By Sharat Pradhan
Lucknow : With Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati cracking the whip on all officials involved in allegedly forging records to accord Amitabh Bachchan "farmer" status, will the superstar also have to face criminal charges?
After Mayawati late Monday issued a directive to the administration to file criminal cases against at least five officials – district magistrate downwards – the answer could be yes.
Speculation is rife that Bachchan, who was known to be extremely close to former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, could face serious trouble.
Senior officials admitted that Bachchan might not be able escape criminal liability in the case of the agricultural land allotted to him in Barabanki by the previous regime.
"After all, the entire forgery was carried out to benefit the superstar, who cannot plead ignorance of law in this case," a top bureaucrat told IANS.
Sources in the chief minister's office said Bachchan was spared for the moment only to establish a foolproof case against him.
Last week, a Faizabad court had cancelled the Barabanki district magistrate's order whereby Bachchan's name was entered in official land records as the owner of three 'bighas' (20,000 sq ft) in Daularpur village of the district, about 35 km from here.
Faizabad Additional Commissioner Vidya Sagar Prasad ruled that entry in the land records declaring Bachchan as owner was "tampered and forged".
The court also ruled that Bachchan was "not a farmer" – as he had claimed.
The allotment, purported to have been made way back in 1983, was allegedly made by tampering with the land revenue records during the Mulayam regime. Friday's order shows the allotment was backdated.
According to government advocate Surendra Raje, this was apparently done to enable Bachchan to acquire the status of 'farmer'. Without this, the huge farmland he bought in Pune could not be transferred in his name under Maharashtra's land laws.
It was a query by the Pune collector in March 2006 to the Barabanki district magistrate, seeking authentication of the Uttar Pradesh testimonial, which opened the Pandora's box.
Then Barabanki district magistrate Ashish Goel cancelled the allotment in March 2006 on the grounds that the land revenue records had been forged.
Goel earned the wrath of both Mulayam Singh Yadav and his confidant Amar Singh and was soon given marching orders. Ram Shankar Sahu, who succeeded him, agreed to sign on the dotted line.
However, since Goel's objections had become a part of the official records that could not be destroyed, Sahu could not do much besides staying his predecessor's order and that too only "till further orders".
Bachchan sought a review of the district magistrate's order by the commissioner, hoping to get the land restored in his name.
But with elections getting announced, he could not have his way.
"That the intention of the superstar was questionable became evident from the manner in which the superstar sought to conceal his real identity by showing his name as just 'Amit' and dropping 'Bachchan' even from his father Harivansh Rai's name," alleged local lawyer L.R. Rathore.
Unfortunately for the actor, it is not an open and shut case.
According to Amir Haider, a Congress worker and owner of a petrol pump in Barabanki, who complained to the Election Commission that Jaya Bachchan did not declare the property in her returns when she was elected to Rajya Sabha last year: "There is no reason why Amitabh should not be prosecuted."
As Haider sees it, Bachchan's moves right from concealing his surname and even his father's to avoid identification and getting forgeries carried out in official records smacks of "premeditated, intentional fraud by somebody who is an idol of the country".