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For the first time in perhaps four decades, criminals are taking a backseat in the Lok Sabha 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 a majority of the mafia dons to keep a low profile in the elections, especially after the daylight murder of mafia don Munna Bajrangi inside Baghpat jail in July last year.
BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi 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."
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.
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. His sons are in BSP and the ticket of his elder son Bhisham Shankar Tiwari is yet to be announced form Sant Kabir Nagar.
Mafia don Mukhtar Ansari, presently a legislator in the state Assembly, is keeping away from elections though his brother Afzal Ansari is keen to contest from Ghazipur on a BSP ticket but the same has not yet been confirmed.
Mukhtar Ansari is lodged in jail since 2005 on charges of the murder of a BJP MLA Krishnand Rai.
Another mafia don, Dhananjay Singh, is set to contest form 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 young 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 Lok Sabha elections. He has been maintaining a low profile since the Adityanath government came to power.
A member of the UP Legislative Council, Brijesh Singh now avoids attending sessions of the state legislature too.
Independent legislator and former Minister Raghuraj Pratap Singh a.k.a. Raja Bhaiyya, however, has floated his own party called Jansatta Dal and is fielding candidates in the Lok Sabha elections.
Raja Bhaiyya was jailed under POTA in 2003 during the Mayawati regime. He served as Minister in the Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh governments and also in Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav governments.
Mafia don Ateeq Ahmad, with 42 criminal cases against him, is also presently in jail. His supporters are in touch with smaller parties. If he manages to get a ticket, he will contest from Allahabad.
According to former Director General of Police Vikram Singh, who played a key role in the formation of the Special Task Force in Uttar Pradesh in 1998, the increasing number of youth voters and the growing reach of social media has checked criminalization of politics in the state 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.