NEW DELHI - ‘Him,’ says Vishwanath Chaturvedi as he sips tea from a plastic cup at a roadside stall across the Supreme Court, and points his index finger up at the sky. ‘He is the one I fear and depend on.’
Chaturvedi, a one-time Congress party worker, is waging a war with the powerful Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party by his petition alleging the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh had acquired huge wealth through unfair means.
The 43-year-old lawyer has braved threats and temptations alike to continue this ‘unequal war on corruption’ through the last four years. Chaturvedi’s litigation in the Supreme Court has documented the properties acquired by Mulayam and his family which he says are worth over Rs.1 billion (Rs.100 crores).
On the directives of the apex court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is inquiring into his charges. ‘I call it unequal battle only to the extent that they have the money and the muscle. But I have courage,’ Chaturvedi told IANS, with a glint in his eyes.
‘There are property registration documents with the photographs of the acquirers. They (Yadav’s lawyers) want an in-camera trial. Why should they get this facility? Because they are big shots?’ he asks.
‘But I have agreed even to this. I have confidence in my fool-proof investigation. They want in-camera trial, fine; they want some judicial inquiry, I am ready. Let them try what they can,’ Chaturvedi says in a flat even voice.
Born in a farmer’s family in Shivgarh village of Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli district, which is also in the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Chaturvedi hid himself in ‘non-descript’ guesthouses in Delhi for two years after he started receiving threats back home in Lucknow.
‘I didn’t dare to step out of Lutyens’ Delhi till I finally got them,’ Chaturvedi recounted, pointing at the two armed security guards given to him by the government on the Supreme Court’s directive.
Now he lives in Delhi’s Rajendra Nagar area and his family joined in recently. He has three children, including a daughter, and his eldest son is 13 years old.
‘I cannot forget June 6, 2006, when three truckloads of PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) jawans descended on my house in Lucknow’s Ashiana area,’ the bespectacled lawyer says.
He continues: ‘My family was ordered to move out and they threw away my furniture and stuff. It was only when I alerted the media that they left; then I got a stay order from the high court.’
‘Not only this,’ he says, ‘they constructed a huge concrete wall right in front of my house in our village. The road leading to my house was blocked.’ Besides, he says, a ration shop of a relative of his was forced to shut down.
‘I wrote three dozen letters to the state government but they didn’t provide me any security.’
The petition against the influential Samajwadi Party leader is not the only one that has been filed by Chaturvedi - who contested the state assembly elections on the Congress ticket in 2002 and lost to the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh.
His first public interest litigation in 2003 was about a ‘Rs.1,200 crore (Rs.12 billion) fertiliser subsidy scam’, which is still pending in the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. This was followed by a petition before the Lok Ayukta the next year, alleging bungling in the state’s mid-day meal scheme.
In 2005, the high court ordered a CBI inquiry in response to his petition alleging a ‘foodgrains scam’. Along with this, another petition filed the same year alleging fraudulent allotments of plots by the Lucknow Development Authority is pending in the Supreme Court.
He smiles when asked how he managed to investigate so many issues single-handedly. ‘It’s just that I have a trade union background and I am a lawyer.’
And where does he get the money to fight these cases? He says: ‘I am a lawyer and I do have some clients to run my show. Secondly, from our agricultural land in my village, I earn some Rs.4 lakh (Rs.400,000) a year. What do you need to live? Food twice a day, that’s it.
‘I left the Congress after I lost the elections, realising that to succeed in politics, you need a long car and a thick gold chain around your neck. That was not my idea or the reason to join politics,’ he says.
Chaturvedi was a student leader in Lucknow before he joined the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) as its state secretary in 1994 to later becoming the spokesperson of a federation of trade unions to protest against privatisation of state-owned sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh by the then BJP government.
He claims he has no political support. ‘Support? I ran away from Lucknow thinking Delhi is safe haven. Delhi is dangerous - in the name of support, people were using me. I am alone with Him,’ says Chaturvedi as he points his finger to the sky again.
(Darshan Desai can be contacted at email@example.com)