x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Death puts Indian politics in the dock

The 'Untouchable Queen' is implicated in case over unpaid birthday fun request that casts shadows over country's electoral system.

Kumari Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the Bahujan Samaj Party national president.
Kumari Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the Bahujan Samaj Party national president.

New Delhi // The arrest of a top politician in the killing of a government employee in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has caused a political furore in India. The engineer is alleged to have been kidnapped and tortured to death last week for refusing to contribute to a fund to pay for the birthday party of the state's chief minister, Kumari Mayawati. The case highlights the growing number of politicians in the country that are involved in criminal cases. Manoj Kumar Gupta worked as an engineer with the state public works department. According to his wife, Shashi Gupta, Shekhar Tiwari, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator, along with two others forced their way into their house in the Diviapur area of Kanpur and demanded five million rupees (Dh379,000) from her husband. In her statement to police, Shashi Gupta said the men started beating her husband and took him away after the family was locked in the bathroom. "They came knocking at the door and introduced themselves as police investigators. They asked for my husband and pounced at him and took him away," she told local media. Mr Tiwari, who represents the Auraiya constituency in the state legislature, was arrested and has been charged with murder, kidnapping, extortion, conspiracy and breaches of the National Security Act. He has several other criminal cases pending against him and he has been jailed twice in the past six years. Ms Mayawati has denied allegations about the birthday fund made by the victim's family and said they were "politically motivated" and part of a plot to demean her "growing image". She offered half a million rupees to the engineer's family as compensation, which they turned down. Gupta's autopsy report shows a broken skull and a dozen other injury marks on the body, apparently from sharp-edged weapons. The body also had burn marks, which suggested he was given electric shocks. Ms Mayawati is featured this year in Forbes magazine's 100 most powerful women in the world. She is often referred as the "Untouchable Queen", after her role with the BSP, which represents the group some consider to be at the bottom of the Indian caste system. When she became chief minister of the state last year, she celebrated her 52nd birthday amid great fanfare. The capital was decorated with blue party flags with a giant elephant as the party symbol. She cut a 52kg cake at her official residence in Lucknow and thousands of kilograms of sweets were handed out. Her political opponents, the Samajwadi Party, have accused her of extorting money for the birthday celebrations. On Thursday they called for a statewide strike to protest against the murder, and demonstrators took to the streets on Friday and Saturday. A police station and several state-owned buses were set on fire. A recent survey showed as many as 125 candidates with criminal records have won seats in assembly elections in five states in the past month. The study was carried out by the National Election Watch, which analysed affidavits of 4,607 candidates out of a total of 7,508. M J Akbar, a journalist and political commentator, said criminal activity had spread into India's political system. "It happens and we should stop it through legislation. "The rising costs of party activities and processes of campaigning are becoming costlier, which allows such elements into politics," he said. In Uttar Pradesh, the BSP has 63 legislators with criminal backgrounds and many face cases pending against them including charges of murder, rape, robbery, rioting and kidnapping. Sushil Kumar Singh, a legislator who represents Dhanapur, faces 25 criminal charges and Jintendra Singh, who represents Bikapur, faces 12. Nine ministers in the cabinet face charges of corruption and other crimes. The situation is similar in the Indian parliament. Six of its present members are serving jail terms for various criminal offences, including murder, robbery, possession of arms and kidnapping. In the Indian parliament this year, members flashed wads of cash when the United Progressive Alliance government had to prove its majority in the house after one of its key allies pulled out of the coalition over the issue of the country's nuclear deal with the United States. The members from the Bhartiya Janta Party were alleging that they were offered money to vote in favour of the UPA. Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst, blamed the electorate for allowing criminals into politics. "Some people support them because they feel they will protect them. Many criminal politicians have earned constituencies with the help of rioting and other criminal means. "Barring criminals from entering politics is difficult because of the present laws. It's the people who have to show resentment and be vigilant while voting for them." jandrabi@thenational.ae