With the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh taking credit for cracking down on criminals and making it an election issue, political parties are now having a rethink on aligning with those who have a criminal background but also enjoy influence in their areas.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including the chief minister, have been lately making claims on how the Uttar Pradesh government has improved the state's law and order situation by crushing the mafia and even demolishing unauthorised buildings owned by them.
Adding heft to the state government's claims, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh while speaking at a public meeting in Maharajganj last week had remarked that development requires good law and order and 'criminals start trembling even in their sleep when they hear the name of Chief Minister Yogi.'
In a bid to distance herself from criminal elements, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati recently declared that her party will not field its jailed party MLA from Mau Mukhtar Ansari again in the assembly elections due early next year.
She also tweeted that the BSP will not field bahubalis (strongmen) and mafia in the upcoming polls.
Five-time MLA from Mau Mukhtar Ansari, who was accused in several serious cases, including the murder of MLA Krishnanand Rai of Ghazipur's Mohammadabad region in 2005, is currently lodged in the Banda jail.
However, smaller outfits like the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen are desperate to find their footing in the political scene of Uttar Pradesh and are not averse to wooing the the alleged criminals from bigger parties.
The AIMIM has offered Mukhtar Ansari the seat of his choice while Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party president Omprakash Rajbhar, an old ally of the jailed legislator, has come out in his support.
Besides Mukhtar Ansari, others, who have continued to find their way to different houses with the support of political parties are Gyanpur (Bhadohi) MLA Vijay Mishra, Sayedaraja (Chandauli) MLA Sushil Singh, former Jaunpur MP Dhananjay Singh and Phulpur MP Atiq Ahmed.
On August 28, Sibagatullah Ansari, the elder brother of Mukhtar Ansari and a two-time MLA from Ghazipur's Mohammadabad constituency, left the BSP for the Samajwadi Party triggering speculations that the Akhilesh Yadav-led party will use the Ansari brothers, who have influence in eastern Uttar Pradesh, to polarise Muslim votes.
When asked, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said, “The SP never gives tickets to criminals. We believe in principle that criminalisation in politics is fatal for democracy. The SP will not give tickets to criminals.”
Senior spokesperson of the BJP, Harishchandra Srivastava said, "Filing of a case is not a proof of a person being a criminal. Lawsuits are sometimes filed due to political reasons, but as far as the BJP is concerned, it has always been against criminalisation of politics. In 2017, the BJP gave the slogan of crime-free Uttar Pradesh.”
When reminded that Ashok Singh Chandel got a BJP ticket from Hamirpur, Srivastava said, "I can't say if something has happened as an exception, but as a policy, the party is always against giving political cloaks to criminals and even in 2022 this policy will be followed.”
Accused of murder, Chandel had won from Hamirpur in the 2017 assembly election but was sentenced by the court and had to resign after being convicted.
Similarly, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who won from Bangermau in Unnao by contesting the election on a BJP ticket, had to resign after being convicted of rape.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu said, "The Congress party will not give tickets to those detained in serious criminal cases.”
According to the Association for Democratic Reform report, 147 MLAs in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly have criminal cases registered against them. These include 83 of the BJP, 11 of the SP, four of the BSP and one of the Congress.
According to ADR convenor Sanjay Singh, in 2017 the BSP gave tickets to 38 per cent people with criminal cases registered against them, followed by the SP (37 per cent), the BJP (36 per cent) and the Congress (32 per cent).