For anyone who knows politics in Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep Sengar, the expelled BJP MLA from Unnao, is not an exception but a rule. He belongs to a tribe of politicians, which is found in every political party and is indispensable in times of crisis. This brand of politicians have money and muscle power in ample measure and work as backroom boys for top politicians.
The trend began in 1997 and has grown stronger with every passing year. It was in 1997 when Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati suddenly pulled out of her coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), leaving the then Kalyan Singh government in the lurch.
At that time, Raghuraj Pratap Singh a.k.a Raja Bhaiyya, an independent MLA, came out to help the government survive. He used his connections to split the Congress and the BSP and save the Kalyan Singh government.
Most of the legislators who walked out of the Congress and the BSP then were, needless to add, Thakurs. The BJP returned the favour by appointing all of them as ministers.
Raja Bhaiyya, once called 'Kunda (his constituency) ka gunda' by then chief minister Kalyan Singh, thus became a cabinet minister in his very own government.
Others who came in from the underworld and became ministers included Hari Shankar Tiwari and Amar Mani Tripathi among others. The trend gained ground further when Mayawati, once again, pulled out of the coalition with the BJP in 2003 and Mulayam Singh Yadav was invited to form government even though he lacked numbers.
This time, Raja Bhaiyya, from inside the jail (he had been booked under Prevention of Terrorism Act [POTA] by Mayawati), Akhilesh Singh and Amar Mani Tripathi helped in splitting the BSP to add up to Mulayam's numbers.
Mulayam Singh brazenly told reporters: "Amar Mani ne desh bachaya, pradesh bachaya. (Amar Mani saved the country, saved the state)." A month later, Amar Mani was arrested by the CBI for the murder of poetess Madhumita Shukla.
Raja Bhaiyya was, again, appointed cabinet minister after being released from jail. In 2008, during the Mayawati regime, it was another set from the same tribe of politicians that took over. Shekhar Tiwari, a BSP MLA lynched a government engineer when he refused to give money for the chief minister's birthday celebrations.
Purshottam Naresh Dwiwedi was booked for kidnapping and raping a Dalit girl in Banda. Though Mayawati made sure that the erring legislators were arrested, those who remained outside continued with activities like illegal mining and government contracts etc.
In 2012, when Akhilesh Yadav came to power, he made a conscious effort to maintain a distance from criminals and denial of ticket to D.P. Yadav was the first such instance.
Akhilesh Yadav also made Raja Bhaiyya resign from his ministerial position in 2013 when he was named in the murder of a DSP in Pratapgarh. Later, when he got a clean chit form the CBI, Raja Bhaiyya was back in the Akhilesh cabinet.
The Akhilesh coterie, however, did not mind the presence of other criminal-politicians like Abhay Singh and Tej Narain Pandey. But in 2016, when Shivpal Yadav announced the merger of Qaumi Ekta Dal with the Samajwadi Party (SP) that the cracks started appearing in the SP.
The Qaumi Ekta Dal was a party floated by Mukhtar Ansari and his brother Afzal Ansari, a former SP MP. Mukhtar Ansari had been booked for the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005 and was recently acquitted of the charge.
Going against his uncle, Akhilesh made sure that the merger was cancelled and this paved the way for the crisis that the party faced in the subsequent months.
The Ansari brothers have since joined the BSP and in a twist of fate, Akhilesh Yadav ended up campaigning for Afzal Ansari in Ghazipur during the recent Lok Sabha elections, for which his party tied up with the BSP. Afzal Ansari is now a BSP MP.
Explaining the phenomenon, a veteran Samajwadi Party (SP) leader said: "The trend of 'Bahubali' began in UP politics much before the film of the same name was released. Every political leader uses such elements because it is convenient. If something goes wrong, the criminal-turned-politician gets blamed and if all goes well, then the leaders lick the cream. Raja Bhaiyya was untouchable for the BJP when he was called 'Kunda ka gunda', but when he cobbled up a majority for the party, he became a cabinet minister."
A retired DGP said political parties were to be blamed if criminals were gaining ground in state politics. "These criminals are important members of political parties and the police are naturally wary of being harsh on them for obvious reasons. It is now that the focus of the media has become so strong that political leaders shy away from coming out to support their proteges," he said.