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India Today
October 26, 1998


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S P SHUKLA
Criminal's Bedfellows

The Special Task Force establishes evidence of the slain don's links with politicians.

By Subhash Misra

Bucking the LawThere is a spectre haunting Uttar Pradesh politics today. The spectre of Shri Prakash Shukla. Three weeks ago, there was euphoria in political and police circles after the state Special Task Force (STF) -- set up in April to capture or liquidate dreaded criminals -- gunned down the gangster. The euphoria has now given way to apprehension. After painstaking investigation, the STF has come up with startling evidence of Shukla's political connections: at least eight ministers of the Kalyan Singh Cabinet, over a dozen MLAs, former MLAs, MPs and former MPs and several IPS and IAS officers, some even holding sensitive posts, had colluded with Shukla, helping him to execute his operations or even evade the police dragnet.

According to a report submitted to Chief Minister Kalyan Singh by an STF officer -- a copy of which is in the possession of India Today -- Shukla was often given shelter at the official residences of some ministers of Kalyan's Government who reside in high-security areas of the state capital like Kalidas Marg, Mall Avenue and Mantri and Vidhayak Awas colonies. The STF also has in its possession tape-recorded evidence of the calls made by Shukla and his gang members from these premises. "A few of the ministers," says a member of the STF speaking on the condition of anonymity, "were themselves acting as members of Shukla's gang." Not only did they keep their official residences, telephones and cars at Shukla's disposal, they also interfered with the administration "to insulate him from any police attack". And worse, many even extracted "protection money" from Shukla for the various favours granted.

DUBIOUS CONNECTIONS
The STF report lists several politicians with whom Shukla was in touch. They include:

Prabha Diwedi, Minister for Labour Welfare
"Shukla spoke to her many times, visited her residence also."

Amarmani Tripathi, Animal Husbandry Minister
"He used influence for drug supply contract for Shukla's brothers."

Ramapati Shastri, Health Minister
"Strict surveillance should be maintained on him."

Markandey Chand, Minister for Minor Irrigation
"There is need to maintain a vigil around his official residence."

Jai Narain Tewari, Public Enterprises Minister
"He gave shelter to Shukla. Shukla also phoned him at his flat."

Sunder Singh Baghel, Dairy Development Minister (sacked)
"Shukla spoke on phone no. 238006 which belongs to Baghel."

Shiv Pratap Shukla, Minister for Jails
"Strict vigilance should be kept on him."

Jitendra Kumar Jaiswal, Culture Minister
"The police had intercepted his official car while chasing Shukla."

R.K. Chaudhary, Former minister
"Shukla tried contacting him. Not known if he was entertained."

Madan Singh, MLC
"Madan Singh was the most notorious harbourer of Shukla."

Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, Former MP
"Shukla was in permanent contact with Brijbhushan Sharan Singh."

Akhilesh Singh, MLA
"Strict vigilance should be maintained on the MLA."

Sher Bahadur Singh, MLA
"Shukla frequently visited his house. Vigilance should be kept on him."

Rambir Upadhyay, MLA
"Surveillance should be maintained on the MLA ."

Ashtbhuja Shukla, Former MP
"Strict surveillance should be maintained on the former MP."

Dilip Singh, MLA
"Shukla was in contact with the MLA from Bihar."

A ruthless, unchallenged don whose writ extended beyond Uttar Pradesh to large parts of Bihar and the underworld in Delhi, Shukla was often sought out by local politicians to settle political scores. A few days before he was killed by the STF outside an apartment complex in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of Delhi, Shukla is reported to have told a senior Uttar Pradesh police officer on the phone, "Mera sapna hai ki is pure desh mein apna ekchhatra bol bala ho (my ambition is to become the Number One don in this country)."

In crime-infested Uttar Pradesh, there are hundreds who, like Shukla, started out as small-time criminals. But few could boast of a rise that was as meteoric as his. Shukla was said to have been no more than 25 (police records do not list his age) when he met his gruesome end but had carved a niche for himself, thanks both to the brazen manner of his operations and the political patronage that he enjoyed. For long, politicians and the bureaucracy helped him dodge the dragnet that the police had prepared for him. His gang is said to have been the best-equipped in the state and though he operated mainly from Lucknow, Shukla had built up a formidable network of contacts across the country. Informers in the Government, police as well as friends in high political circles ensured that he was able to operate with ease even in the well-policed areas of Lucknow.

"He had the support of at least 40 government officials including IAS and IPS officers and lower-rank policemen," says a senior police official from the state. That perhaps explains why the STF took more than five months to track down and finally eliminate Shukla. By the time that happened, the team had spent Rs 1 crore, covered nearly 1,00,000 km, flying between Patna, Delhi and Lucknow or scouting in Tata Sumos through the three states. Often they got close but Shukla always managed to give them the slip. On one occasion, the police intercepted the official car of state Culture Minister Jitendra Kumar Jaiswal on a tip-off that Shukla was in it. "Some persons managed to jump out of the car and when we searched the car, only the minister was there," says a police officer, adding that the identity of those who escaped is still a mystery.

In another incident, the police raided the official residence of Public Enterprises Minister Jai Narain Tewari after receiving information that Shukla had been given shelter there but by the time they reached, he is said to have made his getaway. The STF report notes that "Tewari gave shelter to Shri Prakash Shukla. Shukla has also telephoned him at his Darul Shafa flat." More recently, during investigation into the Kunal Rastogi kidnapping case -- in which Shukla is said to have taken a ransom of Rs 5 crore -- the car used in the abduction was tracked to a service station in the state capital. Police officials later learnt that the booking at the service station had been made from the residence of Amarmani Tripathi, the former youth welfare minister who was given the more lucrative portfolio of animal husbandry last week. Referring to this connection, the report says, "Shukla was in permanent contact with Tripathi who had used his influence to secure a drug contract in favour of the brothers of Shri Prakash Shukla."

Operation Shukla was perhaps the biggest offensive that the state police had undertaken in recent years. Bugging devices were employed to track down the don's telephone conversations. With the help of the Department of Telecommunications and private cellular companies, they were able to intercept and record the conversations -- on fixed, cordless and cellular phones -- with politicians, bureaucrats and underworld links. But somehow Shukla always managed to stay one step ahead.

As the force discovered, Shukla was able to afford for himself safe sanctuaries in the residences of ministers. Among those who offered him shelter was Madan Singh, Congress MLC, at No. 504 in the Old Councillor's Building in Lucknow. Police also have evidence to show that "Shukla spoke to (ministers) Tewari and Prabha Diwedi and used their official telephones for conversations". He frequently used the telephone belonging to the Dairy Development Minister Sunder Singh Baghel who was sacked last week.

Kalyan SinghThere was nowhere that Shukla's long hand did not reach, not even the state's prisons. The report states that Minister of State for Jails Shiv Pratap Shukla had from time to time helped the gangster by shifting honest and upright officers from jails where his gang members were lodged. Sometimes even criminals were shuffled between jails. The don's brother, Om Prakash, for instance, was arbitrarily shifted to the Farrukhabad Jail from Gorakhpur even though jail officials had made no such recommendation, prompting the STF to note that "strict vigilance" should be kept on the minister.

Ramapati Shastri

" I do not even know who Shri Prakash Shukla's enemies are."
Rampati Shastri,
Health Minister

Also under the STF's scrutiny is Health Minister Ramapati Shastri, who faces charges of removing several medical officers at the behest of the Shukla gang in Gorakhpur and Azamgarh districts to facilitate awarding of medical supplies contracts to Shukla's brothers.

Shukla's expertise in contract killings is also believed to have brought many politicians to him. Among them, the STF believes, is Prabha Diwedi. The widow of slain BJP leader Brahm Dutt Diwedi and her nephews are said to have met Shukla more than once to discuss avenging Brahm Dutt's murder. According to records available with the STF, Shukla had even visited her Mall Avenue bungalow.

A fall-out of the new-found friendship with Diwedi was the targeting of BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj by the Shukla gang. Maharaj was an arch rival of the minister's late husband and police believe it was for this reason that Maharaj started crying foul that Shukla had been given a contract of Rs 5 crore by "some BJP leaders" to kill Kalyan Singh. And it was this revelation from the MP that saw the police stepping up operations which finally led to Shukla's killing.

Prabha Diwedi

" It's only a political conspiracy to tarnish the image of my family."
Prabha Diwedi,
Labour Welfare Minister

At one stage, continues the report, a senior Congress leader from Pratapgarh was also "seriously" considering eliminating his arch rival, Minister for Programme Implementation Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya by hiring Shukla. There is evidence that Shukla used the telephone at the Congressman's official residence. But once the Congress leader heard from his sources in the police that he was under suveillance by the STF, he developed cold feet and reportedly stopped entertaining Shukla.

Shukla's tentacles reached across the state's boundaries. In Bihar, a senior politician hired the services of Shukla to eliminate one of his rivals. Minister Brij Bihari was in a private ward of a hospital and eight commandos were posted outside his room to ensure his security. But Shukla hoodwinked the security, burst into the ward and sprayed bullets from his AK-47, killing Bihari on the spot. He then made a getaway which was as swift as his arrival. Shukla had also liquidated Ajit Sarkar, MLA from Motihari, in a similar fashion.

So close had his involvement with politicians become that soon Shukla began to entertain dreams of becoming one himself, even contesting elections. Police believe that he targeted Minister for Science and Technology Hari Shankar Tewari precisely for this reason. Tewari won elections from the Chillupur Assembly constituency which has the highest percentage of Brahmin voters in the state and Shukla earnestly believed that if he could eliminate Tewari, the constituency would be his. Ajit Singh, a BJP MLC from Lucknow, was among the others on Shukla's hit-list. since he considered Singh, a railway contractor, his business rival.

Amarmani Tripathi

" I welcome the police probe. But I had no links with Shukla."
Amarmani Tripathi,
Animal Husbandary Minister

Shukla's rise up the crime ladder and the way he managed to avoid the long arm of the law are only symptomatic of the politician-criminal nexus that has long plagued the state. Uneducated young men with no hopes of earning an honest livelihood take the short cut to success through crime. Once there, they link up with politicians, enjoy their patronage and even begin to take to politics themselves. Some have even gone on to become MLAs or ministers. Admits Ajay Raj Sharma, additional director-general of police: "Those wanted by the law have begun to lay down the law. We won't be surprised if one day we see some of these men surrounded by Black Cats."

Strangely, while the STF report attempts to provide evidence to back the dubious Shukla-politician link, Kalyan Singh is yet to initiate action on the report. "In fact in August," says a disappointed STF member, "when the chief minister called us and scolded us for not being able to liquidate Shukla, we put up a file on his table containing names of his ministers and other politicians who were colluding directly or indirectly with the notorious gangster. The chief minister just took a look at it and returned it to us."

To date, no written orders have been issued by the Government to further investigate the matter. As a police official points out, the STF has started transcribing the recorded conversations between Shukla's gang members and the various politicians so that it can prepare a conclusive case against those named in the report. Some of the ministers and others may be interrogated soon to gather more information on the nexus, according to the official. Beyond that, however, he sees no hope.

The politicians may be in a spot but they also know that chief ministers leading minority governments baulk at taking action that most administrators would consider normal.

DARING DEVIL

ShuklaHe loved driving the latest cars, had several girlfriends, and was fond of flashy clothes. But what really made the dreaded hitman Shri Prakash Shukla stand out in the underworld was his meticulous planning and the dare-devil manner in which he carried out his grim business. He would research his target down to the minutest detail before striking, combining the cunning of the fox with the studied brutality of the tiger. The killing of Bihar minister Brij Bihari in broad daylight, despite the posse of eight commandos guarding him, is but an indication of the determined mind that guided Shukla.

Shukla always led the attack himself, firing indiscriminately till the victim collapsed. A perfectionist to the core, he would then walk up to the bleeding mass and fire point blank just to ensure that the job was complete.

ManjuThe youngest son of an army jawan from Yamkhor village in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh, Shukla had his first brush with the law in 1993 when he killed a youth who had teased his sister. Then known as Ashok Singh, he escaped the police dragnet and joined the Suraj Bhan gang in Bihar. Within five years, the new recruit would become one of the most dreaded underworld figures in the cowbelt. Within five years he would also be dead, shot by members of a Special Task Force in Ghaziabad just after he finished chatting with his moll in Gorakhpur.

By all accounts, Shukla was a cunning man. He would frequently change his vehicle, toggling between the sleek Esteem and the classy Cielo almost every fortnight. What others saw as a penchant for the latest cars was just a ploy to throw the police off his tracks.

And he was daring, getting his hair cut at a saloon in the bustling Hazratganj market in Lucknow even as gun-toting goons stood guard outside. But it was cautious bravado: to avoid a close shave with the police, he changed the SIM card in his cellphone every time he used the gizmo to avoid detection.

That was necessary, considering that the police were tapping the phones of his contacts to nab him. As it turned out, Shukla understood technology well enough to use it to his advantage. To talk to his contacts or negotiate the ransom with the family of his victims, he used to call up a PCO in Nepal, which then connected him back to Lucknow to hoodwink the police. Often, Shukla used this route to hold teleconferences with the families of victims and his own henchmen.

Coming from a region where the line dividing politics and crime is a very fuzzy one, it was hardly surprising that Shukla also nurtured his own political ambitions. The hitman wanted to contest assembly elections from the Brahmin-dominated Chillupur constituency.

But that required large sums of money, and Shukla was trying to rustle up just that weeks before he was killed. He had planned to kidnap the son of Sahara India chief Subrata Roy and prise out a record Rs 25 crore in ransom. Shri Prakash Shukla failed to set this ignoble record but his name has still gone down in the annals of the Indian underworld.

-Subhash Mishra and Javed M Ansari

 

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