Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, the absconding transport minister of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party’s candidate from Amethi, suffered a setback when the Supreme Court rejected his plea for a stay on his arrest in a case of gang rape.
There is an FIR against Prajapati, who is the favourite of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, but the UP police has not been able to track him down.
The FIR was registered on 17 February on the intervention of the Supreme Court, which had asked the police to submit its investigation report in seven weeks. Two separate cases of gang rape and attempt to rape have been filed against Prajapati.
The police had earlier refused to register a case against the powerful minister, allegedly in a bid to hush up the matter.
The police did not arrest Prajapati when he was campaigning in his constituency Amethi and went looking for him only after he had gone underground, along with his security personnel. They did not even record his statement as Prajapati is said to enjoy the protection of the chief minister, who also holds the home portfolio.
Even after the personnel involved in his security returned surreptitiously and reported at the police lines, it was not known if their department planned any action against them for having gone underground or if they were questioned about Prajapati’s whereabouts.
On 1 March, the police, led by the investigating officer Amita Singh, raided Prajapati’s residence in Lucknow. Expectedly, the police team did not find the minister there.
Instead of asking the police to go all out against Prajapati, the chief minister, in what sounded like a friendly advice, asked his minister to surrender. So far, Prajapati has not heeded his advice.
The Union home ministry has issued a non-bailable warrant and a lookout notice against the minister who is facing charges under the POCSO Act. His passport has also been impounded.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi taunting Akhilesh saying he preferred to chant the Gayatri Prajapati mantra instead of the Gayatri mantra, the minister briefly became a campaign issue.
On Wednesday, Governor Ram Naik wrote to the chief minister, asking him to justify the continuation of Prajapati in the ministry. The governor said that “loktantrik shuchita (democratic purity)”, samvaidhanik maryaadaa (constitutional decorum)” and “samvaidhanik naitikta (constitutional integrity)” required that the accused minister be sacked.
The governor defended his letter saying his rights under Article 167 (b) of the Constitution allowed him to question the continuation of a tainted minister in the cabinet although it was the prerogative of the chief minister to either sack him or persist with him.
The accused minister was sacked by Akhilesh on 12 September after the Allahabad High Court ordered a CBI inquiry against him in connection with the rampant illegal mining in UP. During the bitter family feud, however, the chief minister had to re-induct him at the insistence of Mulayam, although he was shifted to the transport ministry on 2 October. The chief minister had then told his father that Prajapati did not listen to him.
Later at a Samajwadi Party event, a grateful Prajapati was seen repeatedly touching the feet of Akhilesh and Mulayam.
Now that the election is almost over, the chief minister may not be worried about the effect the issue may have on his image.
Asked why Prajapati was not arrested while he was going around campaigning, UP police chief Javeed Ahmed said since his application for stay on his arrest was pending before the apex court, he was not touched.
He said the police would move court to attach his property at an appropriate time.
Prajapati, allegedly the moneybag for some senior SP leaders, is said to enjoy Mulayam’s protection. This was evident when IPS officer Amitabh Thakur was threatened, purportedly by Mulayam, suspended and brought under a vigilance probe, reportedly for going after Prajapati.
In this context, will the police be hesitant to arrest Prajapati? The DGP replied: “I don’t think so.”
With the police clueless about his whereabouts, it is doubtful Prajapati will be arrested anytime soon. He is more likely to surrender to spare Akhilesh some embarrassment.