Of dakus and polls
Until electronic voting machines were introduced, dacoits had a role to play in booth-capturing
The police know him as Lukke. The locals say he was second in command to Daku Mansingh, the legendary dacoit who was the uncrowned king of Chambal. But meet Lukke and he introduces himself as Lokman Dixit and laments the “absence of ethics” among the present crop of dacoits. Mention politics and he says that all politicians are thieves.
With 82 years and a bloody past behind him, Lukke rues the current dacoit- (read: criminal) politician nexus and blames it on the “quick buck syndrome” among criminals. More than the patronage given by political heavyweights, Lukke sees it as “a problem within” the tribe. He recalls the times when gang-leaders chided them for setting eyes on a woman, or for violating the code of looting only the rich.
Today, no code exists. Women dacoits are in the forefront and kidnapping has replaced looting. Hobnobbing with politicians, rather working at their behest during elections, is something that is beyond Lukke’s comprehension. Or the fact that dacoit Nirbhay Singh’s recent wedding in the forests, apart from being an extravagant affair, was allegedly attended by several politicians.
While the administration and the police have a list of dreaded gangs handy, the local politicians have their names and party affiliations on their fingertips. In the Bhind-Morena district in Madhya Pradesh and the Chakranagar-Bareh belt in Etawah and Uraiya districts in UP, there is evidence of dacoits forcing their political preferences on the electorate. Arvind Gujjar’s gang is known to coerce people in the Jharpura area.
In the 1999 polls in Gona village in Mehgav, Ramesh Kushwaha’s gang publicly beat up people for voting. Nirbhay Singh has, however, been checkmated following an encounter with the police last month. Apart from his movements being restricted, he reportedly lost 20-odd members (including two women) of his gang. But surrendered daku Mohar Singh is on record stating that he was working for the Congress: a fact reluctantly acknowledged by Satyadev Katare who contested this time from the Bhind Datia Lok Sabha constituency.
The trend, though limited during parliamentary polls, is rampant in the assembly elections as the stakes are higher. However, instead of issuing ‘fatwas’ in favour of candidates, people are forced to stay indoors. This is particularly true in villages where caste preferences are likely to dominate, given the fact that caste consolidation has in many areas overtaken the reign of fear.
On the one hand, the influence of the dacoits is waning. On the other, the trend of ‘pakar’ (subletting kidnapping) and ‘dump’ (booth-capturing) is catching on, with the kingpins voluntarily taking a backseat. While ‘dump’ is purely an ‘election activity’, ‘pakar’ has very little to do with politics. ‘Dump’ is usually under the charge of political workers, while pakar is conducted at the behest of dacoits. Until EVMs were introduced, dacoits had a role to play in booth-capturing. Then groups stormed booths and stamped ballot papers at will. EVMs mean pressing a button each time you want to forge a vote: an activity which tech-savvy criminals or workers in political parties do themselves rather than illiterate dacoits. If ‘outside help’ is needed, small-time gangsters are pressed into service.
‘Pakar’ remains an exclusively criminal activity. With looting and killing becoming somewhat outdated, gun culture has been replaced by kidnapping. Agents (among villagers) are appointed and they use their familiarity to ‘take away’ a rich farmer from his house on any pretext and later hand him over to a criminal gang which in turn takes him across the state border and hands him over to bigger gangs. While the ‘agent’ is paid a measly Rs 50,000-odd, by the time the victim is handed over to the high-end gang, he is priced in lakhs.
Pandit Rajendra Prasad Sharma was one such ‘pakar’ who was taken away on the pretext of performing a puja. He was taken to a garage. But instead of performing a puja, he was gagged and allegedly handed over to Rajjan’s gang. He was in custody for nearly three months and was let off only after a ransom of over Rs 2 lakh in two instalments was paid.