News of eight Uttar Pradesh policemen being killed during a raid on the hideout of a history-sheeter in Kanpur may come as a shock to many. But the fact that the history-sheeter in question, Vikas Dubey, is thought to be well connected with state netas and has even won a panchayat election will be much less of a surprise, or at least to avid followers of politics.
In fact, the Election Commission of India, in January told the Supreme Court that its directive ordering political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha Elections (and their reasons for selecting them over candidates without criminal records) has not helped decriminalise politics. The ECI asked the apex court to direct parties not to give tickets to individuals with such records.
The intersection of crime and politics is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Uttar Pradesh, where one in four legislators have criminal cases, including heinous crimes such as rape and murder, against them.
So let's look at some 'bahubali' (strongmen) leaders from that state who have both rap sheets and political influence in spades:
Mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, started his career with the BSP and has repeatedly changed political allegiances. The founder of Qaumi Ekta Dal, who won five consecutive terms as MLA from Uttar Pradesh's Mau, has over 40 criminal cases lodged against him, including murder and kidnapping. He was the prime accused in the 2005 murder of BJP legislator Krishnanand Rai but was acquitted in July 2019 by a CBI court. However, he remains in jail in other cases.
Ansari, a native of Ghazipur, has a long and proud political lineage and the family is even related to Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, who was president of the Indian National Congress in 1927. The antecedents of Ansari's criminal empire are not known but some accounts say he started by competing for municipal contracts, using the bullet to eliminate competitors.
Ansari is accused of being involved in several murders in the 1990s, mostly of rivals, and was reportedly involved in building a large criminal network in the eastern region of the state with his associates involved in a wide range of ventures.
Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiya
Raghuraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiya,51, is the strongman of Kunda (Pratapgarh) where his word is thought to be the law. In somewhat of a irony, he also holds a law degree from Lucknow University, hails from an influential family and reportedly lives on a massive estate. Bhaiya has several criminal cases, including attempt to murder, abduction, corruption and dacoity, against him.
Bhaiya has the distinction of having served in multiple governments: in the BJP's Kalyan Singh government of 1997, the Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh cabinets in 1999 and 2000 and the Akhilesh Yadav government in 2012.
He was jailed in 2002 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) when Mayawati was chief minister. He was arrested on 2 November, 2002, with his father Uday Pratap Singh and cousin Akshay Pratap Singh, for kidnapping and issuing threats. He was even declared a terrorist by the state government, but the charges were dropped after Mulayam Singh Yadav took over as chief minister in 2003.
Amanmani Tripathi, an Independent legislator from the Nautanwa Assembly seat, who is out on bail in the case of his late wife's murder, hit the headlines when he recently remarried. Tripathi is facing a CBI trial in the case of murder of his late wife Sara Singh, who was killed in July 2015.
He also hit the headlines during the lockdown when he travelled to Uttarakhand, claiming that he had been assigned the task of offering prayers for the deceased father of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath in Badrinath. The shrine was closed at that time.
The Adityanath government denied his claim and Amanmani and his six friends were quarantined for a fortnight in the hill state. A case was also registered against them.
Incidentally, his father, Amar Mani Tripathi, a four-time MLA from Nautanwa, is serving a life term along with his wife Madhu Mani for murdering poetess Madhumita Shukla in 2003.
As per a report in Economic Times, no jail wants to keep the don-turned-politico Ateeq Ahmed, so much so, that the Supreme Court had to order him shifted to a Gujarat prison so that he could no longer run his extortion racket in Uttar Pradesh. A former Samajwadi Party MP, Ahmed served in the 14th Lok Sasbha from Uttar Pradesh's Phulpur from 2004 to 2009.
Hailing from Deoria, the 60-year-old started his criminal career in 1979, at the mere age of 17 and for the next couple of decades, ran a gang in Prayagraj and neighbouring Phulpur and Chitrakoot districts, as per the report.
Ahmed entered the political fray in 1989 as an Independent but quickly joined the Samajwadi Party with Mulayam Singh Yadav at the helm and later Apna Dal. He has enjoyed great success in politics. He won six elections, five times as MLA from Allahabad West and once from Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency, by 2004.
In 2019, he was questioned by the CBI in a Gujarat jail in connection with a case of alleged abduction and assault of a businessman. The CBI had, at the direction of the Supreme Court, registered a case against Ahmed for allegedly assaulting and abducting real estate dealer Mohit Jaiswal in December 2018.
Jaiswal was abducted from Lucknow and taken to Deoria jail, where he was allegedly assaulted by Ahmed and his aides who were lodged there and forced to transfer his business to them, the CBI FIR claimed.
Once the most-senior mafia don in Uttar Pradesh, Harishankar Tiwari, now an octogenarian, has quietly slipped into retirement. Tiwari, a six-time MLA, served as a cabinet minister in the governments of Kalyan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and also in the Mayawati government.
Tiwari, whose career began in 1985, has the infamous claim of being the first jailed don to win polls from behind bars. He won six straight elections before losing in 2007. His exploits, and those of his compadres, earned Gorakhpur the sobriquet 'the Chicago of the east'.
Tiwari has almost 26 cases registered against him for heinous crimes such as murder, attempt to murder and extortion.
His son Vinay Shankar Tiwari is an MLA from the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Why tainted candidates win
Political scientist Milan Vaishnav told the BBC "a key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash".
"Wealthy, self financing candidates are not only attractive to parties but they are also likely to be more electorally competitive. Contesting elections is an expensive proposition in most parts of the world, a candidate's wealth is a good proxy for his or her electoral vitality," says Vaishnav, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Which explains why political parties choose such candidates. But what of voters?
Reasonably well-informed voters support criminal candidates in constituencies where social divisions driven by caste and/or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions such as delivering services, dispensing justice, or providing security in an impartial manner, Vaishnav claimed.
"There is space here for a criminal candidate to present himself as a Robin Hood-like figure," says Vaishnav.
With inputs from PTI