For parties that vow not to field and support criminals, the Gosainganj Assembly seat in Ayodhya stares out in the face.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) has fielded Abhay Singh, who has an impressive criminal background since his university days, while the BJP has fielded Aarti Tiwari, wife of another criminal MLA Khabbo Tiwari a.k.a Inder Pratap Tiwari, who is in jail.
The two clashed when their convoys crossed each other’s path last week and Abhay Singh and his men, along with supporters of Tiwari, were arrested and then released on bail.
Abhay Singh, 47, is a native of Ayodhya’s Maharajganj area. He began his career with student politics while he was in Lucknow University. Though he never contested any union elections, he managed to run up a list of 35 criminal cases on the campus.
He contested his first election on a BSP ticket from Ayodhya in 2002 and lost. In 2012, while in jail on an attempt to murder charge, he won on an SP ticket from Gosainganj. He again contested on an SP ticket from the seat in 2017 but lost to Khabbo Tiwari.
Khabbo Tiwari, 52, is a resident of Ayodhya and took a similar route to politics. He won a student union election in Saket Degree college in Ayodhya and then got elected twice as zila panchayat chairman.
In between, he was booked in criminal cases, including attempt to murder and rioting.
This is his fourth Assembly election – this time by proxy.
In 2007, he contested from Ayodhya on an SP ticket and lost to the BJP’s Lallu Singh. Then he switched over to the BSP and contested in 2012 against Abhay Singh, who was by then in the SP. In 2017, Tiwari had moved to the BJP and this time, he defeated Abhay Singh.
In 2021, Tiwari was sentenced to five years imprisonment in a 1992 forgery case by a local court and has been in jail ever since.
Ayodhya goes to the polls on March 3.