With his skin peeling off, lying scalded in the burns ward of Civil Hospital, Lucknow, Jagendra Singh repeatedly asked the question: “Why did they have to burn me? If the minister and his goons had a grudge, they could have beaten me instead of pouring kerosene on me.” He suffered 60 percent burn injuries and knew his chances of survival were dismal. After enduring excruciating pain for eight long days, Jagendra died on 8 June.
With this, he became one more victim of the nefarious system in the most populous state of India, where many a time it becomes difficult to differentiate between a mafia don and a politician. A state where raising a voice against this rotten system may be awarded with capital punishment, like in the case of Jagendra Singh. Singh was burnt alive in his own house in Shahjahanpur, UP in front of his family, allegedly by the law enforcers and strongmen of state minister Ram Murti Verma. For the record, the minister is absconding and the same state police which within a week could trace minister Azam Khan’s missing buffaloes, has failed to trace Verma. Jagendra Singh’s dying statement itself should have been reason enough to question Verma.
After training at iti and working for some private firms, Singh was drawn to journalism. He believed in the power of the pen. After working with a few media organisations for a short period and realising that news is often subjected to censorship and views are muffled, he opted to go freelance.
Jagendra Singh launched his own Facebook page Shahjahanpur Samachar. With time, his page became an important source for news leads and exposes at local level. He was passionate about reporting on local politics and crime. And this is how Singh chanced upon a high-level corruption whose trail led to a Lucknow minister. In his Facebook posts uploaded in May, he alleged that the minister had seized tracts of land and launched illegal mining operations which earned him a phenomenal amount. Singh further accused Verma of being involved in a rape incident. As Singh’s posts had considerable following, word spread quickly.
On the fateful day, the first of June, as per Singh’s family, a contingent of policemen led by inspector Sri Prakash Rai along with musclemen of the minister came knocking on his door. After threatening and abusing him for a while, they set him alight. All this while, Singh’s family was shouting helplessly, asking the neighbours for help.
Singh was left to die at home while the local police merely made entries in their record books that he self-immolated during a raid to arrest him. It was only after the incident was raised in social media and Singh’s dying declaration video went viral, along with Singh son’s statement that his father was burnt alive at the behest of the minister, that an fir was registered against Ram Murti Verma and five others, including policemen at Puwayun police station of Shahjahanpur.
However, going by the past record of the Samajwadi Party government, it was clear from the beginning that no stone would be left unturned to save the donturned- minister. None other than Shivpal Yadav, brother of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, was quick to jump to the defence of the minister. “There have been several instances in the past when accusations have been made against a minister but nothing could be proved,” was Shivpal’s reply when being questioned about what action would be taken against the minister. Shivpal, who is also a PWD minister, was adamant that the minister would not be asked to vacate the post until the matter is thoroughly investigated. He assured that Verma’s job is safe for now. Shivpal is known to make insensitive remarks and he is the same politician who called the infamous Nithari killings a ‘small, routine incident’.
Such insensitivity seems to be embedded in the party’s dna. Another cabinet minister Parasnath Yadav said in Verma’s defence, “There are some incidents that happen in the course of nature and destiny… you can’t fight nature.” With the state machinery firmly standing with the minister in question and various associations of journalists, both at the local and state level, initially abstaining from speaking on the issue, the only option left with the family of the deceased was to sit on an indefinite strike until the time the state government takes action. It was the social media that openly came out in support of his family, forcing the national media to take notice a few days later.
Tehelka has also learnt that all this while, when demands for Verma’s arrest were being made and he was declared absconding, he and his close aides were busy merrymaking at a farmhouse near Shahjahanpur owned by another senior Samajwadi Party leader.
Though the UP government preferred to be inert on the gruesome murder, the Supreme Court, acting on a plea, issued notices to the central and the Uttar Pradesh governments for a CBI probe. It was only after this that UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav finally met the family of the deceased and convinced them to end their indefinite hunger strike. The state government also offered compensation of Rs 30 lakh to Singh’s family and jobs for two family members. However, till going to print, the state government has not said a word on the probe.
No wonder, in this atmosphere of impunity, even the lesser rung leaders of the party and their cronies are busy committing one offence after another, only to go unpunished.
But let us keep the spotlight on the leadership. Meet Vinod Singh alias Pandit Singh. He is the state’s secondary education minister but no student should be around when he gets abusive, as he uses the filthiest language imaginable. Singh and controversy are old pals. There are several serious criminal cases against him including causing death by negligence, assault and rash driving. In October 2012, he was dropped from the ministry after he abducted and thrashed the Gonda Chief Medical Officer (CMO) just because the latter had refused to carry out his diktat on some appointments. Less than a year later, he was reinstated as minister.
Perhaps unaware of all this, a youth from Gonda, Akash Agarwal posted a news item on his Facebook timeline which had appeared in a local daily. The minnews was innocuous enough — about how the local police had got the dark film torn off the minister’s car. Rather than attacking the press, the minister chose an easier target, sending policemen to lock up Akash’s father’s shop. Then he called Akash on his mobile and abused and threatened him without pause for two minutes. The cops also got Akash’s father to speak with the minister, who allegedly warned he would be sent to jail on trumped-up charges and would emerge “only when you are dead.”
If this is not enough to prove the lawlessness in the state, take the case of the state mining minister Gayatri Prajapati. In a recent incident, the entire crew of a national channel and its ob van driver and engineer were mercilessly beaten up in front of the channel’s office in Lucknow. Why? The channel had dared to show news related to Prajapati’s misdemeanours. After relentless pressure from the Lucknow media, a case was registered in Gautampalli police station of the city, but no arrest has been made so far.
The UP mining minister is already under the Lokayukta scanner for allegedly amassing assets worth hundreds of crores by misusing his office. Lokayukta justice (retd) NK Mehrotra launched the probe in December last year after one Om Shankar Dwivedi filed a 1,727-page complaint giving details of ill-gotten property belonging to Prajapati and his kin across the state. He is also accused of granting mining licences to his associates without the mandatory environmental clearances.
After the Lokayukta initiated the enquiry against the minister, the fake companies allegedly belonging to his associates started closing down to escape charges. The complaint also mentions five companies in which the minister’s wife and son are directors.
Interestingly, the minister who allegedly owns assets worth 900 crore, was a BPL (below poverty line) cardholder in 2002. It was only in 2012 that he got an APL (above poverty line) card. This is the year he declared assets worth Rs 1.13 crore. He currently owns a fleet of luxury cars.
Another UP minister who is in the news these days, again for all the wrong reasons, is Kailash Chaurasia, mla from Mirzapur and state minister for basic education and child nutrition. Chaurasia allegedly abused and beat an assistant road transport officer (ARTO) Chunnilal recently when the officer refused to meet the minister’s unreasonable demand.
“The minister called me to his office this afternoon and asked me not to give joining papers to a clerk in the office. I informed that it is mandatory to do so as there was a High Court order in this regard and we would have to face contempt proceedings if we did not comply with it,” the ARTO told the media. The ARTO said that the minister got agitated with his reply and started “beating and abusing” him. The ARTO had filed a complaint with Katra police station in this matter but no fir has been lodged in this issue so far. The police, on their part, say that they have not received any complaint. Chaurasia is the same politician who was convicted by a chief judicial magistrate’s court of Mirzapur in March earlier this year for manhandling and threatening a postman in 1995. He, however, was acquitted by the district court in May.
Another leader of the Samajwadi Party who ‘upheld’ the party’s reputation in recent days is its Rajya Sabha mp Chandrapal Singh Yadav. An audio recording was the talk of the state recently in which the mp can be heard threatening a government official. Apparently, Tehsildar Ghulab Singh had seized a tractor involved in illegal mining. Chandrapal called him to pressurise him to release the tractor and when the officer refused to do so, the mp threatened him with dire consequences. As per the audio recording, Ghulab Singh said, “Sir, forgive me, but these people are ruining the government’s reputation. It is a shame for us; they are doing this in broad daylight.” To which the mp replies, “Are you building the reputation?”
As the conversation progresses, the mp says, “Yes, very good. You are a topclass thief. If you get money, you will release it (the tractor) immediately.” When the officer did not relent, Chandrapal played his final card: “It will only take me 24 hours to teach you a lesson for a lifetime,” he said. “I tell you, you will face dire consequences.”
Perhaps the officer should consider himself lucky — he was only transferred a day after the altercation, sent to Kanpur Dehat district from Jhansi. One more honest officer down, one more politician emboldened to continue on the rampage.
With inputs from Ankush Vats