The premature release of former Uttar Pradesh minister and strongman politician Amarmani Tripathi, who was convicted for the murder of poet Madhumita Shukla, has created a stir in the politics of Purvanchal especially in Gorakhpur-Basti division with speculations rife about his prospective comeback in politics.
Shukla was murdered on May 9, 2003, at her Paper Mill residence in Lucknow.
Amarmani and his wife, Madhumani, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder, along with two others. The political career of Amarmani, a four-time MLA from Laxmipur (now Nautanwa) assembly constituency of Maharajganj district, had halted after the sentence.
However, it is well known that he has maintained his political grip on Nautanwa as well as the parliamentary constituency of Maharajganj through his family. As a result, the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath are keen to figure out his prospective political utility for the elections next year.
Beginnings in caste conflict
Amarmani is a product of the Thakur-Brahmin caste conflict that erupted in Gorakhpur in the 1980s. His uncle, the former minister Shyamnarayan Tiwari was at the time active in politics and had been elected MLA from Pharenda area of Maharajganj district in 1974. But Amarmani forayed into politics as a right-hand man of strongman leader Harishankar Tiwari.
Meanwhile, Virendra Pratap Shahi was leading the Thakurs against Harishankar. After losing the 1974 assembly elections from Basti, Virendra contested from Laxmipur assembly in Maharajganj in 1980. The seat was the stronghold of Congress and Lok Dal leaders and at the time, only once, in 1967, had anyone else won it. The exception, Raghuraj Singh, had got this seat on a Jan Sangh ticket.
Harishankar and his camp pitted Amarmani against Virendra in Laxmipur for the assembly seat. Both Virendra and Amarmani contested as independents while Fateh Bahadur Singh was the candidate from Janata Party. He was a staunch socialist and had served as the president of the students’ union of DAV Degree College, Gorakhpur.
A kidnapping case was registered against Amarmani in his very first election. When Fateh Bahadur refused to back out from the election despite Amarmani’s threats, the latter tried to kidnap him too. Recalling the incident, Fateh Bahadur says that he was sitting at a shop in Nautanwa when several vehicles showed up with Amarmani’s men who tried to forcibly shove him into one of the vehicles. They told him that they would take him to Nepal and kill him. Fateh Bahadur got an FIR registered.
Though Amarmani lost the election, he managed to secure 19,289 votes. In 1985, he lost to Virendra again. He had contested both these elections as an independent candidate.
In the elections held in 1989, Amarmani finally became an MLA for the first time after winning on a tiny margin. He had contested this election as an independent as well. But the situation had completely changed. Virendra Pratap Shahi, who was a member of the Janata Party, had joined the Sanjay Vichar Manch formed by Maneka Gandhi and conducted many public meetings for her in Maharajganj and Gorakhpur. Soon after, he joined V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha. Virendra participated in a major rally held by V.P. Singh at the Tamkuhi Kothi grounds in Gorakhpur. Pipraich MLA Kedarnath Singh was the moderator on stage. When Virendra was not invited to deliver a speech, his supporters created a ruckus. Block chief Rampravesh Singh, one of Virendra’s supporters, even misbehaved with Kedarnath Singh. The incident miffed V.P. Singh and in turn damaged Virendra’s political career.
Virendra, who was eyeing a Janata Dal ticket from Maharajganj in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, was not given a ticket owing to the incident. The ticket was instead given to Harshvardhan, a Janata Party MLA from Pharenda. The party asked Virendra to contest from the Laxmipur assembly seat but he refused. He simultaneously contested the Lok Sabha elections from Maharajganj and the assembly election from Laxmipur. His close aide Akhilesh Singh, who was keen to contest from Laxmipur, rebelled and entered the fray from the seat as well. As a result, the fight for the Laxmipur assembly seat turned into a triangular contest which gave Amarmani Tripathi the edge and he defeated Akhilesh Singh in the last round.
Virendra Pratap Shahi lost both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Harshvardhan won the election from Maharajganj parliamentary seat. After the defeat, he left the local stages of Laxmipur and Maharajganj and became active in the Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency.
Meanwhile, Amarmani Tripathi had a fall out with Harishankar Tiwari and they parted ways. Soon after, he joined Virendra. Strongman leader Om Prakash Paswan, who became an MLA from Maniram on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket, at that time developed a rift with his guru Mahant Avedyanath. He also joined Virendra. The trio remained together for several years in the politics of Gorakhpur.
Paswan was killed in a bomb attack on March 25, 1996 during a meeting in Bansgaon, just before the Lok Sabha elections. The incident was executed like a terrorist operation, killing seven people and injuring 30. Four years later, in 1997, Virendra was murdered by gangster Sriprakash Shukla in Lucknow. At the time of his murder, Virendra was in the Bahujan Samaj Party and party supremo Mayawati was the state’s chief minister.
After losing the elections twice, Amarmani finally won in 1989 but lost two subsequent elections in 1991 and 1993 to Akhilesh Singh. It was initially suspected that his political career would not last long, but after Akhilesh Singh’s focus shifted to the Maharajganj Lok Sabha constituency, Amarmani made a comeback by winning the 1996 election.
Murder and media attention
It was the era of unstable governments. Amarmani got the chance to become a minister in the governments of Kalyan Singh, Ramprakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh, although he was not given important portfolios in any of them. But being in power gave him the opportunity to expand his clout. In 2002, he was in for a shock when both the Congress and Samajwadi Party denied him a ticket.
That is when the BSP, in search of a Brahmin face, handed him the ticket. The party envisioned a lot of possibilities with Amarmani, who won the elections and got a cabinet berth. While BSP supremo Mayawati had asked him to avoid controversies, Amarmani was nevertheless embroiled in many. He also resorted to wanton misuse of power when it came to suppressing opponents. His arch-rival Akhilesh Singh’s brother Kaushal Singh alias Munna Singh was charged under the National Security Act.
He allegedly seized the Durga Oil Mill from a prominent businessman in Nautanwa and turned it into his office. Later he also got it allotted in his name. He attempted to take over the agricultural land in Nichlaul area as well and faced opposition from local farmers. His present residence in Gorakhpur was also allegedly the residence of a businessman, seized by Amarmani. In Nautanwa, the matter of Amarmani’s acquisition of land belonging to a former Army officer had reached the then UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s ears.
Amarmani also set up half a dozen schools and colleges in Laxmipur area during this period. Several of his relatives are members of the management committees of these educational institutions.
He used to organise poetry meets in the schools and colleges run by him. It was during one such event that he met the poet Madhumita Shukla.
Shukla was seven months pregnant when she was murdered in Lucknow. Amarmani was accused of the murder but an attempt was made to cover it up. The investigation was handed over to the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department. When evidence was found against him, then CM Mayawati removed Amarmani from his ministerial post. But she also suspended two senior officers of the CBCID who had conducted the investigation.
While expelling Amarmani from post, the BSP supremo had remarked that he would be handed back the post if he was found to be innocent. The media coverage of the incident was a long and sustained one. Fingers were also pointed at the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the centre as the BJP was supporting the Mayawati government at the time.
Eventually, the investigation of the incident was handed over to the CBI which arrested four people in connection with the murder, including Amarmani and his wife Madhumani. All of the arrested were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special CBI court.
Jail and afterwards
Despite being lodged in jail, Amarmani continued to exert significant influence in his constituency. He fought the 2007 elections from prison on an SP ticket and won. Before this election an incident brought Amarmani close to Adityanath.
During a clash in January, 2007, a youth was killed and the incident quickly took a communal turn. Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini jumped into the matter and the incident escalated. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s state government arrested Adityanath. This sparked violence and arson not only in Gorakhpur but in more than a dozen districts. Adityanath remained in Gorakhpur Divisional Jail for nine days. Amarmani was in the SP at the time and was contesting the elections from Laxmipur assembly from jail.
When the news of Amarmani’s proximity to Adityanath in jail became public, the former issued a statement saying that he has been fighting communal forces throughout his life and will continue doing so. The statement was issued as he was worried that the news would upset the Muslims voters of Laxmipur. Amarmani won the elections.
After his conviction, he got his son, Amanmani Tripathi, to contest the 2012 elections. Amanmani lost. Meanwhile, Amanmani’s wife Sara Singh died in an alleged road accident. Sara’s mother accused Amanmani of murder. A case was registered against Amanmani and he was arrested. A contractor also filed a case of kidnapping and assault against Amanmani, whose list of controversies soon grew.
Following the 2012 election defeat, the family had multiple setbacks. On the orders of the Allahabad high court, Amarmani’s encroachment was removed from the Durga Oil Mill in Nautanwa. He was also about to be ordered to vacate the Gorakhpur residence, but somehow the matter was resolved.
Amanmani contested the 2017 assembly elections while in jail. His sisters Tanushree and Alankrita put up a spirited election campaign. Amanmani won the polls and was elected an MLA. Subsequently, he has appeared publicly alongside CM Adityanath quite a few times. Despite the travel ban during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanmani was found trying to get a pass issued so he could visit Badri Dham. That he was doing so on the basis of a fake letter led to a case being registered against him.
In the 18th Uttar Pradesh assembly elections held last year, he managed to get a ticket from the BSP but could not secure a win. He lost to the candidate nominated by the BJP on the symbol of the NISHAD Party, Rishi Tripathi.
So, in the 11 assembly elections held since 1980, Amarmani became MLA four times and his son, once. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Amarmani’s brother Ajitmani contested but could not win. Despite being in jail, Amarmani has kept his family connected to his constituency.
Amarmani and his wife were sentenced to life imprisonment on October 24, 2007 by a special court in Dehradun. After the sentence, they remained lodged in Haridwar Jail for about five years.
Amarmani was transferred from Haridwar to Gorakhpur Divisional Jail in May 2012. In these 10 years, he has stayed in prison only for 16 months and spent most of his term in the private ward of BRD Medical College. Madhumani was also admitted in the private ward. Irrespective of who was in power in the state, Amarmani’s stature saw no decline.
Whether it was the BSP, SP or BJP government, he has stayed in the hospital instead of jail in the name of medical treatments and has thus maintained a hold on the politics of his area. Owing to two sting operations and once on an order of the high court, he was forced to stay in jail for some time, but even then he held meetings unhindered. Those who met him in jail say that he used to make calls to officers and leaders for favours for his supporters.
Amarmani also got himself transferred from Haridwar to Gorakhpur citing appearance in hearings of cases registered in the districts of Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, etc. At one point of time, more than 40 cases were registered against him, mostly in Maharajganj. He made sure to appear in the case hearings in Maharajganj and would arrive with pomp. A hoard of people flocked to meet him. In the affidavit filed in the 2007 elections, he had provided details of six cases including murder and attempt to murder.
In 2015, the then CM Akhilesh Yadav attended a programme at the BRD Medical College. After the event was over, his vehicle was seen going towards the private ward, where he met Amarmani. A lot of effort was made to hide the news but it caught the media’s attention.
It was also rumoured that Amarmani made visits to his constituency and his residence from the private ward of BRD Medical College but this was never confirmed.
A few hours after the jail administration ordered his release on August 24 on his remission application, the District Magistrate signed the papers of necessary formalities and within 24 hours the jail administration went to BRD Medical College and completed the formalities of his release. The quickness clearly shows his level of penetration in the Adityanath government.
But the question is – what does the BJP gain from his release? Neither Amarmani nor his son nor any other relative is a member of the BJP. Yet his one-and-a-half decade long closeness to Adityanath is well known. So much so that Amanmani calls the UP chief minister his patron.
For more than four decades, the political contest in the Nautanwa assembly constituency has been between Amarmani and Akhilesh Singh. It was only in the last election that someone outside these two camps recorded a win.
The duo’s poll campaigns have been quite interesting with each of them holding rallies at the same venue simultaneously and exchanging jibes for hours. Their supporters often end up getting into brawls while FIRs are registered on behalf of both sides. Nautanwa’s Janata Chowk used to be the electoral battlefield for both the camps. Journalists are often particularly eager to cover this region for the same reason. There is no village in the entire constituency where mobilisation is not carried out by the two. The region is still witness to such face-offs.
It is opined that the BJP will use this attention and Amarmani’s political influence in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP has bagged all the nine Lok Sabha seats in Gorakhpur-Basti division previously. Of the nine MPs, four are Brahmins, one Rajput, one Dalit and three belong to backward castes. R.P.N. Singh, who was a Union minister in the Congress government in the last election, has also joined the BJP. He has been a Lok Sabha MP from Kushinagar seat. The BJP is likely to give him a ticket. There is also a possibility that three MPs will be denied tickets and the search is on for suitable candidates who will replace them. Such a scenario will open up opportunities for Amarmani and his family. Even if the party fails to find a place for him, he will prove useful for the BJP.
Harishankar Tiwari, who has been a prominent Brahmin leader in Purvanchal and was known as ‘Brahmin shiromani’ – pioneer among Brahmins – died four months ago on May 16. Both his sons Bhishma Shankar Tiwari and Vinay Shankar Tiwari as well as nephew Ganesh Shankar are politically active. Bhishma Shankar has been a two-time MP from Sant Kabir Nagar, while Vinay Shankar Tiwari became an MLA from his father’s seat in 2017 but lost the 2022 assembly elections. Bhishma Shankar also lost the Lok Sabha elections twice while Ganesh Shankar has been the chairman of the Legislative Council. The whole family was in the BSP but after the assembly elections last year all of them joined the SP.
CM Adityanath has a long-standing political enmity with the Tiwari family. Many Brahmin leaders including the Tiwari clan members are engaged in trying to replace him. Several veteran leaders across party lines mourned his death but Adityanath, notably, did not express his condolences.
It is also speculated that Amarmani will be put forth by the BJP – especially CM Adityanath – as ‘Apne Brahmin shiromani‘.
However, it will not be easy for the BJP to directly promote Amarmani or his family members because it will put it in the crosshairs of the opposition. After BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was accused of sexually assaulting female wrestlers, the move to bring forth a murder convict is likely to backfire.