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Will this man bring down Mulayam?

Last updated on: March 08, 2007 12:17 IST
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and I are born in rustic villages, we studied in schools without a blackboard, we didn't wear chappals till we reached the city for higher studies. So, don't ask me if I am afraid of Yadav or not. People who speak English fear taking on powerful people. We don't have fears because I don't have much to lose."

So says Vishwanath Chaturvedi, 41, the petitioner in the high-profile Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court against Uttar Pradesh's powerful chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav.

In December 2005 Chaturvedi's lawyer, Dinesh Kumar Garg, filed a petition along with some 1,000 pages of documents listing the properties allegedly owned by Yadav and his family.

The chief minister of India's most politicised state has landed in a deep political crisis because of the allegations contained in Chaturvedi's petition.

Yadav is facing the toughest challenge of his life: After all, being a 'Socialist', he or his followers never expected that 'Netaji', as Yadav is addressed with reverence by his followers, would end up fighting charges of accumulation of such huge wealth, and that too at time when the UP assembly election is weeks away.

On March 1, the Supreme Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the charges leveled by Chaturvedi.

While ordering the CBI probe, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices A R Lakshmanan and Altamas Kabir said the chief minister of a large state like Uttar Pradesh could not function under a cloud when his integrity had been questioned.

The Supreme Court ordered the inquiry after taking into account the response filed by Yadav's lawyer in a written submission on February 27, 2007.

The nine-page document lists all the properties owned by Yadav and his family, and also explains the status of other properties mentioned in Chaturvedi's petition.

When Chaturvedi filed his petition he claims that he got the 'original' sale deeds of all the properties acquired over the years by Mulayam Singh, his sons Akhilesh and Pratik and daughter-in-law Dimple.

Chaturvedi claimed before the apex court that the value of these properties was worth more than Rs 1 billion. The allegation was stoutly denied by Yadav. From the outset, Yadav took the case seriously, and retained more than half a dozen heavyweight lawyers in New Delhi to fight back the charges leveled against him.

As a fallout of this case, Yadav admitted in the Supreme Court for the first time that he had two wives. His lesser known second wife Sadhna and their son Pratik live at 5, Vikrmaditya Marg in Lucknow, he claimed in court.

Yadav's first wife Malti Devi died in 2003. Their son Akhilesh Yadav is a Member of Parliament, and is married to Dimple who has 'no source of income' but owns properties worth millions of rupees, according to Yadav's own submission.

A copy of Yadav's submission is with rediff.com

Chaturvedi told rediff.com: "My contention is how a person who had declared properties worth Rs 79,000 in 1977 could have amassed properties worth millions without any known source of income to enable him to earn and save that kind of amount."

The case has set off a tremendous political sensation, so much so that Chaturvedi has been given security by the Union home ministry.

He says his wife and three children visit him in New Delhi once in three months but he is unable to live in his own home in Lucknow.

Chaturvedi has been branded a 'Congress agent' and Yadav's confidant Amar Singh alleges that the Congress party is behind the petition against his leader.

However, the Supreme Court has not accepted the contention that Chaturvedi's petition is politically motivated and he is working on behalf of the Congress.

The court asked Chaturvedi to file an affidavit that he was not guided by political motives in filing the petition.

Chaturvedi swore on affidavit that he had never headed the Public Interest Litigation cell of the Congress party. He was a state leader of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Congress-supported trade union, and has been to jail many times for trade union activities. He was also an active student union leader while in college.

Talking to rediff.com, he said, "My father Mata Prasad who practices Ayurveda in our native village Shivgadh, used to be an ardent follower of Indira Gandhi and was a Congressman."

He says his father used to "manage" Indira Gandhi's elections and ensure that she secured the majority of votes in the area around Shivgadh, some 50 km from Rae Bareli city.

Chaturvedi said he was "adopted" by the Congress in the last assembly election to contest against Bharatiya Janata stalwart Rajnath Singh from Haidergarh in Barabanki district on a Congress ticket. In the 1980s, he was a close follower of veteran Congress leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, N D Tiwari.

He wants people to ignore his "debatable Congress connections" because he thinks his facts are "undisputable". He told rediff.com: "Look at my papers, my evidence. I am getting proof from Class 3 and 4 officers in the bureaucracy because I was their leader in the trade union. My homework is the result of hard work. I was a professional trade unionist. I know how to fight."

He is a trade unionist-turned-lawyer who is unable to draft his petitions in English but manages to read English.

He says he has an "ideological alliance" with the Congress party but condemns the state Congress leadership in Uttar Pradesh, calling it "a party led by fixers."

Chaturvedi is a political animal driven by aggressive instincts to take on mighty people in power. In his defence he claims that he is not against Yadav but against the political system.

Tomorrow: Mulayam's defence

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi