Hours after it became clear that the Samajwadi Party had been trounced in the assembly election, the Uttar Pradesh police got serious about finding the absconding ex-minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati.
He was eventually arrested from Lucknow Wednesday and booked under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012. Prajapati was later produced before a POCSO court in the city that sent him in judicial custody for 14 days.
Six other accused in the case had been arrested earlier.
The former mining and transport minister had been on the run since 27 February. He was seen campaigning in Amethi even after the Supreme Court ordered the police to lodge an FIR against him on the basis of the victim’s complaint that he had allegedly gang raped her and tried to rape her 16-year-old daughter.
Prajapati, 49, enjoyed the protection of outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, with whom he was seen campaigning for re-election in Amethi. He lost the election to the BJP’s Garima Singh.
UP police chief Javeed Ahmed had earlier told this reporter that they were awaiting the disposal of Prajapati’s application in the Supreme Court against his arrest. Yet, even after the apex court rejected the petition, the police were cautious about arresting Prajapati, not least because Akhilesh had defended him saying the case was politically motivated.
Soon after the SP’s electoral defeat, the police tightened the noose around Prajapati by picking up his younger son Anurag and nephew Surendra from Amethi on the eve of Holi. The two were brought to the Gautampalli police station, located not far from the minister’s official residence.
Their questioning led to the arrest of Prajapati's co-accused – Pintu Singh alias Amrendra Singh, Roopesh and Vikas. His gunner Chandrpal, a lekhpal Ashok Tiwari and another accused Ashish Shukla had been arrested earlier.
The pressure seemed to have worked and Prajapati's location was tracked to Lucknow’s Ashiana locality. He reportedly told the police he had been hiding in Bengal.
Prajapati protested his innocence and claimed he was being framed. He also demanded that a narco-analysis test be conducted on both him and the minor victim so that his innocence could be proved.
After his arrest, Prajapati was being taken in an SUV, leading to some local leaders objecting to the “facility” being given him. With the media recording the proceedings, the police quietly moved him to one of their own vehicles.
Prajapati’s story is one of rags to riches. Once a BPL card holder, he is now worth hundreds of crores, all acquired during his first stint as the minister for mining. Little was known about him until 2012 when he defeated Amita Singh of the Congress from Amethi.
He soon endeared himself to the Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav to the extent that Akhilesh was forced to take him back into his cabinet after expelling him. The outgoing chief minister’s reluctance in forcing the errant minister to surrender, however, showed that even Akhilesh had gone soft on him.
He was inducted as minister of state but was soon promoted to the cabinet rank and given the mining portfolio. In 2015, Nutan Thakur, an RTI activist and wife of IPS officer Amitabh Thakur, approached the Lokayukta with a complaint that the minister had amassed illegal wealth.
Amitabh was allegedly threatened by Mulayam for Nutan’s persistence with her allegations. The couple were later hounded by state agencies allegedly at the behest of the government.
Although Prajapati managed to get a clean chit from the Lokayukta, the Allahabad High Court ordered a CBI inquiry against him in the illegal mining case. The Akhilesh government tried to thwart the inquiry, but retreated after the Supreme Court’s intervention.
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