalised. Akhilesh sought to defuse the situation by announcing a compensation for the losses suffered by the mediapersons. Similar is the story of Masuri town near Ghaziabad, where the situation got out of hand over a trivial issue and Muslims surrounded a police station. Six Muslim youth were killed in the police firing.

Communal violence also erupted simultaneously in five towns of Faizabad district on 24 October 2012 after a statue was reportedly stolen from a temple the previous month. “Locals were getting restive and the BJP was quick to capitalise on the situation,” says VN Das, a retired college principal. “Everybody in Faizabad, except the district administration, knew that a communal clash was imminent on Dussehra.” As expected, on the pretext of eve-teasing, both the communities clashed in the heart of the town and more than 40 shops were looted.

“In most places, the response of the police and the administration was not up to the mark,” says a senior bureaucrat. “If they had acted swiftly, large-scale rioting could have been prevented. One of the reasons why no riots happened during Mayawati’s regime is that she had given a free hand to the police when it came to situations like these. So until and unless someone has a vested interest, why would you allow a law and order situation to deteriorate?”

Hashim Ansari, 91, the oldest surviving plaintiff in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, who lives in Faizabad, squarely blames the Sangh Parivar for communal disturbances in the city. “They are desperate to regain lost ground as the BJP had been winning the Ayodhya seat consecutively from 1991 to 2007. This time they lost to the SP,” he says. But the BJP denies the charge. “The SP government is doing these things for votebank politics,” says BJP leader and Lucknow MP Lalji Tandon. “The SP is appeasing Muslims so that their votes will not be divided among the many ‘secular’ parties in the 2014 election.”

MUSLIMS HAVE by and large voted for the SP in the Assembly polls. But the situation is different for the Lok Sabha. In the 2009 General Election, one of the factors responsible for Muslims voting en masse for the Congress was the fear that the SP and BSP won’t be able to contain the BJP. Zafar Ali Naqvi, the Congress candidate from Lakhimpur, was not sure about his victory in 2009, but prevailed because of the polarised voting. However, in the 2012 Assembly election, his son lost his deposit from a legislative seat within his parliamentary constituency.

So is Akhilesh a bad CM or a helpless one? The government’s plight can be gauged from a story narrated by a party insider, who recalled the predicament faced by SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav. “When the BSP was ruling the state, Mayawati issued the transfer order of his brother’s son-in-law within 30 minutes,” he says. “But when the SP came to power, it took more than three months for a similar request.”

If Akhilesh is unable to assert himself over the bureaucracy, much of the blame lies with Mulayam, says a senior IAS officer on condition of anonymity. “Akhilesh has not been allowed to choose the team of his choice. Last March, he had posted Sanjay Agarwal as his principal secretary, but he had to withdraw the order within 24 hours,” he says. “So, how can you expect the bureaucracy to honour the directions issued by the CM’s secretariat? They only heed the words of Anita Singh, the secretary in the CM’s secretariat, who is Mulayam’s choice.”

This is not a one-off case. Another bureaucrat has an interesting tale about the power wielded by Anita Singh. The launch of the 1090 helpline for women in UP was attended by the CM and the entire bureaucracy. After the CM’s speech, the additional director-general (law & order) was proposing the vote of thanks. Anita Singh, who was sitting in the front row, beckoned Lucknow DIG Navneet Sikera from the dais and whispered in his ear. After the vote of thanks, the ADG invited everyone for tea and snacks. When Akhilesh and the bureaucrats got up to leave, Sikera said that as it was the launch of a helpline for women and since no woman got a chance to speak, “madam Anita Singh would like to say a word or two”. While Anita Singh lectured on what needs to be done, Akhilesh squirmed in his seat, looking irritated and pretending to read a file. “It’s a grave breach of protocol, but nothing happened. She conveyed a clear message that she is the boss,” the officer says.

Rumour has it that Akhilesh does not make time for any key policy meetings with senior bureaucrats or the media and that he is more interested in trying to keep the party cadres happy. “He still hasn’t understood that he is the chief minister. He still thinks of himself only as party chief,” quips a senior bureaucrat. The corridors of power are filled with chatter about how the interests of certain officers are protected by powerful business houses. “With the backing of powerful industrial houses, it becomes impossible to touch them, so they become power centres of their own,” says another bureaucrat.

Party watchers also attribute the infighting in the family as one of the biggest reasons for Akhilesh not being able to perform. Akhilesh wants to change certain things, they say, but is powerless in front of his uncle and father. Akhilesh’s elevation to the top job gave birth to a power struggle within the first family of the SP. Now, every family member wants to ensure his/her share in the power pie. Mulayam’s brother and PWD Minister Shivpal Yadav gave a hint of the tussle when he remarked, “Had I been a heavyweight leader, I would have become the CM.” Last March, Shivpal was the only person in the family who openly opposed Akhilesh’s elevation. He wanted Mulayam to become the CM again.

“It’s a classic case of dynastic politics. When the family patriarch gets old, the succession war starts,” says political analyst Ashutosh Mishra.

But Shivpal is not just worried about the top post. He is also wary of Ram Gopal’s rise and their famed rivalry ensures there are constant skirmishes. Propping up the name of Prateek Yadav (Mulayam’s son from his second wife Sadhna Gupta) as a Lok Sabha candidate, first from Kannauj and then from Azamgarh, is being seen as Shivpal’s handiwork. According to party insiders, if Prateek contests and wins, he too would emerge as a power centre rivalling Akhilesh, and Mulayam will have a tough time ensuring there is no bad blood between the stepbrothers.

For his part, Mulayam is banking on the 2014 General Election to play a bigger role at the Centre and is aiming to win at least 50 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. He knows that if the SP bags a big haul, it will not only increase his influence in New Delhi, but he will also be in a position to accommodate many of his family members at the Centre, thus leaving the state for Akhilesh. His constant criticism of his son’s government is seen as a trick to keep power centres such as Shivpal and the most prominent Muslim politician in his party, Azam Khan, under check. But DSP Zia-ul- Haq’s killing may end up derailing Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dream of being a player in New Delhi in 2014.

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Also Read: Raja Bhaiya: The Godfather IV | Virendra Nath Bhatt

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