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Red carpet, in jail or out
- Madhumita minister allowed cellphone and supporters behind bars, CBI lodges protest

Lucknow, Sept. 24: The regime change in Uttar Pradesh has made no difference to former minister Amarmani Tripathi who is now in CBI custody in connection with the Madhumita Shukla murder.

Amarmani enjoyed VVIP status during Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati’s rule and continues to do so during Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Before flying the former minister to Delhi today for a week’s questioning, the CBI lodged a formal protest with the state government regarding the special treatment given to Amarmani by district jail officials in Lucknow.

The bureau has pointed out that Amarmani was allowed free use of cellphones inside the jail premises and there was no scrutiny of his visitors. The CBI feared that this could have enabled him to influence witnesses and tamper with evidence.

Amarmani reportedly continued to hold meetings with his supporters inside the jail till late on Monday. A close aide of another convicted MLA was there to welcome him and had arranged for mattresses, mineral water and fruits.

After the CBI’s complaint on Tuesday, the flow of visitors was somewhat restricted. However, Amarmani’s uncle MLA Shyam Narain Tiwari and many others who had switched sides along with Amarmani met him that day.

Uttar Pradesh government officials confirmed that the administration had received the CBI’s complaint and the deputy inspector-general (jails) had been asked to probe the matter. However, after chief minister Mulayam Singh’s public support to Amarmani, the complaint is unlikely to cause a ripple in the administration, they said.

“In a state like Uttar Pradesh where the politician-criminal nexus operates across party divides, mafia dons like him change political loyalties only too frequently. This means that they can’t act tough against any one,” said a former state police chief.

However, those who have followed Amarmani’s rising graph in state politics know that his case is different. During the last 10 years, the former minister had emerged as a trouble-shooter for the chief minister of the day.

“He is not a king maker. But he has managed to emerge as a saviour of many coalition chief ministers in Uttar Pradesh,” asserted a senior Congress member from Amarmani’s constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Amarmani helped save the Kalyan Singh government — after Mayavati broke the BSP-BJP pact in 1997 — by playing a key role in the Congress split and was awarded with a minister’s berth.

When Rajnath Singh sacked him in December 2001, Amarmani joined the BSP and emerged as Mayavati’s most trusted ally till the present BSP-BJP coalition lasted. He helped Mayavati split the Congress and lined up other MLAs for her support.

When the Mayavati government fell and Mulayam Singh needed to break the BSP to force governor Vishnu Kant Shastri to invite him to form the government, Amarmani again tilted the balance by switching sides.

Realising the former minister’s importance, Mayavati had promised to reinstate him within a month even when she was forced to drop him on May 17. Her government did not withdraw the facilities Amarmani enjoyed as a minister even after he was dropped. “I don’t wish to be unjust to Tripathi,” was the BSP leader’s reason for not expelling Amarmani from the party.

Now that Amarmani has joined the Samajwadi, Mulayam Singh is offering a similar argument. “I want the law to take its course, but I will not take any action against him till he is found guilty.” CBI officials believe the message to go soft on Amarmani went out even before Mulayam Singh came out in his support.

Some doctors at the Lucknow Medical College allegedly made sustained efforts to get him hospitalised on Sunday night when the CBI arrested him. They reportedly relented only when the CBI threatened to get a medical board flown in from Delhi to examine the former minister.

On Monday evening, when Amarmani reached the Lucknow district jail, a red carpet was rolled out for him. Jail officials allowed him to hold an impromptu durbar of slogan-shouting supporters in the jail superintendent’s office. A TV and cellphones were allegedly provided for him.

The CBI has already established that some local officials went out of their way in protecting Tripathi since Lucknow police registered the case on May 9.

“We have evidence that documents were tampered with and some state police officials tried to forge evidence and tutor witnesses,” claimed a CBI official involved in the investigation.

Bureau sources hinted that these officials might find themselves in the dock along with Tripathi on charges of destruction of evidence. The CBI has already questioned five police officials and scribes of two TV networks in this connection.

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