Nautanva (UP): Some 85 km from Gorakhpur is Nautanva, a Vidhan Sabha constituency in Maharajganj district of eastern Uttar Pradesh. But unlike the other odd 400 constituencies of the state, it stands out.
An entirely different political narrative is of major importance here — being behind bars is a 'badge of honour' for a politician. And this time around, trying to uphold this 'honour' and the political dominance of their family are two sisters.
Tanumani and Alankrita are now the face of their brother Amanmani Tripathi’s campaign, who is contesting as an undertrial in his wife’s murder case. Their father, Amarmani, is serving time in a murder case.
Geographically the last constituency of the state, Nautanva ends at the Sonauli border with Nepal. But more than this tag, it's the political mood here which makes it a distinct case study. Nautanva seems to have a soft-corner for jailed politicians.
If in the mid-80s it was Virendra Shahi who won the election from behind bars, it has been former MLA and minister Amarmani Tripathi who continues to dominate the political spectrum despite being jailed following conviction for the murder of poetess Madhumita Shukla.
This time around, its Amarmani's son Amanmani who is contesting the electoral battle from behind bars as an undertrial in the murder case of his wife, Sarah.
And it's Aman's sisters Tanumani and Alankrita who are now the face of his campaign. With their brother, father and mother being in jail, the two sisters are campaigning on ground, hitting the dusty bylanes and villages, seeking votes for their brother and support for their family.
While Alankrita, a textile designer by profession, is younger than Aman, Tanu, in her late twenties, is the elder one. A Masters in International Studies, Tanu had left her job in London and came back to help out the family.
When News 18 caught up with the two sisters on February 28, it was already their third public meeting of the day at Adda Bazzar in Nautanva. Talking to News 18, Tanumani said, “It's the first time we had been forced to lead the campaign. Our entire family is behind bars. We are in the people's court to seek justice.”
Asked how it feels to be the face of a tainted family in this competitive political battle, Alankrita says, “The people of our constituency see us as their sisters. Our brother has been framed in a false case. We are fighting the legal battle, but we look forward to the verdict from the people of Nautanva.”
While Amarmani contested and won from behind bars in 2007, his son Amanmani had contested as an SP candidate in 2012 and was defeated by Congress's Munna Singh by a slender margin of 4,000 votes. This time around, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav denied him a party ticket after he was accused in the alleged murder of his wife, Sarah Singh, and subsequently arrested by the CBI.
The denial of a ticket might have come as a setback, but clearly it’s not the end of the road for the political ambitions of this family. A generic discussion with locals gives a sense how the Robin Hood image of former minister Amarmani still has deep roots in the region.
An old political associate of the Tripathis, Jheena Pradhan, describes it this way, “The people of Nautanva have a different mood. Being behind bars is a badge of honour and symbol of resistance in this part of the world… Nautanva has stood by its leaders right from Veerendra Shahi to Amarmani and will now support Amanmani,” he says, amid applause from those standing by.
For many here, murder charges and conviction is more the proof of political victimisation. And it is this which still makes the tainted Tripathi familiy a force to reckon with in this area. Professor Harsh Kumar, of Gorakhpur University, who is also a freelance journalist says, “The lack of development and prevalent poverty in eastern UP has been a fertile ground for such political clout. When the system doesn't work, it’s the Robin Hood-style leaders who are the biggest system.”
So, while it was Virendra Shahi in 80s or Hari Shankar Tiwari till recently in Gorakhpur, it's Amarmani and Mukhtar Ansari at the moment. Both are trying to hold their say from behind bars. While Mukhtar is himself a BSP candidate from Mau, Amarmani is trying to call the shots for his son Amanmani from Nautanva.