A look at the politicisation of crime and its inroads into literature.

In the bygone era, India had important political leaders who were masters of the art of possibility as well as wordsmiths of great ability. Some of them like Sampoornanand, Acharya Narendra Dev, Seth Govind Das, Kanhaiyalal Maniklal Munshi, C. Rajagopalachari and Ram Manohar Lohia made their mark as creative writers as well as serious political thinkers who made effective use of the written word.

There were hundreds of others who might not have been important leaders but were active in politics and emerged as significant writers in their languages. Sajjad Zahir, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Yashpal, Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’, Ramvilas Sharma, Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’, Nagarjun, Muktibodh, Namwar Singh and many others made their mark in this respect. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had received widespread acclaim for their masterly English prose and both penned their autobiographies.

Later, the number of those who were active in both politics and literature dwindled but writers retained their keen interest in political and ideological issues. The post-1967 years that witnessed the emergence of the Naxalite movement were also full of ideological-political debates that frequently turned into keenly fought skirmishes. Pro-Naxal poets in Hindi like Alokdhanwa wrote fiery poems such as “Goli Dago Poster” (Fire Bullet Poster) and gave out clarion calls for taking up the gun, but most poets and fiction writers themselves led peaceful middle-class lives although remaining political active in accordance with their differing political beliefs. Even in other languages such as Telugu, poets like Shri Shri, Gadar or Varvara Rao openly sympathised with the Naxal cause but themselves did not take part in their violent political activities.

Over the last several decades, criminalisation of politics has been a widespread phenomenon all over the country and the sprawling Hindi-speaking region has also had its more than fair share. However, a new phenomenon has started taking shape and its ramifications are not yet clear. This is the phenomenon of politicisation of crime and, like its precursor; this too is being lauded by many of those who matter. Social justice a la’ Robin Hood is being hailed as a game changer as political processes and systems faileto deliver. Politicians with a criminal reputation have started to enter the portals of literature and are being eagerly welcomed by influential voices from the world of politics as well as literature. Recently, this trend was reaffirmed when the autobiography of Pappu Yadav, a Bihar politician who spent many years in jail on account of being charged with the murder of a Marxist MP Ajit Sarkar, was released with great fanfare at an impressive function in the Capital. Pappu Yadav, also known as Rajesh Ranjan Yadav, has been acquitted by Patna High Court but is not yet free of the taint as the CBI is proceeding to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

He has penned his memoirs as “Drohkal Ka Pathik” (Traveller of the Betraying Times) and the book was released in the presence of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Lok Janshakti Party president Ramvilas Paswan, filmmaker Muzaffar Ali and Hindi critic Namwar Singh. Namwar Singh, who is supposed to be the biggest Marxist critic on the Hindi literary scene these days, is reported to have said while singing paeans for Pappu Yadav: “I salute him”. Not to remain content with this, he went on to praise him for doing something that even Sardar Patel could not do, i.e., writing his autobiography as if it was a virtue in itself. Interestingly, he did not say anything about the quality of Pappu Yadav’s writing.

If one were to accept his logic, Pappu Yadav would have to be hailed as greater than Rabindranath Tagore or Subhash Chandra Bose because, like the Sardar, they too never wrote their autobiographies. Supporters of Pappu Yadav can turn around and say that if a dacoit could become Valmiki, why can’t he become a writer? In this context, his being an OBC is also being highlighted. It rings as hollow as Tarun Tejpal’s claim that his “secular” campaigns against the BJP should be taken into account before forming an opinion about his alleged crime.