Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav had promised a regime without criminals. Three months later, some of the most dreaded ganglords in the state are strolling in and out of prison as they wish. Ashish Khetan exposes a disturbing trend
• I •
MY PHOTOGRAPHER and I have been waiting in a taxi for over two hours outside the Gorakhpur Divisional Jail. It is 7 June and the sun is unbearably harsh. The jail is heavily garrisoned. A dozen-odd policemen with rifles are posted at the typically imposing jail gate. Additionally, a posse of cops is deployed outside the compound. To avoid any suspicion, we are parked under a tree, at a short distance from the jail boundary. At around 1 pm, a white Tata Sumo (registration number UP-53 AS 8797) with black tinted windows, pulls over. Two men step out of the vehicle. Both have walkie-talkies tucked under their belts. For the next half hour, these men and the jail guards chat, occasionally patting each other on the back and laughing over shared humour.
Around 2 pm, a dark blue police mini-truck with 207 Vajra painted on its side pulls up. Three constables and a sub-inspector step out of the vehicle. The men with walkie-talkies have been waiting for them. The sub-inspector and these men chat for a few minutes. A little later, as the constables wait outside, the sub-inspector enters the jail gate. After 15 minutes, he comes out accompanied by Amarmani Tripathi, Uttar Pradesh’s dreaded gangster and now a heavyweight Samajwadi Party (SP) politician. Tripathi, 58, is serving a life-term for the murder of Madhumita Shukla, a young woman who he had an affair with. Madhumita came from a poor family and was a budding poet. She was only 20 when she was gunned down at her Lucknow residence in May 2003. Madhumita was killed because she had refused to abort the love child she had with Tripathi. At the time of the murder, Madhumita was six months pregnant and Tripathi was a minister of state in the BSP government. Faced with a media outrage, then chief minister Mayawati had not only sacked Tripathi from her government and party but also ordered a CBI investigation, which ensured a guilty verdict.
However, ever since Akhilesh Yadav has taken oath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on 15 March, Tripathi is a life-convict only on paper. In reality, he is a free man. 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.
A life-term means imprisonment for life, but in practice, a convict can move for premature release after 14 years, which is almost always granted. The newly formed Samajwadi Party government with its absolute majority is slated to be in power till 2017. Tripathi has been in jail since 2003. Hence, it is reasonable to deduce that with the formation of the Samajwadi Party government in UP, Tripathi’s jail sentence has, for all practical purposes, come to an end.
• II •
AS TRIPATHI walks out of the jail gate, the men in the Tata Sumo bring the vehicle right outside the jail compound. One man jumps out and stands by the door, ready to open it. Dressed in a crisp blue kurta, freshly polished leather sandals on his feet and expensive looking sunglasses to shade his eyes, Tripathi walks towards the Tata Sumo. My photographer starts clicking pictures. Tripathi spots us. He turns around and walks straight to us.
Gorakhpur SSP Ashutosh Kumar sent a report to the Home Department detailing Tripathi’s illegal movements outside the jail. No action has been taken so far
“It’s not a good thing to take somebody’s pictures against his wishes,” he says in a threatening tone.
“I know my limits. I am standing on a public road and doing a work of public interest,” I reply.
“Who are you?” asks Tripathi.
“I’m a Delhi-based journalist,” I say, giving Tripathi my visiting card.
“Why didn’t you meet me first?”
Tripathi then turns towards my photographer. He recognises him instantly. He is a local photojournalist. “Bachuwa tum to yehi ke ho. Sab achha hai?” (Kid, you belong to this place. All’s well, I hope?) Issuing a veiled threat, Tripathi holds the photographer’s face in his hand and squeezes it hard. By now, the policemen and Tripathi’s men have also surrounded us.
“Delete the pictures,” he commands the photographer. “The pictures will not be deleted,” I intervene.
Tripathi leaves my photographer and turns towards me. “Please leave now,” he says after a few moments of silence.
“After you,” I say.
“Nahi. Hum aapke protocol me khade hai.” (No, you first, I am waiting in your decorum.)
I get into the car and ask my driver to leave. After driving for about 100 metres, we again stop for a few seconds and take a few more pictures. Later, we dropped the idea of filming Tripathi’s durbar at the medical college. We reckoned that since we had been seen, there was a fair chance we could be assaulted at the hospital. Living to tell the tale is the maxim of every reasonable journalist.
Tripathi runs an organised crime syndicate in eastern UP. His criminal record spans over three dozen cases, covering a wide spectrum of offences — murder, extortion, abduction, assault, attempt to murder, etc. Until the Madhumita murder investigation by the CBI, no local court could return a guilty verdict against him. Invariably, the witnesses would turn hostile or the evidence would disappear. On the CBI’s application, in February 2007, in order to ensure a free and fair trial, the Supreme Court had ordered the Madhumita murder case to be tried by a special CBI judge in Dehradun, more than 800 km from Tripathi’s stronghold, Gorakhpur.
But while the Supreme Court considered Tripathi to be a threat to the administration of justice, the Samajwadi Party nominated him as its candidate from Lakshmipur constituency in Maharajganj district in the 2007 Assembly elections. Tripathi contested the elections from jail and won by 20,000 votes. Six months later, in October 2007, the Dehradun Court awarded him a life-term for Madhumita’s murder.
During the five years of Mayawati’s rule, Tripathi remained incarcerated in a Dehradun jail. He was kept away from the state, his ties cut with his gang. In June 2011, he was permitted by the court to come to Gorakhpur to attend his mother’s funeral. At the funeral ceremony, he feigned illness and collapsed, after which he was taken to the BRD Medical College. With the help of hospital authorities, he managed to stay admitted in the medical college for more than two months. When this was brought to light, the Mayawati government sent him back to Dehradun Jail and took departmental action against a police inspector and four constables, while ordering a probe against the doctors who gave Tripathi tailor-made medical reports. But on 15 March, even as Akhilesh was taking oath as UP chief minister, Tripathi was being transported to the Gorakhpur Divisional Jail.
Tripathi is an important Brahmin leader for the otherwise Yadav-dominated Samajwadi Party. Since he is now a lifetime convict and thus disqualified from contesting the polls, the Samajwadi Party in 2012 gave the ticket to his son, Amanmani Tripathi, from the Nautanwa constituency in Maharajganj district. However, it was Amarmani who was the de-facto candidate. He released a video from jail, in which he exhorted his constituents to vote for his son.
“Your vote will help me in securing my release from jail. I have always made you proud. I have made and unmade chief ministers. It was your vote that gave me this strength. I have always protected you and now it’s your turn to protect my and my family’s honour,” Amarmani was seen addressing in the video clip.
• III •
TEHELKA DISCOVERED that to engineer his homecoming, Amarmani got three bogus cases of cheque-bounce instituted against himself in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts. The complainants in these cases are Tripathi’s own people, say local police officials. His advocates pleaded before the court that it would be more feasible for Amarmani to attend the court proceedings from the jail at Gorakhpur than Dehradun. A favourable court order was procured. No sooner was Amarmani back in Gorakhpur Jail, that he was a free bird. “An independent probe can reveal the truth behind these bogus cheque-bouncing cases,” says a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. “It will reveal how Amarmani Tripathi is making a mockery of justice.”
That the cheque-bounce cases are fakes is not a secret in Gorakhpur. The amount of each cheque is in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh — a pittance for Tripathi, who is worth several hundred crores.
Everyone in the town talks — albeit in hushed tones — how these cases were manufactured by Tripathi to stay in Gorakhpur. According to local journalists, Amarmani is free to receive visitors any time he wishes, and that he freely uses a mobile phone and computer inside the jail. We had ourselves seen a laptop bag in the hands of his aide when Amarmani stepped out of the jail premises.
On 20 April, Gorakhpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ashutosh Kumar sent a confidential report to the Home Department detailing Tripathi’s illegal movements outside the jail. Sources say that the SSP had also videographed the illegal assembly of Tripathi’s supporters outside the jail and their free access to the jailed gangster. But till date, no action has been taken on Kumar’s report.
Goonda Raj redux?
After coming back to power, Samajwadi Party leaders haven’t shied away from taking the law into their own hands
7 MARCH 2012 THE DAY the poll results were out, Samajwadi Party candidate Chandra Pal Singh Yadav from Babina in Jhansi district abducted BSP candidate Krishna Pal Singh Rajput. Yadav also assaulted the media crew that had turned up to film Rajput’s abduction and destroyed their cameras. An FIR was lodged against Yadav but no action has been taken till date
19 MARCH 2012 TEXTILES MINISTER Mehboob Ali’s cronies fired in the air and openly waved firearms in public during a welcome procession taken out for him in Moradabad
5 MAY 2012 AN FIR was registered against Samajwadi Party MLA Mahesh Narayan Singh for threatening Harivansh Yadav, officer in-charge of the Saidabad police outpost. The Handiya MLA allegedly threatened the police officer saying: “Do as I say or I will thrash you with my shoes”
27 MAY 2012 UNDER PRESSURE from Horticulture Minister RK Singh, the executive engineer of Basti district cancelled road construction tenders worth 50 crore. It is alleged that the minister coerced the engineer to award the tenders to one of his supporters
31 MAY 2012 SAMAJWADI PARTY leader Mansur Ilahi allegedly assaulted Ravendra Singh Yadav, an executive officer of the Faizabad Nagar Palika in his official chambers. Following the attack, the municipality employees went on a strike
6 JUNE 2012 IN AMBEDKAR NAGAR district, a Samajwadi Party leader named Raj Bahadur Yadav, who was also the contractor in the Tanda Thermal power plant of the NTPC, allegedly assaulted the staff of a private firm handling the removal of fly ash from the plant. One person was thrown from the first floor and had to be admitted in a trauma centre at Lucknow
Amarmani’s son Amanmani lost the elections by a slender margin of 7,837 votes to Congress candidate Kaushal Kishor. But that hasn’t stopped Amarmani and his son from calling the shots in the district administration. From inside the jail, Amarmani brazenly shoots off letters to district officials issuing instructions as if he is a minister and not a convicted criminal. Two such letters in TEHELKA’s possession show that the district administration is not only receiving Amarmani’s letters, but also acting as per his directions.
Consider this. On 4 May, Amarmani wrote a letter to Additional Chief Executive Officer of the District Panchayat, Maharajganj. The letter says: “Under the state finance commission scheme, I am proposing the following four works in my Assembly constituency. Kindly get it done in public interest on a priority basis.” A week later, on 12 May, Amarmani wrote another letter to the same official. This time, he gave a list of half-a-dozen road and drainage construction works and asked the official to execute the same. The official issued instructions to the engineer, ordering him to approve the list of works pointed out by Amarmani.
Interference in development work is the least of Tripathi’s crimes. Congress MLA Kaushal Kishor from Maharajganj district has written to the CM that after the formation of the SP government, Tripathi’s gang has grabbed a piece of government land measuring 68,000 sq ft. “If the government fails to act against the former MLA, then I will raise the issue in the ongoing Budget Session of the state Assembly,” says Kishor.
• IV •