This time, while leaders are running a high-decibel campaign against criminal candidates, most political parties are finding it difficult to ignore them.
In eastern and central UP, especially, the dons — morphed unconvincingly into politicians — are still prominent in the poll scene. Since the gangs and their wars are part of the folklore in the region, the dons enjoy tremendous clout and can easily translate ‘respect’ into votes.
SK Dwivedi, former head of the political science department in Lucknow University, said the dons had virtually elbowed out mainstream politicians from several seats in eastern UP, by projecting a Robin Hood image.
And that’s why the likes of Mukhtar Ansari, Brijesh Singh, Atique Ahmed, Ajay Rai and Dhananjay Singh had to be fielded in the Purvanchal and adjoining areas where the big guns — Narendra Modi (Varanasi), Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli), Mulayam Singh Yadav (Azamgarh), Rahul Gandhi (Amethi) and Varun Gandhi (Sultanpur) — are also in the fray.
While mainstream leaders are asking for votes on the development plank, the dons are already projecting themselves as messiahs of development. And the parties — almost all of them — are swallowing hard, their pride.
The additional director general of police (law and order) in UP, Mukul Goel, said, “The SPs have been directed to act against criminal gangs and to maintain vigil on the activities of dons.”
But Atique Ahmed, with 35 criminal cases against him, is contesting on an SP ticket from Shravasti against another alleged don Rizwan Zaheer of the Peace Party. Braj Bhushan Sharan Singh is the BJP candidate from Kaiserganj. Jitendra Singh Babloo, an arson accused is the BSP candidate from Faizabad.
Mitrasen Yadav, another murder accused, is in the fray from Faizabad, while Hari Shankar Tiwari, the unquestioned ruler of the Gorakhpur region, is campaigning for his son, Bheeshm Shankar Tiwari, a BSP candidate from Sant Kabir Nagar.
But Varanasi takes the cake this time, as the non-BJP parties have one aim — stop the wave triggered by BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi.
The Congress has fielded Ajay Rai, a man with a violent history who allegedly purchased an AK-47 from a Bihar don, while the Quami Ekta Dal of Afzal Ansari fielded and then withdrew — to stop Muslim votes from getting divided — Mukhtar Ansari, who is in jail in a murder case.
Former police chief of UP Sri Ram Arun — who launched a drive against organised crime in the early 1990s — said it’s the promise of victory that works for the mafiosi.
To stop criminals from grabbing government contracts, the Allahabad high court passed an order in 2009, laying down stringent guidelines for accepting tenders above `2 lakh in government departments.
The court also directed the government to establish an “organised crime control authority” to clean up the system. But five years on, none of the political parties have raised the demand for implementation of the court order, Sanjay Singh of the ADR said.