“To kya hua mantriji jail mein hai, hum unhi ki wajah se surakshit hai aur is chhetra ka vikas sirf wohi kar sakte hain, (So what if he is in jail? We are safe only under his rule and he has developed this area),” said Sunil Yadav, a contractor of Bharwa Kala village in Nautanwa assembly seat of UP referring to Amar Mani Tripathi, a four-time MLA from the area and a former minister, who is serving life term for a murder.
Yadav and hundreds of others welcomed Tanushri Mani Tripathi, daughter of Amar Mani, who is campaigning for her brother Aman Mani, also in jail for allegedly murdering his wife and contesting from the seat.
Gang wars may be considered a stuff of legend and blaring guns may have fallen silent in badlands of UP, but yet the voters favour lawmakers with criminal backgrounds. Of the 403 MLAs elected to the state assembly last time, 189 had criminal cases against them, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
In the past two decades, electorates in Nautanwa, in eastern UP’s Maharajganj, have chosen between Amar Mani group and Akhilesh Singh group — both camps with criminal background. The sitting MLA, Kunwar Kaushal Singh alias Munna Singh, is brother of Akhilesh, the former MP from Maharajgang.
Voters in Mau (sadar), 100 km from Gorakhpur, have also created a record of sorts by electing Mukhtar Ansari, lodged behind bars for plotting the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai, four times over. Contesting this time on BSP ticket, Ansari’s chances to make it to the house remain as good as ever.
Like any other bad men in politics, Ansari, grandson of former Congress president and freedom fighter Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, is one of the most celebrated ‘Robinhoods’ in the region. “He takes care of our daughters’ weddings and helps our sons get jobs. He is our messiah,” said Mohammad Ayub, a Mau resident.
Why? According to Dr AK Verma, director of Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, criminals are favoured by voters primarily because they set up a virtual parallel system of justice. He attributes this to the “disconnect of the collapsed administrative/police system with the common man”.
“When a villager is fed up with the existing system, he gets relief from the local lawmaker who might as well be a murderer. Voters feel more secure and protected under their rule than the weak administration that already exists,” he said.
In Pratapgarh’s Kunda, Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya is not only the MLA for the fifth time, he is also a cabinet minister in Akhilesh Yadav government. With 48 criminal cases against him, Singh wields sway in the region in such a way that it is said “a case goes to police later and comes to his darbaar (court) first”. “We know he is a gunda (strongman), but he controls all criminals who cannot dare to harm us if we have his patronage,” said a Kunda villager.
The criminalisation of politics emerged in UP in 1980’s when the village panchayat and assembly polls were held under the shadow of dacoits. In 1985, Hari Shankar Tiwari became one of the first to win an election while in prison from Chillupar seat in Gorakhpur. Tiwari remained an MLA for over two decades irrespective of the political party he was affiliated with.
In 2007 assembly elections, out of 403 MLAs, 142 had declared criminal cases against themselves. Things have not changed much over the years. Eighty -eight sitting MLA’s in UP assembly have serious charges, including murder, rape and kidnapping, against them.
In the first three phases of UP elections, out of 2,368 candidates analysed by ADR, 385 have declared criminal records and 309 of them have serious cases against them.