Former Maharashtra minister Kripashankar Singh’s eventful political journey has been one of a man who came to Mumbai and sold vegetables, went on to become the “go to” man for the Congress leadership for any party matter in Mumbai, and whose future now looks under a cloud following a chargesheet for disproportionate assets allegedly amassed over the years.
The chargesheet by a special investigation team claims Kripashankar and his family have amassed Rs 95.03 crore, of which Rs 18.96 crore is allegedly disproportionate. The chargesheet describes residential and commercial apartments, cars, unaccounted high-value transactions involving businessmen and Bollywood stars. The alleged scam involves Rs 320 crore.
Kripashankar, 64, who would one day become Mumbai Congress chief and minister of state (home) in Maharashtra, hails from Jaunpur. He came to Mumbai in 1971 , looking for a job after failing to clear standard XII. He initially made do with occasional work and lived in Rambharose Chawl in suburban Khar along with his brother, Shivshankar Singh, who was then with the state excise department.
People who know Kripashankar since those days say he worked in a dairy firm besides selling vegetables. He reportedly likes to flaunt his humble beginnings; political leaders describe how often he would describe particularly the way he used to sell vegetables.
Kripashankar’s first permanent job was as a packer with a pharmaceutical firm. Simultaneously, he joined the Congress Seva Dal. He made steady progress to become a general secretary in Mumbai Congress. According to the SIT that probed him, his only known source of income at that time was from his agricultural property in Jaunpur.
His first break came in 1988, when Pratibha Patil, later President of India and then heading the state Congress, elevated him to a party secretary. Kripashankar also became a partner in a Navi Mumbai-based firm, Sainath Motor Body Building, in which Pratibha’s son Rajendra Shekhawat was major partner.
The SIT has alleged that both Kripashankar and Shekhawat were incorporated as partners in the firm without investing any capital. “Kripashankar could not satisfactorily explain the reason or purpose for his induction as a partner in the firm that too without any investment. He also failed to explain satisfactorily about his role in the firm,” the chargesheet says. Both retired from the partnership in 2005.
By then, Kripashankar had cut his teeth firmly in politics. In the 1990s, he had become a trusted aide of late Congress president Sitaram Kesari. “Kripashankar used to hold a durbar of Congress workers then. Such was his clout with the leadership that state Congress leaders often used him as a channel to make their voices heard in Delhi,” a Congress veteran said.
First nominated to the Legislative Council in 1994, he became minister of state (home) in Vilasrao Deshmukh’s government in 1999, after getting elected from Santacruz. With Sonia Gandhi taking over the reins of the party, he is said to have become close to Ahmed Patel and Motilal Vora, and was effectively the leadership’s “go to” man in Mumbai. Kripashankar headed the Mumbai Congress between 2007 and 2011 before stepping down after the assets case first came up.
He also won friends in other parties. Following a threat perception to the late Bal Thackeray, Kripashankar, as the MoS (Home), had offered him a security cover; he likes to say how that won him the Shiv Sena leader’s admiration.
The PIL was filed in 2011, setting off his downfall. When The Indian Express contacted Kripashankar, he refused to comment on the controversy, saying “the matter is still in the court”. The chargeshseet mentions connections with Madhu Koda, the former Jharkhand CM and coal scam accused.
The party continued to bank on him for its affairs in Mumbai. Last year, when former industries minister Narayan Rane revolted against then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Kripashankar was one of the emissaries sent to pacify him. Kripashankar was also part of the committee that oversaw assembly poll preparations in Mumbai. He failed to retain his own seat. He campaigned actively for Rane in the Bandra (East) bypoll too, which Rane lost.