What do all political parties have in common, other than oodles of unaccounted cash and a predilection for untruths? No prizes for guessing: a decided propensity for law-breaking over law-making, for the strong-arm over the long arm of the law. Some have more than their fair share of white-collar offenders, others enjoy the services of mafia “dons”.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, he of the spotless gamcha and “principled” stand on demonetisation, finds himself between a rock and a hard place in dealing with Mohammad “AK 47” Shahabuddin. Either he deprives his political consort, Lalu Prasad Yadav, of his right-hand man or he faces the ire of the Supreme Court. For history-sheeter/lawmaker Shahabuddin, jail is a revolving door. On September 7, the murder convict was granted bail by the Patna HC. On September 30, the apex court sent him to jail and scolded Kumar for having been lax in opposing his bail plea in the first place.
The young Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Akhilesh Kumar, finds himself in a similar soup. He successfully stymied the entry of western UP don D P Yadav to the Samajwadi Party in 2012. He was less successful in stonewalling Quami Ekta Dal strongman Mukhtar Ansari, earlier with the Bahujan Samaj Party. To Akhilesh’s credit, he fell out with his uncle Shivpal Yadav on the issue, but was helpless to prevent the merger of the QED with the SP in the face of his father’s insistence. Mulayam Singh Yadav recently declared that the union had “strengthened” his party, which is doubtless true in a state where muscle-flexing often passes for politics.
Another star in Akhilesh’s council of ministers is Raja Bhaiya, a five-term MLA often confused with Bhaiya Raja of Madhya Pradesh. The latter was reputed to breed crocodiles for the express purpose of dining on his foes, an idiosyncrasy which came to be attributed to his UP namesake as well. Akhilesh made a feeble attempt to downsize the don by stripping him of important portfolios and substituting them with innocuous ones like civil defence.
Even more irksome for Akhilesh is the affection his uncle harbours for Amanmani Tripathi, son of murder convict Amarmani Tripathi and a regular chip off the old block. Tripathi Jr is suspected of having facilitated or perpetrated the murder of his wife. Tripathi Sr, once a leading light of the SP, is serving a life-term for the murder of a Lucknow-based poetess, Madhumita Shukla, with whom he allegedly had an affair. None of this prevented Shivpal from declaring Amanmani the party’s candidate from Nautanwa in the forthcoming 2017 assembly elections. His arrest last week by the CBI put the seal on Akhilesh’s embarrassment.
Given that every third MP elected in 2014 faces criminal charges, it is tempting to dismiss a colourful “history sheet” — a delightful term for criminal records — as no big deal. After all, even the smooth and suave Shashi Tharoor finds himself regularly questioned by the Delhi Police regarding the mysterious death of his wife. And activist Medha Patkar has a history sheet longer than she is tall. So it’s important to draw a distinction between the dyed-in-wool “dons”, with rape/murder/attempted murder in their curriculum vitae and activist-politicians routinely charged with rioting, assault, violating curfew, etc.
The “Bahubalis” win elections through muscle and money, in that order, thereby vitiating the democratic process. They may be regarded by the electorate as Robin Hoods or just plain hoods. Time was when politicians kept a stable of strongmen to help them bully the electorate during elections, a phenomenon exhaustively chronicled in Bollywood cinema. Flourishing under the protection of their political masters, the dons eventually became politicians themselves, earning the sobriquet “Babhubalis”. They tended to spend more time in jail than the legislative assembly, but that did not become an issue until the Supreme Court disqualified convicts from becoming public representatives in 2013. The dons then turned to their wives and fielded them instead.
So, if Bharat is to be truly Swachch and not merely poo— and black money—free, the Augean Stables of politics need to be cleaned up. Political parties must stop giving tickets to candidates who have been charged with murder, attempt to murder, rape, etc. Granted, the odd instance of frivolous charges and cooked-up evidence may stymie a legitimate candidate. But this should provide politicians with an incentive to expedite the judicial process, instead of slowing it down in an attempt to beat the rap. If getting rid of tainted money is a national cause, so is getting rid of tainted politicians.
The author is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines.
She is now an independent writer and author