Who turns mafia dons into messiahs?
The murder of sharpshooter Munna Bajrangi in a prison in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district has once again highlighted the nexus between power peddlers, mafia gangs and upholders of the law. I have no hesitation in saying that this just a new chapter in an old game.
Let me explain by rewinding to a few decades ago. A wealthy merchant in Varanasi had usurped a large sum of money from a big Calcutta businessman. Tired of the legal battle, the businessman turned to the mafia. The gang leader sent his henchmen to threaten the merchant. The merchant was prepared. He had already sounded out a local about this. The musclemen from Varanasi thrashed the mafia members from Calcutta. Those being beaten up kept saying: “If you hit us, ‘dada’ won’t spare you either.”
After a thrashing, the goons from Varanasi put the mafiosi on the Upper India Express bound for Calcutta. The merchant thought the matter was sorted. But a few months later, the West Bengal police raided him and his associates at midnight. They took them into custody and headed for Calcutta. Here the delegation from Varanasi was welcomed not in a court or a jail but at a criminal’s den. They could win back their freedom only after paying a huge ransom. This was a glaring example of misuse of the law.
A lot of water has flown down the Ganges since then. Calcutta has become Kolkata; the Upper India Express has stopped operations and has been replaced by superfast trains. Even the mafia has changed its style of functioning; but it has only become more powerful and all-pervasive.
Here is an example. Sriprakash Shukla rose like a comet on UP’s crime horizon in the 1980s and 1990s. He evolved a style of kidnapping different from others. At one time he reportedly put the condition that the person who comes to pay the ransom for a builder must be an IPS officer. His wish was fulfilled. If this is true, could this have been possible without the collusion of the local administration? No wonder ministers and even chief ministers in the cow belt have been accused of taking cuts from the ransom that victims pay. The polluting of the river of governance has also vitiated those downstream.
Still, it is unfair to apportion blame only on politicians, bureaucrats and the mafia. The stories of crime and the life stories of criminals fascinate both the affluent as well as those at the lower echelons of society.
Let me talk about the well-heeled to begin with. Netflix made a web series about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in August, 2015. Three seasons of the series have been telecast since then. All three have proved to be cash cows for Netflix. People watch it with interest in several languages. Mario Puzo’s Godfather evoked similar interest at one time. At a party in a five-star hotel, I heard a hotel magnate say he was inspired by Escobar. Similarly many years ago, a movie star openly told a newspaper: Godfather’s Don Corleone is my role model. The world is full of such movies and books.
The people who feature in these are seen as Robin Hoods by the common people. Consider Phoolan Devi. Instead of being punished for her role in the Behmai massacre, she went on to become an MP. She received enormous respect in a section of the Mallah community. When castes look for role models in criminals, it is natural for politicians to accord them respect. These castes also comprise vote banks. The list of such mafia leaders is long. I don’t want to glorify them by mentioning them here. One mafia boss once told me: “Publish whatever you want, we won’t get upset. It only works to our benefit!”
Present-day mafia bosses don the garb of social workers along with that of politicians. Having instilled fear in the people, to win sympathy, they run ambulances, decide doctors’ fees and help poor girls in the community get married. They assign men to protect people suffering from natural disasters . On the basis of the goodwill they earn, they can set up a court in prison or outside and sort out disputes.
That is why, when people even like us sing the praises of criminals, why just blame the politicians?
We may not have given birth to these Frankensteins, but people like and you and I were the ones who nurtured them.
So I urge you not to blame the government for every incident and instead introspect and look around you. When dutiful officers find themselves helpless in these situations, some of the blame should come to us as well.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan