A purge in Uttar Pradesh

Print edition : January 05, 2002

Ahead of the Assembly elections, Chief Minister Rajnath Singh is on a drive to clean up his Council of Ministers, while Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav faces a rebellion of sorts.

COME elections, and it is time for political cleansing in Uttar Pradesh. This time round, while the Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling coalition suddenly woke up to the reality of it having Ministers with a criminal record and got down to the act of cleansing the Council of Ministers, the Samajwadi Party, faced with a rebellion of sorts, has expelled partymen suspected of having links with the BJP.

After presiding for more than a year over a Ministry that had members with dubious reputations, Chief Minister Rajnath Singh has begun his tryst with piety. He seems to have just discovered that some members of his team had criminal antecedents. So he dismissed Minister of State for Institutional Finance Amarmani Tripathi, who was subsequently arrested. He also promised action against anyone found similarly involved in criminal or corrupt activities.

It is another matter, though, that Amarmani Tripathi's antecedents were no secret even on the day he joined the ruling coalition, on October 20, 1997. He, along with 18 others led by Naresh Agrawal, broke away from the Congress(I) to form the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), which propped up the Kalyan Singh government after the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) withdrew support to it. Tripathi, a Category A history-sheeter then, had 33 criminal cases pending against him, including five relating to murder, and was listed in police records as a 'member of Hari Shankar Tiwari's gang'. Hari Shankar Tiwari, yet another member of the Rajnath Singh Ministry, also belonging to the UPLC, wields much clout in eastern U.P. and has a number of criminal cases pending against him. He created a sensation in the early 1980s by winning an Assembly election from behind bars. Tiwari, naturally, is next on the block in Rajnath Singh's cleanliness drive.

Chief Minister Rajnath Singh (right) with his main political rival and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav on the latter's birthday.-SUBIR ROY

Tripathi was dismissed from the Council of Ministers on December 12 after his involvement in giving shelter to a group of five kidnappers came to light. A special task force set up by the Chief Minister to track down the kidnappers of Rahul Madesia, the 15-year-old son of a prominent businessman in Basti in eastern U.P., landed up at a bungalow in Lucknow. The kidnappers were arrested and the boy was rescued. The kidnappers disclosed that the bungalow had been provided to them by Amarmani Tripathi. Tripathi was dismissed immediately and arrested a week later in Lucknow, from where he has since been taken to Basti for further investigation. He continues to be in police remand.

The Tripathi incident must be seen against the background of the Chief Minister's claim, until recently, that none of his ministerial colleagues was involved in criminal activities. Tripathi's name had appeared in the news at least twice earlier for the wrong reasons during his ministerial tenure, once for the alleged grabbing of the land of a widow in Gorakhpur and again for the alleged grabbing of the house of a retired Army officer in a posh locality in Lucknow. On both occasions he was cleared of the charges. His name had also figured in the news when the police were on the trail of the gangster Sriprakash Shukla, who was later gunned down in an encounter with the police in 1998.

On being arrested, Tripathi raised the caste issue in the context of the ongoing feud between Rajnath Singh and State BJP president Kalraj Mishra. He said he was being victimised because he was a Brahmin and because of his association with Kalraj Mishra.

Rajnath Singh's drive to rid his Ministry of extra baggage as elections approach is not likely to stop. The other names doing the rounds are that of Hari Shankar Tiwari, Handloom and Sericulture Minister, and Markandey Chand, Minor Irrigation and Rural Engineering Minister. Interestingly, all the Ministers considered for action belong to the UPLC. The accusation against Hari Shankar Tiwari, include also those of fraud. Two companies promoted by Tiwari, Gangotri Associates, headed by his son, and Ganesh Shankar Pandey & Co., headed by his nephew who is also a member of the Legislative Council, allegedly furnished a fake demand draft for Rs.90 lakhs to win a contract for rural road construction in Madhya Pradesh, worth Rs.25 crores. After it was found that the drafts were fake, the work contract was cancelled and the matter referred to the Economic Offences Wing of the Madhya Pradesh government. The two companies had also submitted fake drafts to win some Chhattisgarh government contracts, which was also detected. Rajnath Singh is said to be waiting for the Madhya Pradesh government's report in order to take action in this case.

Chief Minister Rajnath Singh (right) and BJP State president Kalraj Mishra at the party's working committee meeting in Lucknow.-SUBIR ROY

Markandey Chand faces corruption charges, among other things. The State Lok Ayukta is learnt to be giving final touches to its report against him. One of the cases that has attracted its scrutiny concerns the allotment of 43,000 square feet of land in prime locations in Gorakhpur to the Minister at phenomenally low rates. Incidentally, the Lok Ayukta is looking into charges of corruption and the amassing of property against 11 other Ministers. However, the timing of the action (the Chief Minister, though, thinks it is better late than never), observers say, has political significance.

MEANWHILE, trouble is brewing in other parties too. The S.P. recently witnessed a rebellion of sorts when its Member of Parliament from Khalilabad, Bal Chandra Yadav, in a detailed letter to party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, accused him of giving up on the party's socialist ideology to favour "businessmen, capitalists and brokers like (S.P. leader) Amar Singh." He had already attracted the ire of Mulayam Singh Yadav for "hobnobbing with the BJP". In a quick move, Mulayam Singh expelled Bal Chandra Yadav, accusing him of indulging in anti-party activities. He held the BJP responsible for fanning dissidence in the S.P., a charge that was largely substantiated when Bal Chandra Yadav joined the Janata Dal (United), headed by Sharad Yadav, and vowed to campaign actively against Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Assembly elections scheduled for February 2002.

These are bad tidings for the S.P. Ramakant Yadav, M.P. from Azamgarh, has also joined hands with Sharad Yadav after accusing Mulayam Singh of promoting bhai bhatijavaad (nepotism). If Yadavs, who constitute the core support base of the S.P. along with Muslims, desert it, then Mulayam Singh's hopes of coming to power will be ruined. Balram Singh Yadav, yet another Yadav leader and the MP from Mainpuri, is also known to be sulking as a result of Amar Singh's increasing clout in the party. Although Balram Singh has not yet been expelled from the party, he openly campaigned for his son, who contested an Assembly byelection on the BJP ticket.

Obviously, it is not only Rajnath Singh who has reasons to worry. Mulayam Singh too has an urgent need to put his own house in order.

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