Last week, Mulayam Singh returned to the national stage with a big bang after months of ceding the spotlight to his son. The presidential race drama was a one-man Mulayam show, with nary a glimpse of the supposed leader of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav. And it confirmed what many in UP already know: Mulayam raj is back!
And that’s not good news.
Four months into his first tenure as CM, Akhilesh Yadav looks increasingly like a paper tiger, a squeaky clean facade that masks the return of goonda politics as usual. The warning signs came early, at the announcement of the new cabinet in March which included the infamous Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya. The well-known thug accused in eight cases of attempt to murder, kidnapping and abduction was put in charge of the prisons department, no less, and awarded the lucrative food and civil supplies portfolio.
“But a man who has ruled the state thrice can’t really be expected to refrain from some backseat driving when his son debuted on the gaddi. So it was no surprise that, when Akhilesh was sworn in with 47 ministers, the roster read like a Mulayam wishlist,” noted an Outlook magazine story titled Papa Kehte Hain. The chosen list of Mulayam buddies was predictably suspect: “According to a study by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), at least five of the newly inducted ministers face murder charges, nine stand accused of attempt to murder, half a dozen others are involved in cases of kidnapping, extortion, dacoity or assault. Two ministers face rape charges.”
Netaji did not just cherrypick the cabinet, but also the top bureaucrats, senior police officers and the Lok Ayukta – who are key to facilitating the kind of bad governance he is best known for.
It’s hardly a surprise then that the state today looks much like the UP of yore. A new Tehelka cover story, The Gangsters are Back, reveals the extent of its regression as it charts the renewed fortunes of its best known goondas. Author Ashish Khetan and his photographer confront gangster and SP politician Amarmani Tripathi, who is serving a life term for the murder of his ex-lover Madhumita Shukla. They catch him just as he leaves prison for his daily outing:
For the past three months, every afternoon, a police vehicle arrives at the prison to escort Tripathi, ostensibly to take him to BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, for some medical procedures. Tripathi’s private vehicles also reach the jail around the same time. Once out of the jail complex, Tripathi, instead of being ushered into the police truck with its spare interiors, climbs into his luxury vehicle. With the police truck behind them, the vehicle drives straight to the BRD Medical College where Tripathi parks himself in a private luxury room. For the next several hours, a durbar is held in this room, where a crowd of 100-150 people, comprising his followers and gang members, gather every day to meet the gangster. Tripathi takes petitions, makes phone calls, writes letters to officials, negotiates property deals, mediates in land disputes and holds meetings with his gang. Later in the evening, he drives back to prison to keep the façade of life imprisonment going.
Tripathi is just one among many eminent thugs enjoying the good life courtesy the Akhilesh Yadav government. The “notorious don” and Samajwadi Party MLA Abhay Singh is ruling the roost in Faizabad, even as the local police has filed a request to drop charges in one case. There are six others, but this is the only one in which the court has denied Singh bail. The same authorities are also helpfully filing charges against Singh’s rivals.