Thugs of Hin­dus­tan

The nexus be­tween the or­gans of the state and or­gan­ised crime

Governance Now - - DIPLOMACY - Ajay Singh

This story may sound apoc­ryphal but it was re­counted by lk Ad­vani in one of his ca­sual con­ver­sa­tions. Talk­ing about Mo­rarji de­sai, he said that de­spite his idio­syn­cra­sies, he was a man of im­pec­ca­ble in­tegrity. To but­tress his point Ad­vani re­called this in­ci­dent: Af­ter the Janata Party formed the gov­ern­ment with de­sai as its head in 1977, there was a by-elec­tion and the party wanted to field a can­di­date with shady back­ground to en­sure vic­tory. When de­sai heard of the choice, he raised ob­jec­tion on his cre­den­tials. “He alone can win this elec­tion for us; oth­er­wise we will lose,” de­sai’s col­leagues told him. de­sai quipped, “in that case, let’s not win this elec­tion.” No doubt, de­sai was per­haps the last among the sen­tinels of Gand­hi­an­ism that

The spirit of the freedom strug­gle con­tin­ued in the ini­tial years of in­de­pen­dent In­dia, but as the Nehru era ended – and es­pe­cially as the Indira era con­sol­i­dated it­self – pol­i­tics was turn­ing away from Gandhi and to­wards Machi­avelli. In­dia even bore the ig­nominy of a stock­bro­ker al­leg­ing that he de­liv­ered cash at a prime min­is­ter’s house.

em­i­nently prized val­ues and sanc­tity over buc­ca­neerism in public life. His con­tempt for crim­i­nal­ity had a back­ground. His pre­de­ces­sor indira Gandhi was jus­ti­fi­ably ac­cused of de­gen­er­at­ing public life to such an ex­tent that a crim­i­nalised band of lumpen un­der the lead­er­ship of her son san­jay Gandhi prac­ti­cally mo­nop­o­lised the state. de­sai was the com­plete an­tithe­sis of the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. He was prob­a­bly the last.

What a fall from that point on: in­dia even had the ig­nominy of a shady stock­bro­ker al­leg­ing that he de­liv­ered cash in a suit­case to the house of prime min­is­ter P V Narasimha rao, which the lat­ter was hard-pressed to dis­prove. This was omi­nously sym­bolic: the prime min­is­ter who ush­ered in big-ticket lib­er­al­i­sa­tion hob­nob­bing with a scam­ster.

in the 1980s, i came across the first in­stance of the im­punity with which gang­sters rule the roost – in Luc­know, in this case. That was an or­di­nary evening when i was cycling down the ‘mon­key bridge’ and reached near the Kd singh Babu sta­dium when gun­shots broke the seren­ity. A band of crim­i­nals in an open Jeep was chas­ing a car which car­ried one of the dreaded gang lead­ers of those times – Gu­rubux Singh Bak­shi. Though Bak­shi was hit by the bul­let, his driver smartly car­ried him to the ad­ja­cent res­i­dence of the district mag­is­trate. The crim­i­nals stopped at that and Bak­shi’s life was saved.

Bak­shi was not an or­di­nary gang leader. His po­lit­i­cal men­tors in­cluded the re­doubtable Hem­vati Nan­dan Bahuguna, once a up chief min­is­ter from the Con­gress and later an im­por­tant mem­ber of the Janata Party. But then, the po­lit­i­cal class’s fas­ci­na­tion for crime had lit­tle to do with ide­ol­ogy any­more. Those swear­ing by so­cial­ism across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, from the com­mu­nists to the Con­gress, tended to see un­der­world op­er­a­tors as new age robin Hoods.

Con­sider the story of Hari shankar Ti­wari, the most dreaded Brah­min gang-lord of east­ern up and you would know the in­flu­ence pow­er­ful war­lords grad­u­ally came to wield on the in­dian polity, par­tic­u­larly in north in­dia. Ti­wari was to con­test as­sem­bly polls from Chillu­par, in Go­rakh­pur district in the late eight­ies. He was in jail, but that was not to prove a hand­i­cap. An in­de­pen­dent can­di­date, Ti­wari is cred­ited as the first can­di­date to win a ma­jor elec­tion in in­dia from be­hind bars.

Ti­wari is thus one of the pioneers of the trend of crim­i­nals turn­ing into politi­cians. He is the pro­to­type of the tribe now known as bahubalis. Con­sider the facts. Firstly, he had 30-odd crim­i­nal cases (in­clud­ing for mur­der) against him. se­condly, he was more suc­cess­ful than many sea­soned politi­cians as he went on to win five more elec­tions, rep­re­sent­ing Chillu­par in the up as­sem­bly for more than 20 years (his son is the MLA to­day). Thirdly, he found tak­ers in all par­ties. Though he started with the help of the Con­gress, he served in the min­istry of both Mu­layam singh Ya­dav of sa­ma­jwadi Party and Kalyan singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and even­tu­ally also be­com­ing part of Mayawati’s Bahu­jan samaj Party (BSP).

Ti­wari, of course, was not alone to make a smooth tran­si­tion from one vo­ca­tion to the other. The spirit of the freedom strug­gle con­tin­ued in the ini­tial years of in­de­pen­dent in­dia, but as the Nehru era ended – and es­pe­cially as the Indira era con­sol­i­dated it­self, pol­i­tics was turn­ing away from Gandhi and to­wards Machi­avelli. in their race for power, few par­ties could bother about how the votes were won, and that is where crim­i­nals, par­tic­u­larly those in­volved in or­gan­ised crime and the un­der­world, found their call­ing. They were set­ting up shop not only in up and the ad­ja­cent Bi­har but also in most re­gions of the coun­try. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties also walked up to them to meet them half­way.

Over the years, the tra­di­tional char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of the un­der­world has rad­i­cally mu­tated. Crime is not what it used to be. And con­ven­tional mafias are prac­ti­cally ex­tinct; they have trans­formed them­selves into suave, soft-spo­ken in­ter­me­di­aries be­tween the in­dus­tries and cor­rupt regimes across the world. They trot the globe, wield enor­mous clout and quite of­ten sub­ju­gate state in­sti­tu­tions to do their bid­ding. This is quite ev­i­dent in the man­ner in which the state agen­cies like the po­lice, CBI, en­force­ment di­rec­torate and in­come Tax are amenable to be used as in­stru­ment for ex­tor­tion and black­mail across the coun­try. Quite clearly the dif­fer­ence be­tween the state and the un­der­world has be­come in­dis­tin­guish­able. it would not be wrong to say that over the decades, the in­dian state has been im­i­tat­ing its in­ti­mate en­emy – the un­der­world – and has be­come much like it.

in rus­sia, they have a term for them, the vory. The rise of the vory is a clas­sic case of tran­si­tion and in­te­gra­tion of the un­der­world into the coun­try’s main­stream polity. Mark Ga­le­otti, a Prague­based re­search scholar, has given a graphic ac­count of in­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of the rus­sian vory into the po­lit­i­cal main­stream in his book The Vory: Rus­sia’s Su­per Mafia (Yale univer­sity Press, re­leased in May 2018).

In Stalin’s time, the vory grad­u­ally ac­quired the lan­guage and id­iom preva­lent in Bol­she­vik revolution and car­ried on their crim­i­nal­ity un­der cloak of so­cial­ism. Even Lenin found it strate­gi­cally con­ve­nient to let a bunch of crim­i­nals in­fil­trate the com­mu­nist ranks.

The book traces the gen­e­sis and evo­lu­tion of the rus­sian vory since the eigh­teenth cen­tury, care­fully scru­ti­niz­ing its unique code and lan­guage, its strate­gies for sur­vival and growth. rus­sia has wit­nessed tu­mul­tuous times – the Bol­she­vik revolution, Stal­in­ism, the Cold War, the Afghan war, dis­in­te­gra­tion of the soviet union, and ul­ti­mately a turn to cap­i­tal­ism. Amid all these un­cer­tain­ties, the vory have flour­ished and pros­pered at ev­ery stage. With Vladimir Putin, their evo­lu­tion has gone a step fur­ther.

Ga­le­otti’s con­clu­sion is that in Putin’s time, the vory have be­come an ad­junct of the state. They have been as thriv­ing as they were at the time of the Bol­she­vik revolution a cen­tury ago. Noth­ing de­scribes it as aptly as a re­mark by Pavel stuchka, a Bol­she­vik ju­rist in 1927, ten years af­ter the revolution, who said, “Com­mu­nism means not the vic­tory of so­cial­ist law, but the vic­tory of so­cial­ism over law.” From lenin and stalin to Gor­bachev, the vory dom­i­nated ei­ther in the garb of ide­ol­ogy or prag­ma­tism in a naked pur­suit of power and wealth.

in stalin’s time, the vory grad­u­ally ac­quired the lan­guage and id­ioms preva­lent in Bol­she­vik revolution and car­ried on their crim­i­nal­ity un­der cloak of so­cial­ism. even lenin found it strate­gi­cally con­ve­nient to let a bunch of crim­i­nals in­fil­trate the com­mu­nist ranks. Rus­sia would have been dif­fer­ent had lenin shot more crim­i­nals than in­te­grat­ing them into the revolution. How­ever, the meta­mor­pho­sis of the Rus­sian mafia into a crim­i­nal-cor­po­rate en­tity found its bear­ing when Gor­bachev launched Per­e­stroika (restruc­tur­ing) and glas­nost (open­ing up). in Putin’s time, the bound­ary be­tween the or­gans of the state and the vory has be­come all the more blurred, and the lat­ter are be­lieved to have ex­panded their foot­print across the globe.

Can we find an In­dian equiv­a­lent of the Rus­sian vory? in­dia had its par­al­lel to the vory in the thug­gery. like the vory, the thugs were bound by a code of con­duct which was quite rig­or­ous and backed by re­li­gious rit­u­als. They were also blessed by the roy­als. in the Cen­tral Prov­ince, the rul­ing scin­dia fam­ily was be­lieved to be their pro­tec­tors. Thugs were proud to carry on their pro­fes­sion of de­ceiv­ing and way­lay­ing in­no­cent trav­ellers and killing them in cold blood.

in a spine-chilling ac­count of the thugs’ es­capades, “Con­fes­sion of a Thug” by Philip Mead­ows Tay­lor (1839), chief pro­tag­o­nist Ameer Ali so elo­quently de­scribes his pro­fes­sion when he says, “Thugee, ca­pa­ble of ex­cit­ing the mind so strongly, will not and can­not be an­ni­hi­lated! look at the hun­dreds, i might say thou­sands, who have suf­fered for this pro­fes­sion: does the num­ber of your pris­on­ers de­crease? No! On the con­trary they in­crease: and from ev­ery thug who

If you have any doubt about some CBI of­fi­cers’ modus operandi, re­call the blood-cur­dling in­ci­dent of 2016 when se­nior bu­reau­crat BK Bansal, his wife, daugh­ter and son com­mit­ted sui­cide in east Delhi, fol­low­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing in­qui­si­tion by a bunch of CBI of­fi­cials on the charge of cor­rup­tion.

ac­cepts the al­ter­na­tive of per­pet­ual im­pris­on­ment to dy­ing on gal­lows, you learn of oth­ers whom even i knew not of, and of Thugee be­ing car­ried on in parts of the coun­try where it is least sus­pected, and has never been dis­cov­ered till lately.”

How pre­scient are these words of Ameer Ali! ex­cept for the fact that in­dian thugs, like rus­sian vory, have mu­tated into a com­pletely new strain of evil that has found le­git­i­macy in the po­lit­i­cal main­stream and be­come in­trin­sic to the state­craft. Much like the vory, the thugs have got so much in­te­grated in power struc­tures that they are no longer dis­tinct from the or­gans of the state.

if you have any doubt, look at the man­ner in which the coun­try’s pre­mier in­sti­tu­tion to com­bat cor­rup­tion, the CBI, is en­grossed in an in­ternecine gang war within. Per­haps never in the his­tory of the CBI was the agency so di­vided ver­ti­cally as it is now, with dif­fer­ent of­fi­cers ow­ing al­le­giance to dif­fer­ent camps. The ob­vi­ous re­sult of this di­vi­sion is that the cor­rup­tion cases are probed from the prism of “your cor­rupt” ver­sus “my cor­rupt”. The CBI has not reached this sit­u­a­tion overnight. suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have turned it into a hand­maiden of the party in power to brow­beat ri­vals. The trend con­tin­ues.

if you have any doubt on their modus operandi, re­call the blood-cur­dling in­ci­dent of 2016, when se­nior bu­reau­crat BK Bansal, his wife, daugh­ter and son com­mit­ted sui­cide in east delhi, fol­low­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing in­qui­si­tion by a bunch of CBI of­fi­cials on the charge of cor­rup­tion. The fam­ily found the abuse and tor­ture from the CBI of­fi­cials too hu­mil­i­at­ing and too fright­en­ing to han­dle. The sui­cide note named five CBI of­fi­cials, but it did not stir a soul in the ad­min­is­tra­tion. (its in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no­body guilty.)

More re­cently, a busi­ness­man from raipur in Ch­hat­tis­garh chose to com­mit sui­cide af­ter he was named as an ac­cused in a case of mak­ing a video Cd show­ing a state min­is­ter in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion. such cases are only the tip of the ice­berg as the ma­lig­nancy is quite deep-rooted. A crim­i­nalised CBI is enor­mously ca­pa­ble of sub­vert­ing the gov­ern­ment’s agenda. And that rot seems to be spread­ing fu­ri­ously fast.

iron­i­cally enough, the com­pre­hen­sive re­port on crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of pol­i­tics by the NN Vohra com­mit­tee in 1993 quoted ex­ten­sively from a study pa­per pre­pared by none other than the CBI, on links among crim­i­nals, bu­reau­crats and politi­cians in Ma­ha­rash­tra. The re­port specif­i­cally re­ferred to the evo­lu­tion of iqbal Mirchi from a petty thief to a re­doubtable gang­ster and com­plic­ity of the state in his pro­mo­tion. The re­port cat­e­gor­i­cally pointed out the nexus among crim­i­nals, bu­reau­crats and politi­cians as cru­cial in cre­at­ing an ecosys­tem in which the mod­ern mafia thrives. Un­like the past when thugs used vi­o­lence to achieve their ends, the new vari­ant of mafias in to­day’s In­dia are quite con­ver­sant with po­lite and per­sua­sive talk­ing but are not averse to us­ing vi­o­lence when all other means fail. They thrive on grey ar­eas of democratic space, be­tween in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and public good.

de­scrib­ing the evo­lu­tion of the vory in rus­sia, Ga­le­otti de­scribes this phe­nom­e­non quite aptly by say­ing, “in an age of mar­ket eco­nom­ics and pseu­do­demo­cratic pol­i­tics, where power is largely dis­con­nected from any real ide­ol­ogy be­yond an in­choate blend of na­tion­alisms, ar­guably it is rather that the Vory have been di­ver­si­fied, and per­haps even col­o­nized the wider rus­sian elites. There are rack­e­teers, drug traf­fick­ers, peo­ple smug­glers and gun run­ners – but there is also a deep­en­ing con­nec­tion with the world of pol­i­tics and busi­ness.”

Does it not hold for In­dia too? Though the first prime min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, held public life as sacro­sanct, the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the state and pol­i­tics be­gan in the time of his daugh­ter indira Gandhi. de­cep­tion and use of vi­o­lence be­came in­trin­sic to state­craft and led to im­po­si­tion of the emer­gency. The state turned into a mir­ror im­age of the un­der­world. it went well be­yond the po­lit­i­cal class, and it was dur­ing this time that the var­i­ous law-en­force­ment agen­cies repli­cated the tac­tics of or­gan­ised crime. Not only the CBI, but tax au­thor­i­ties too came to em­u­late the gang­sters as they went out on their raid op­er­a­tions that were of­ten ex­tor­tion rack­ets. Their ways and their lan­guage started re­sem­bling that of the mafia.

Those days of the li­cence raj and the in­spec­tor raj had cre­ated lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties in smug­gling con­tra­band, and the un­der­world could not have ex­ploited these op­por­tu­ni­ties sin­gle-hand­edly.

By then the gen­er­a­tion of freedom-strug­gle lead­ers had given way to a new breed of lead­ers who were prac­tis­ing their pol­i­tics in a new in­dia. Thus, not only the Con­gress, but also diehard so­cial­ists had no qualms in jus­ti­fy­ing vi­o­lence and tak­ing dreaded crim­i­nals into their fold in their quest for power.

When ra­jiv Gandhi took over as the prime min­is­ter in 1984, he was con­scious of the grow­ing in­flu­ence of mafias on the polity. But sooner than later, he be­came in­te­gral part of the so­phis­ti­cated

power cul­ture spawned by the mafias. His fam­ily’s prox­im­ity to the arms dealer and Bo­fors mid­dle­man, Ot­tavio Qu­at­troc­chi, ex­em­pli­fied the deep pen­e­tra­tion of mafias into the In­dian state. It would be wrong to think that in ra­jiv Gandhi’s time, the state was weak­ened. Far from it, he was a pow­er­ful prime min­is­ter with un­prece­dented man­date in his favour.

in the 1990s, the state had be­come pretty strong. Here once again a sim­i­lar­ity can be drawn by re­fer­ring to Ga­le­otti words in The Vory: “The gangs which pros­per in mod­ern rus­sia tend to do so by work­ing with rather than against the state, and a new po­lit­i­cal gen­er­a­tion has risen to power de­pen­dent for their fu­tures on Kremlin’s pa­tron­age rather than lo­cal un­der­world con­tacts.” When Chi­manbhai Pa­tel was the chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat, Ab­dul Latif – the petty boot­leg­ger who made it big as da­wood ibrahim’s hench­man and in­spired the Bol­ly­wood flick Raees – car­ried more heft than any cab­i­net min­is­ter.

in­dia’s new-age thugs have also sailed through ev­ery dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion the na­tion has un­der­went, and eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion was no ex­cep­tion. The li­cence quota raj might have ended; the mafia raj has not. Crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of pol­i­tics – as mea­sured by the num­ber of MPS and MLAS with po­lice cases pend­ing against them – has been on the rise, but the other or­gans of the state are very much fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship.

Con­sider the re­lent­less and on­go­ing se­ries of ‘en­coun­ters’ in ut­tar Pradesh in which only petty crim­i­nals if not in­no­cents are killed while each of the bahubali is safe and se­cure. if any­thing can be more brazen than that, it can only be the chief min­is­ter proudly own­ing it up. His lan­guage is rem­i­nis­cent of the mafi­as­peak (“thok denge”) – de­rived, no doubt, from the lingo of the Go­rakh­pur un­der­world.

The prime min­is­ter’s call for an all-out war on black money has en­thused a large sec­tion of of­fi­cers, in CBI, ed, CBDT and other agen­cies, to launch of­fen­sive against the busi­ness class – for their own ul­te­rior pur­poses. The bank­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties have pro­vided them with yet an­other cover to carry on their co­er­cive tac­tics.

Granted that the mod­ern state has vi­o­lence built in its very na­ture, with a stated mo­nop­oly on vi­o­lence (only the state can legally use force or even kill, the rest can­not). But crime is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. What has hap­pened in rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to Ga­le­otti, and what seems to be hap­pen­ing in in­dia, is that the state, not know­ing the lim­its of the use of force, has courted the un­der­world, and the line di­vid­ing the two has dis­ap­peared.

iron­i­cally, this is the very op­po­site of what the Fa­ther of the Na­tion had dreamt. But he was a re­al­ist too. Writ­ing in ‘Young in­dia’ in 1925, just be­fore the oft-quoted ‘seven so­cial sins’, Gandhi quotes ‘crisp say­ings’ by one Dan Grif­fith:

“Mod­ern so­ci­ety is in it­self a crime fac­tory. The mil­i­tarist is a rel­a­tive of a mur­derer and the bur­glar is the com­pli­ment of the stock job­ber.”

Il­lus­tra­tion:ashish asthana

Cour­tesy: nehru me­mo­rial mu­seum and li­brary

Con­fes­sions of a Thug By Philip Mead­ows Tay­lor 1839

Arun ku­mar

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