Fighting Polls From Prison
Consider the bizarre sequence of events: an electoral candidate goes missing along with his entire police escort while out on a court summons, and remains untraceable for over a day. And then, somewhat miraculously, shows up at his assigned jail, taking over 30 hours to cover a distance that should have taken no more than 12. What does he do all this while? The candidate allegedly supervises his election campaign in violation of government orders that prevent any form of campaigning by those behind bars.
But this inmate is no ordinary person. He is Vijay Kumar Mishra, a Samajwadi Party MLA, and his party’s candidate from Gyanpur in Sant Ravidas Nagar district, also known as Bhadohi, in the third phase of the Uttar Pradesh election on February 15. A candidate influential enough to bend rules, “indeed break the bars”, to suit his political goals. While inmates under trial are not barred from contesting elections, they have many restrictions placed on them, including a thorough ban on campaigning from jails and possession of any communication device that may allow them to do so. But with stakes piled up high in elections and a system corrupt enough to bend over backwards to indulge these regional lords, Mishra and others like him seek out every opportunity to supervise their campaign and ensure a win.
Arrested in February last year in Delhi and currently lodged in Meerut jail, Mishra’s is a textbook case of how democracy can come without the rule of law. For it matters little in the world’s largest democracy that Mishra faces, at last count, 25 criminal cases, including one of being the key conspirator behind a July 2010 blast in Allahabad that was intended to kill BSP minister Nand Gopal Nandi but one that ended up killing two others, including journalist Vijay Pratap Singh of The Indian Express. What matters most, though, is that he wields enormous money power. According to affidavits filed, he is one of the richest candidate to go to polls in the third phase with an annual income of over Rs 93 lakh and assets of over Rs 9 crore. He is also an influential Brahmin with a strong possibility of winning from Gyanpur that has a dominant Brahmin population.
To begin with, the jailed politician, out on a court summons in January this year, went missing along with the police personnel escorting him. Authorities in Meerut suspect that the police, under the influence of Mishra, allowed him to take a detour to his constituency and make necessary phone calls on the way. However, the personnel who were escorting the MLA, on being interrogated, simply replied that they had stopped on numerous locations to ensure a safer commute. Nobody knows precisely what transpired during these hours because even the mobile phones of the police staff were “unreachable” despite the fact that they were supposed to be travelling on a busy stretch from Allahabad, where he was supposed to be present at a court, back to Meerut.
When he finally returned to Meerut jail on the afternoon of January 18, a search revealed Rs 2,900 on him, along with a telephone diary and loose sheets of paper with 157 telephone numbers on them. Authorities suspect he had made calls to those numbers, more so because many of the numbers had been ticked. Jail authorities have requested the district magistrate in Bhadohi to investigate this breach. Mishra had left the jail on January 2 to be present at the adj 26 court in Allahabad for a hearing the day after and was scheduled to return on the 4th. However, the court issued a series of summons for the 7th, 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th, which forced him to stay in neighbouring jails in Naini and Rae Bareli for this period. On the 17th, the Allahabad DM ordered that he be taken to the district jail in Fatehpur. It is at this stage that he went missing.
Mishra’s wife Ramlali Mishra was also able to secure on January 21 an order from the adj 26 that asked the jail authorities to present him at the returning officer’s office and in the process allow him “another trip out” so that he can file his nomination papers. Strangely, another court (the ACJM in Bhadohi) on the same day asked that his nomination be filed through a representative, as permitted by Section 33 of the Indian People’s Representation Act. This is what Mishra was finally allowed to do, completing the paperwork on the jail premises in Meerut where his family members collected his documents. The same day, a few hours after filing his nomination, the jailed MLA fell “unconscious” and caused great worry to officials. However, when a doctor examined him, he found that Mishra was putting on an act to get out of prison.
Vijay Kumar Mishra, to be fair, does find himself under a stricter confinement because he belongs to the Samajwadi Party, the BSP’s principal opponent, and has allegedly tried to kill a minister of the Mayawati government. After he went missing, the state administration has so far managed to put off further excursions on court summons (six between Jan 19 and Feb 8) and by arguing it doesn’t have the necessary guards to despatch him safely. Rakesh, the MLA’s associate, thinks the government is playing unfair. “Why do you keep him so far away from Bhadohi if you do not have the guards to escort him each time he is asked to be presented in court?” he counters. “And how is that the administration has guards for all others but not the MLA?”
Meanwhile, in the MLA’s absence, Mishra’s family members and supporters have been campaigning on his behalf. “Sure, the personal touch is not there and we are like an army without a captain. This will surely impact the election result,” says the MLA’s associate Rakesh. “But we are still sure he is going to win by a margin of at least 50,000 votes.” Optimism will rule.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
“On the lines of ‘Seat reservation for Artists and Litterateurs in Rajya Sabha’ why doesn’t Election Commission give a serious thought to ‘Reserve Seats For Convicted Criminals’ to save Government from Embarrassment & Controversies?”
Yes Optimism ruled, justified optimism to put my say in it. Mr. Mishra is my father. I campaigned for him. He got 91604 votes and won by 38000 votes rounded off.
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