Opinion

The Pappu Can’t Pass

The former MP and don’s work for the Covid-hit is interrupted by his arrest in a 1989 kidnapping case

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The Pappu Can’t Pass
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Don’t stop helping people, even if you have to sell off everything.” This was the parting message to family and friends from former five-term MP Rajesh ­Ranjan, better known as Pappu Yadav, when Bihar police were taking him away in a 32-year-old kidnapping case recently. Anybody familiar with Pappu’s eventful past as a bahubali—he was once sentenced to life imprisonment for CPI(M) legislator Ajit Sarkar’s murder—would find it hard to see the don’s metamorphosis into a crusader fighting against an “unjust system” and “unscrupulous ­politicians”. So infamous were Pappu’s exploits, both in and out of prison, that actor Sonu Sood sought to take tips from him after he was signed to play bahubali Chhedi Singh in Salman Khan’s 2010 blockbuster Dabangg. Ten years later, both Sonu and Pappu hit the headlines for playing good ­samaritans during the Covid pande­mic. While Sonu remains a much-admi­red hero, Pappu has landed behind bars, with a 1989 case returning to haunt him. After being sent to judicial custody for 14 days, Pappu has been in the ICU of a hospital in Darbhanga.

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“There is a conspiracy to infect me with Covid in jail,” he alleges. “I have been arrested because of political vendetta. Apart from highlighting the tottering health infrastructure in Bihar, I had recently exposed a BJP MP.” A few days before his arrest, Pappu and his men had raided a community centre in local BJP MP and former Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s Saran Lok Sabha constituency and found 30 ­unused ambulances with stickers bearing Rudy’s name, allegedly purchased with funds from the MP Local Area Development Fund Scheme.

“When there is an acute shortage of ambulances and people are forced to pay as much as Rs 12,000 a kilometre to take Covid patients to hospitals, this is criminal negligence,” he said, accusing Rudy of keeping 100 ambulances for his own interest. When Rudy said the ambulances were not being used due to a shortage of drivers, Pappu lined up dozens of drivers willing to be hired for the job. Patna police took the former MP into custody soon after—for violating lockdown guidelines when he went to ‘expose’ the condition of Patna Medical College Hospital. Madhepura police reached Patna the same evening with a warrant to arrest him in connection with the 1989 case.

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Pappu’s supporters allege he was ­apprehended because he was not only exposing Bihar’s pathetic health ­infrastructure, but also providing ­oxygen cylinders and life-saving medicines to Covid-hit families. His rivals, however, hark back to his criminal ­antecedents. “Every criminal sitting in a temple does not become a saint,” says Rudy, who accuses Pappu of ­hiding details of many criminal cases in the affidavit he filed with his nomination papers from the Madhepura seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

There is no denying that Pappu has been on an overdrive to change his image ever since the Patna High Court acquitted him in 2013 in the Ajit Sarkar murder case. The lower court had earlier convicted him for the 1998 killing of the CPI(M) MLA in Purnia. When he was in jail, Pappu had set up a youth organisation called Yuva Shakti, which did commendable relief work during the 2008 Kosi floods. His ­altruistic mission gained momentum after he came out of prison.

Apparently inspired by Akshay Kumar’s movie Gabbar Is Back (2015), Pappu once launched a statewide ­campaign against doctors charging ­exorbitant fees from poor people. In 2019, during the floods in Patna, he waded through waist-deep water to ­provide succour to marooned people for several days. None of his philanthropic deeds, however, has paid him dividends in any of the elections he has fought since he shed his bahubali skin.

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