By Sharat Pradhan,IANS,
Lucknow : Ever since Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati declared that her birthday Jan 15 would be observed as ‘Aarthik sahyog diwas’ (financial support day), party leaders and units across the state have been bending over backwards to ensure the collection drive for the occasion is a stupendous success.
No wonder therefore, her top official machinery was at pains to explain the conduct of the ruling party legislator Shekhar Tiwari, who allegedly lynched a Public Works Department executive engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta in Auraiya district, about 250 km from here, Wednesday.
A virtual mafia don of the area with several criminal cases pending against him, Tiwari’s alleged extortion bid to meet his assigned contribution to the birthday kitty led to Gupta’s brutal murder – a charge that Mayawati and her officials are now trying to refute.
According to party insiders, amounts for the collection drive had been specified for different level of leaders – ministers, MPs, legislators, party functionaries and even key officials. And everyone was told to ensure the ‘aarthik sahyog diwas’ is a grand success.
Opposition leaders like Samajwadi Party state chief Shivpal Yadav alleged that Mayawati had “fixed a target of Rs.1,000 crore (Rs.10 billion) for the forthcoming birthday”.
In her last stint as chief minister, when such birthday collections were first exposed, Mayawati had herself admitted at a press conference: “Yes, we collect funds on both my and Manyavar (respected) Kanshi Ram’s birthdays; my birthday has been declared as ‘aarthik sahyog diwas’. Earlier our supporters used to give me gold, silver and diamonds, but then I told them to give hard cash because one is bound to lose a lot in converting jewels into cash.”
Her virtual second-in-command and the party’s national general secretary Satish Chandra Misra is understood to be carrying out a similar drive to mobilise handsome contributions for the proposed bash Jan 15. Misra’s cousin and chairman of the State Pollution Control Board Anil Misra, who has earlier shown his skills in mobilising funds, has reportedly already got down to business, knocking on the doors of big factories, tanneries and even smaller industrial units across the state.
According to a PWD executive engineer posted in Lucknow, “extortion is the order of the day – from mantri (minister) to MLA and even influential party functionaries, everyone is busy demanding his pound of flesh, which we must shell out or face the music”.
Unwilling to be named for fear of being hounded, the official went on to add: “You get brownie points if you can go beyond the quota assigned to you and if you fail then you be prepared to be shunted out of your place of posting. So either people compromise on the quality of construction or inflate costs; after all, neither we engineers nor the concerned contractors pay money out of our pockets.”
Engineers engaged in large scale constructions currently undertaken by the Uttar Pradesh Rajkiya Nirman Nigam are understood to be providing the lion’s share to the birthday hamper.
“In fact, the extension in service to a top official of the corporation was dependent on how much contribution he could make,” quipped a senior engineer of the organization on condition of anonymity.
Traffic cops have suddenly become hyperactive in carrying out intensive checking drives in almost every district.
“I was stopped by a team of traffic cops who first demanded all papers related to my motorcycle and on my failure to produce the original papers, as I was carrying all photo-copies, they demanded Rs.300. When I pleaded that I was not carrying that much money, one cop forced his hand into my pocket to pull out my wallet and took away the 200 rupees that he could lay his hands on,” Prabhat Kumar, a sales executive in a private company, told IANS.
“Currently, the traffic police seem to have on their target either two-wheelers or smaller four-wheelers like Maruti 800, beside of course commercial vehicles, which are a source of hefty sums,” remarked Pradeep Shukla, an accountant who added: “They find one excuse or the other to extort money”.