February 18, 2002



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The Election Interview/Munni Devi

'I don't have an identity of my own'

Munni Devi is the kid sister of Phoolan Devi. And everywhere she goes in Mirzapur she exhorts the crowd to help her get justice for her slain sister, and expose the 'conspiracy' of the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Election 2002

Mulayam Singh Yadav, after cuddling her, suddenly left her [Munni Devi] high and dry, she says, till Kalyan Singh and his Rashtriya Krantikari Dal came to her rescue.

Now fighting the likes of the Congress party's Rajeshpati Tripathi, grandson of the late Congress stalwart Kamalapati Tripathi, and a hostile Samajwadi Party, which refuses to even acknowledge that Phoolan Devi was one of its stars not so long ago, Munni Devi finds the odds stacked against her.

But fighting her way through fiery speeches reminiscent of her fire-and-brimstone sister, she seems to have a single agenda -- a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the murder of Phoolan Devi.

In a freewheeling interview with R Swaminathan, Munni Devi spoke at length on her pet obsession. Some excerpts:

How do people perceive you? Do they see you as Phoolan Devi's sister or do they recognise you as Munni Devi?

No, no... people see me as Phoolan Devi's sister only. I don't have an identity of my own and I am happy when people say that it doesn't matter if one Phoolan is killed, there is another one [Munni Devi] emerging.

Who could have killed Phoolan Devi?

I think it is a deep-rooted conspiracy played out by the government. I say that because if the government wanted -- both the central government and the state government -- it could have ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the murder. But then, neither the BJP nor the Samajwadi Party nor the Congress party demanded a CBI probe into the killing.

Phoolan's murder was a political assassination. All the parties were afraid of a CBI probe because then their conspiracy would have come to light. The investigation into the case has been deliberately slowed down due to political pressure.

When Phoolan died, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and general secretary Amar Singh promised you all help. What happened after that?

Both of them were the first ones to call Phoolan a beti [daughter] of the Samajwadi Party. But after calling her a beti, they did not even bother to look us up, her family, even once. And both of them are so selfish that they brought the body of Phoolan Devi to Mirzapur for cremation, despite our objections. Both of them were looking for political gain. In fact Mulayam said, "How can we allow Phoolan's cremation to take place in Delhi? Our fight is with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and we will take Phoolan to Mirzapur."

After taking her body throughout Mirzapur to gain the support of the people, they vanished the very next day, and they haven't visited the constituency after that. And the best part is that as soon as the cremation got over, both Mulayam and Amar Singh made a public announcement that Munni Devi would be the new leader. Now, they have gone back on their words. In fact, Mulayam has given the ticket to Ram Rati Bhind. And he is so cunning that he has made sure that some from the Bhind community [Phoolan and Munni Devi's community] stood against me.

After Mulayam Singh Yadav left you, there were reports that Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party had approached you.

No, no, there is no truth in it. In fact, we are more angry with Mayawati because she had issued a warrant against Phoolan during her tenure as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati had sent almost 50 police officers to Delhi to arrest Behenji [Phoolan]. I remember Behenji was so terrified during that period that she asked one of her supporters to rent a house in Chittaranjan Park and hid in that house for almost a month. So with Mayawati we have a saamp-nevla ka hisaab [snake-mongoose equation]. Even if she had offered us her support, we would have rejected it.

So how did you get Kalyan Singh's support?

When she was killed, Kalyan Singhji immediately said that a conspiracy was involved. That's when I felt that maybe Kalyan Singh would help in getting justice. When I went to him he said that the government will not give you justice. You go to the people and they will give you justice.

What do you think are your chances of winning the election?

There are a lot of rich candidates in the constituency. The poor people are constantly terrorised by them. And there is this mentality among the people that if you touch the feet of the rich then maybe they will help. Yes, the poor people will be forced to vote for the rich candidates, but then I am the sister of Phoolan Devi. I have gone to so many villages where the first hand pump was installed by Behenji. Even today there is so much poverty. I have seen women with just one piece of cloth to cover themselves.

Let someone like Rajeshpati Tripathi come out of his air-conditioned car and air-conditioned house to see the situation. It is very easy to talk about world peace in a luxurious house. In fact, Rajeshpati is the biggest terrorist. If the poor people vote for rich candidates, it is only due to terror. The poor people need to be uplifted. Right now, they just know to touch the feet and fold their hands in front of rich people.

It seems that the government has also made you vacate Phoolan's MP quarters.

Arrey, they [the estate officers] came and threw all our belongings out. This is all part of the same conspiracy that killed Phoolan Devi. The jittery BJP government realised that Phoolan Devi after her death is an even bigger leader than when she was alive. And when they came to know that I would be filing my nomination from Mirzapur, they threw us out.

Did you try contacting leaders like Mulayam?

They did not even give us one day to vacate, and when I phoned Mulayam Singh's house, his personal assistant Kapoor said this was bound to happen and there is nothing that we can do about it. He also refused to allow me to talk to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh. Now tell me, if Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh had wanted they could have stopped the eviction. There are so many VIPs living illegally in government houses in Delhi. Why single us out? The entire thing smacks of a deep-rooted conspiracy.

Who do you think were involved in the conspiracy to kill Phoolan?

Umed Singh [Phoolan's husband] had a big role to play.

But he went on a hunger strike demanding a CBI probe.

That was just a drama for the media and people, so that he could hide his complicity. But from what I have seen, the biggest tormentor of Phoolan Devi was Umed Singh. During Phoolan's last days he tormented her very badly.

What did he do?

First he told my sister that he is single and got married to her, and only later did Behenji realise that he had another wife. In reality Umed Singh had married Phoolan for her money and political clout. And when Umed saw that Phoolan wasn't willing to give up her family, he got angry and started shouting at her to throw us out. He used to point at me and tell Phoolan that I had no place in the house and should go to my in-laws' house.

When Phoolan got Rs 50 lakh, she put it in Umed Singh's account as she herself did not have one. But when the bank letter came indicating that the money had reached the account and the interest accrued from the amount would go to Sunita [Umed Singh's first wife], Phoolan thought that the bank authorities had made a mistake. It was only when she went to the bank that she came to know that Umed Singh had another wife.

After that, there always used to be a fight between Behenji and Umed Singh. For seven long years they fought. They were so many times that Umed Singh had tried to kill Phoolan Devi. The fear was so much that she used to sleep in a separate bedroom.

You were at home when Phoolan Devi was shot dead. What happened?

I was making lunch for her in the afternoon as she was expected to come home straight from Parliament. In fact, when she was having her breakfast early in the morning, Uma Kashyap [then general secretary of the Ekalayva Sena, a dalit outfit floated by Phoolan Devi] and Sher Singh Rana alias Pankaj [currently in jail on charges of murdering Phoolan Devi] came home. Both of us were surprised why they were there so early in the morning.

What was Pankaj's relationship with Uma Kashyap?

Uma Kashyap had been bringing Pankaj to our house for almost one-and-a-half years, and she did not even tell us his real name. We only came to know about his real name from the police. She used to call him brother.

Okay, then what happened?

As soon as she saw us having food in the kitchen, she came in. When Behenji asked her why she had come so early, Uma said they had left Dehradun early in the morning and reached Delhi. Uma said she wanted to contest the assembly polls. Behenji told Uma that she was going to Parliament, and that they would talk about it in the evening.

But when Behenji phoned for a vehicle from Parliament, Uma Kashyap offered her own vehicle. In fact it was Pankaj alias Sher Singh Rana who dropped her off at Parliament. After coming back home, he even called up Behenji and asked her whether he needed to pick her up. But Behenji refused. She also asked me to prepare lunch.

At around 1pm Behenji left the Parliament annexe in a Samajwadi Party vehicle. All along Pankaj was following Behenji. The question is, how did Pankaj know that Behenji was taking that particular vehicle. Obviously someone from Parliament was giving all the information to Pankaj.

As soon as Behenji got down from her vehicle, Balander [her security guard at the gate] opened the gate. Pankaj, who was right behind, fired at her. One of his bullets hit her head. As soon as the bullets were fired, I came running out of the kitchen. Behenji died at the gate itself.

But the police did not arrive for 20 minutes. We had to stop the traffic, and somehow bundled Behenji in a Maruti car and took her to hospital where doctors declared her dead.

How was your relationship with Phoolan Devi?

For me she was both mother and sister at the same time. There was a gap of 10-12 years between both of us. We used to sit together and gossip a lot (giggles). When we used to talk, we would be talking for hours. My relationship with her at times was like a friend, in whom I could confide everything, and at times like mother, who I could turn for support.

Photograph: R Swaminathan

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