For the first time in, perhaps, four decades, criminals are taking a back seat in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and it is the Yogi Adityanath government that deserves credit for this.
The crackdown on criminals by the Yogi government has forced majority of the mafia dons to keep a low profile in these elections.
While political parties are not exactly shying away from fielding candidates with criminal antecedents but they are certainly maintaining a distance from established mafia candidates.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), earlier known for favouring such candidates who, interestingly, rate high on the winnability factor, has shied away this time from patronising them.
The crackdown on the mafia in Uttar Pradesh began with the daylight murder of mafia don Munna Bajrangi inside Baghpat jail in July 2018.
The murder sent shockwaves in the underworld and the mafia retreated into their shells.
The next on the government’s hit list was Mukhtar Ansari and his family.
While Ansari was brought back to Uttar Pradesh from Ropar jail in Punjab, his ill-gotten wealth was seized and properties demolished.
Mukhtar Ansari has been lodged in jail since 2005 on charges of the murder of a BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai and the Yogi Adityanath government has relentlessly targeted Ansari and his family for the past four years.
Mukhtar Ansari has won elections from behind the bars in 2007, 2012 and 2017.
It is not yet known whether he will contest the 2022 polls though the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) president Om Prakash Rajbhar has offered him a ticket.
His elder brother, Afzal Ansari, is a BSP MP and younger brother, Sigbatullah Ansari, is keen to contest from Ghazipur on an SP ticket but the same has not yet been confirmed.
Another mafia don who has been ‘reined in’ by the Yogi Adityanath government is Ateeq Ahmad, presently lodged in Ahmedabad jail.
Ateeq’s illegally built properties in Prayagraj have been demolished and his aides are also in jail. Ateeq is not contesting the elections this time and his family is also keeping a low profile though his wife has joined the AIMIM.
Dhananjay Singh, former MP, is keen to contest from Jaunpur but his ticket from the Nishad Party which recently entered into an alliance with the BJP, is awaiting ‘clearance’. The BJP has made it clear that it is unwilling to field the mafia turned politician on its symbol.
Mafia don Brijesh Singh, who is lodged in Varanasi jail, has also not made any efforts to field his relatives in the assembly elections. He has been maintaining a low profile since the Yogi Adityanath government came to power.
A member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative council, Brijesh Singh now avoids attending sessions of the state legislature too.
Erstwhile mafia don Hari Shankar Tiwari has given up on electoral politics due to advancing age but his sons Bhisham Shankar Tiwari and Vinay Tiwari are active in electoral politics. Vinay Tiwari is contesting on an SP ticket.
Independent legislator and former minister Raghuraj Pratap Singh a.k.a. Raja Bhaiyya, meanwhile, has floated his own party called Jansatta Dal and is fielding candidates in the assembly elections.
Raja Bhaiyya served as minister in Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh governments and also in Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav governments.
He was jailed under POTA in 2003 during the Mayawati regime.
However, he has been keeping a low profile in the Yogi Adityanath regime.
BJP spokesperson Harish Chandra Srivastava said: “It is mainly due to the iron hand of the Yogi government that criminals have gone back into their shell. If they were earlier active in politics, it was because the then governments were encouraging them.”
A top police official, who has been a member of the Special Task Force in the state, said that the increasing number of youth voters and the growing reach of social media has checked criminalisation of politics in Uttar Pradesh to a large extent.
“Candidates are now required to declare their criminal cases and the information goes viral on the net within no time. This is serving as a deterrent,” he said.