L Murugan, Nisith Pramanik, John Barla, Shantanu Thakur, and Pankaj Chaudhary lead the pack.
After Narendra Modi reshuffled his ministry on July 7, the media carried a variety of profiles of the new ministers, focussing on educational qualifications and representation of various social groups. Quieter treatment was given to criminal cases against ministers. Here, then, are the top five ministers with the most criminal cases.
The lawyer-turned-politician is minister of state for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying as well as minister of state for information and broadcasting. Previously he served as the Indian government’s standing counsel at the Madras High Court. Despite being a man of law, he has 21 criminal cases against him, the most of any minister.
From 2017 to 2020, Murugan was the vice president of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. He belongs to the Arunthathiyar community, a Scheduled Caste. In March 2020, he was made the BJP chief in Tamil Nadu and remained in the job until July 7 this year. All the cases against Murugan were filed in 2020, the year he took over as the BJP state president.
While it’s unclear if all the cases were registered before or during the pandemic, he has been booked for committing “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” in 14 of the cases. Another four cases concern “malignant acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”.
In December 2020, Murugan was held, along with 100 party workers, for launching the "Vetri Vel Yatra" or Victorious Spear March without the police’s permission. The march was intended to expose the "anti-Hindu narrative” and "minority appeasement" in the state.
Another time Murugan was booked for violating Covid guidelines was when he gathered with about 80 workers of various political parties at the house of a teenage girl who had allegedly been set ablaze by men linked to the AIADMK.
Murugan also faces 11 charges for “disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant”, 17 for being a member of an unlawful assembly, two each for rioting and rioting armed with a deadly weapon, five for wrongful restraint, and one for causing public nuisance.
Nisith Pramanik, 35, is a BJP MP from Coochbehar, Bengal. He was appointed a minister of state for home affairs in the last reshuffle. Unlike most young BJP leaders who had their political starts in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Pramanik is new to the party, having joined just before the Lok Sabha election in 2019.
He faces a total of 13 criminal cases. The first was filed in 2009, for theft in Alipurduar. Udayan Guha, a Trinamool Congress MLA from Pramanik’s constituency, claims the case is for robbing a jewellery store.
Since then, he has been booked for such grave crimes as murder, dacoity, rioting, theft, outraging a woman’s modesty, possessing explosives and illegal weapons. He has been charged under at least 26 sections of the Indian Penal Code that mandate a prison term of over five years. He was also booked under the Arms Act for possession and dealing of illegal weapons in 2018 and 2019.
Before the Bengal panchayat elections in 2018, he was twice booked for rioting with deadly weapons and for murder. He was listed as the prime accused along with 50 people.
Most of the cases against Pramanik were filed when he was with the Trinamool, between 2013 and 2018. He was expelled from the party in 2018, reportedly “in light of his criminal activities”.
He joined the BJP in March 2019 under the leadership of Mukul Roy. In an interview with the Hindu, he said, “I have been redeemed of all my sins by joining the party. The BJP is like Ganga and I feel I have been purified.”
Since joining the BJP, he has been booked in two cases of wrongful restraint and attempt to murder.
Apart from his criminal record, Pramanik has been embroiled in two controversies. His biography on the Lok Sabha website claims he has done a Bachelors in Computer Applications from the Balakura Junior Basic School. But his affidavit to the Election Commission states that he studied upto “secondary”, meaning high school.
The other controversy involves his nationality. An investigation by a digital news platform called Barak Bangla allegedly found Pramanik was a Bangladeshi citizen. The allegation gained attention when a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, Ripun Bora, wrote to the prime minister about the Barak Bangla investigation after Pramanik’s appointment as minister.
John Barla is an Adivasi leader from North Bengal who started working in his tea garden at 14 and “never thought” he would make it out. Now Barla, who dropped out of school in class 8, is a minister of state for minority affairs. He is the only Christian in the ministry, and one of only five ministers from religious minorities.
Barla entered politics in 2007 when he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad. Seven years later, just as the BJP came to power in New Delhi, Barla joined the saffron brigade. In 2017, supported by tea garden workers, local labour unions and Adivasi leaders, he won his first parliamentary election from Alipurduar.
He faces nine criminal cases and is one of only four ministers who stand accused of attempt to murder. He has not been convicted in any of the cases.
Five cases against him were registered in 2009. Of these, in two separate cases he was accused of attempt to murder, theft and criminal intimidation.
In 2012, he was booked for rioting with an armed weapon, theft and causing mischief with explosive substances. In 2015, two cases were registered against Barla for unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy and wrongful restraint. The latest case was filed in 2019.
In the recent past, Barla has made news for his comments against the Rohingya community and for demanding statehood for North Bengal.
In 2019, as the contentious National Register of Citizens exercise gathered momentum, Barla launched a vitriolic attack against the Rohingyas who had fled ethic cleansing in Myanmar accusing them of causing job insecurity to “our men”.
Two weeks before he was made union minister, Barla caused a stir by demanding statehood for North Bengal, which accounts for a fifth of Bengal’s territory. He demanded the bifurcation citing lack of development, jobs and political violence. The party leadership distanced itself from Barla’s demand but he maintained that he would take it up during the monsoon session of the parliament.
In response, the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the Trinamool, filed an FIR against Barla, claiming his demand for statehood was "anti-national" and an attempt to "provoke the people of Bengal".
The minister of state for ports, shipping and waterways comes from an influential political family. According to the New Indian Express, he came to politics because of a family feud and is now regarded as one of the most influential leaders of the Matua community in Bengal. The Matuas are a Scheduled Caste group with sizeable presence in six parliamentary seats.
Thakur, elected to the 17th Lok Sabha from Bangaon, faces eight criminal cases.
His first case dates back to December 2014 and the latest to early 2019, about three months before he was elected to the Lok Sabha.
Shantanu has been accused of criminal intimidation in six separate cases. He has also been charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt in three cases and with voluntarily causing hurt in three other instances.
He was accused of using words, gestures or acts intended to insult a woman’s modesty in 2014. A year later he was booked for the same offence in a different case.
Though a public servant himself, Thakur is accused of assaulting and voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from duty. He also has two charges of forgery registered against him, one allegedly for harming the reputation of another person.
Further, he is accused of impersonating someone with the intention of cheating.
Thakur faces seven charges related to acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention and he was booked under this section every single year between 2013 to 2019.
Pankaj Chaudhary has been elected to the Lok Sabha six times from Uttar Pradesh’s Maharajganj constituency.
His ascent began in 1989 when he was elected a member of the Gorakhpur Municipal Corporation. In 1990 he pitched his flag as deputy mayor of the Corporation. Come 1991 and he made two moves: he entered the BJP’s executive committee in UP and then the 10th Lok Sabha from Maharajganj. He was re-elected to the 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and the 17th Lok Sabha. Along the way, he served on several parliamentary committees. But it was only this year that he became a minister, taking oath as a minister of state for finance on July 7.
He faces five criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 33 of Modi’s 78 ministers have declared criminal cases against themselves. Chaudhary is one of only four with an attempt to murder case. There are 15 charges against him in total, of which six are classified as “serious criminal”, nine as “other criminal”. Three of the serious charges are for kidnapping or abduction with the intention to confine, one each for attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and unduly influencing an election.
The remaining charges are of wrongful restraint, obstructing a public servant, rioting with and without a deadly weapon, assault in a bid to commit theft, wrongful confinement and participating in an unlawful assembly.
Considering the crime numbers allocated by the Kotwali Maharajganj police station, all of Chaudhary’s transgressions occurred in 2016. It appears they were filed in MP MLA Court, Allahabad only in 2018. All five cases remain pending.
Chaudhary is president of the District Badminton Association of Maharajganj and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.