The UPA's candidate for President, Pranab Mukherjee, broke bread yesterday in Lucknow with not just the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Samajwadi Party head Mulayam Singh Yadav. Present at the grand lunch, among the many politicians and hangers-on, were two MLAs who are in jail on criminal charges.
Mukhtar Ansari, an Independent MLA supported by the ruling Samajwadi Party, and Vijay Mishra of the SP are only released to attend Assembly proceedings. Both are at present residents of government hospitals and are brought to the Assembly in ambulances. They are supposed to go right back after House proceedings, no other outings are allowed.
But yesterday, when the UP administration had pulled out all stops to welcome Mr Mukherjee and all roads in the state capital seemed to lead to the CM's 5 Kalidas Marg residence, the ambulances drove up too and the two MLAs had lunch with the man who could be the next President of India.
Mukhtar Ansari is an accused in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanad Rai and is currently staying at the Medical College in Lucknow pleading hypertension. Vijay Mishra has been accused of attacking BSP leader Nanad Kumar Nandi. He too occupies a bed at a government hospital these days on health grounds.
Their presence did not go unnoticed. Swami Prasad Maurya of the BSP said, "Such people were seen at 5 Kalidas Marg who have been allowed only to attend Assembly proceedings. They should have returned thereafter as they are not allowed to roam in the city. These MLAs have broken the law."
The lunch party for Mr Mukherjee was reportedly a chaotic affair, much in contrast to the dinner that former Chief Minister and BSP chief Mayawati hosted for him last night. Officials went into an overdrive after the Chief Minister decided to host the visiting leader and invitations and the menu were reportedly planned with great care. But there were reportedly a number of gatecrashers.
This newest controversy only gets added to a list that seems to be growing. Only yesterday, UP's 39-year-old CM was sharply criticised for proposing that MLAs who do not have a car of their own should be allowed to buy one using state funds to tour and survey work in their constituencies. Following fierce criticism, the Chief Minister however did a U-turn today and said, "I take back the decision of giving money for buying cars."
The controversial move would have allowed legislators in Uttar Pradesh to buy a car worth Rs. 20 lakh. This meant a whopping Rs. 81 crore would have been spent if all 403 MLAs in the state would have decided to buy cars. The SP's Azam Khan had hastened to clarify yesterday that the proposal was meant only for those MPs who did not have cars of their own. But the CM's proposal was followed by an increase in the constituency development fund for all UP MLAs by Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 1.5 crore a year.
Mr Yadav had proposed that the money to buy a car would come from that development fund which each MLA gets for his constituency. If implemented, this would have meant that the money to be used for schools, hand-pumps, roads and other developmental activity would be spent on luxury cars. Mr Yadav had also proposed that cars could be returned to the government after five years or be bought by the MLA at a depreciated value.
Most political leaders had said "no thank you."
According to reports, the Akhilesh Yadav government is already struggling with funds for its populist schemes like free laptops tablets and an unemployment allowance for the youth.