In Uttar Pradesh, the political discourse isn’t just about verbal brawls, but also about rivals announcing bounties on tongues and heads, rewards ranging between herds of cattle and multiple crores of rupee.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the practice is actually illegal, that bounty ‘broadcasters’ could be arrested for criminal intimidation; they are often brushed aside as a political gimmick.
“Bounties are flying thick and fast as the administration lacks the will power to take action against those who wilfully announce them. It is not only an act of criminal intimidation but, in case of any consequential attack, the person can be booked for abetment to commitment of crime,” said senior criminal lawyer IB Singh.
Recently, the Delhi Police had arrested Purvanchal Sena president, Adarsh Sharma, for announcing a bounty of Rs 11 lakh on the head of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar. However, similar action is rare to almost unheard of Uttar Pradesh.
More prevalent in the state’s western parts, it isn’t just individuals that announce bounties. A village once offered 51 buffaloes for director Vinod Kapri, who poked fun at khap panchayats in his movie.
In the recent Dayashankar controversy, in which the ex-BJP leader called Mayawati a prostitute, a Rs 5 lakh was announced for his tongue.
For Nitin Gupta, who offered the reward, the logic of a bounty is simple.
“Don’t we demand hanging of the rapist? I was hurt and I offered a bounty on his tongue and also lodged an FIR. Now, I am willing to face the consequences.” Gupta leads Jai Bheem Jai Bharat in Meerut.
“It’s a way to convey our anger and anguish,” said Satya Prakash Tittal, who offered Rs 30,000 to anyone who painted Dayashankar’s face black. An acolyte of Mayawati, he defended himself saying, “There are people who need money and I can pay them. After all, we cannot tolerate disrespect to our behenji Mayawati.”
However, Tittal has a moral code in the matter; he disapproves offering bounties on heads and tongues.
Former director general of police, Sri Ram Arun, said the whole business has become a trend in recent times. The actual practice was followed by police, who would place bounties on criminals. Only bounty-hunters with a legal permit were allowed to pursue these.
Saying police must crack down on this trend, Arun noted that people would stop resorting to it if tough action is initiated against perpetrators.
The trend started about a decade ago, in 2006, when then Samajwadi Party minister Hazi Yaqoob announced a bounty of Rs 1 million on the head of a Danish cartoonist whose caricature of the prophet had triggered a nationwide uproar.
Despite vociferous demands for action against Yaqoob, then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav simply ignored them. A lawyer later filed a case, but nothing has come of it so far.
Recently, in Allahabad Rs 10 lakh was announced for Vijay Mallya’s head by Congress workers. Though they even publicized the same across town, carrying posters portraying Mallya as a bandit and mentioning the cash reward, no action was initiated, either by the party or police.
Sometime in 2014, the Bahujan Samaj Parivartan Manch had announced Rs1 crore bounty on the tongue of BJP Mahila Morcha president Madhu Mishra for her statement claiming that “the one ruling the state used to once polish boots”. She was expelled from the party, much like Dayashankar.
However, such bounty announcements get further complicated when made against religious heads.
A few years ago, the Shia community in Lucknow had announced a bounty of Rs 50 million on the head of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Sunni and head of the militant Islamic State. The community even decided to collect donations for the same. This had added to the Shia-Sunni tensions in Lucknow.
Political experts say these are frivolous gimmicks employed to make headlines. It is an opportunity for political parties to undermine rivals while also earn a certain amount of notoriety.
After all, in a state hurtling towards its next change in government early next year, publicity is king.