Wings of crime

Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow At one end of the Lucknow University campus is located the infamous students’ union building. Till recently, academically inclined students kept away from this stand-alone structure, teeming with tough looking characters, many of them escorted by gun-toting security guards. Besides, student leaders with bodyguards may sound bizarre in any other campus in the world, but not so in Lucknow and other campuses in UP. Young student leaders earn their spurs in the campuses and use them as a springboard to make a name for themselves in the crime-ridden state politics. When it comes to crime, catch them young, so goes the profound prophecy here, in ‘socialist’ Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ‘Uttam Pradesh’. A few months ago, the vice chancellor of Lucknow University, RP Singh, banned these student leaders and their gun-wielding escorts. They were also banned from contesting the university elections. His decision raised a howl of protests, with the government pitching itself squarely in favour of the goons, some of whom are valued members of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led coalition government that rules Lucknow, apart from other political parties. This face-off got so messy that the government ordered an enquiry against the vice chancellor, ostensibly for some alleged acts of corruption. The real reason, as evident, was the anger towards Singh for deigning to carry out the recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee constituted by the Supreme Court to look into union elections. In normal circumstances, such a move would have been appreciated, but not in UP where everything tends to turn ulta pulta (upside down). Life is not as tranquil in UP as made out by Amitabh Bachchan in the television insert. The strange interpretation of public morality in UP has provided Bollywood with its new face of evil — a paan chewing politician. In this backward state, crime and politics are synonymous and the situation has worsened in the last few years. Consider Raja Bhaiya of Pratapgarh, Mukhtar Ansari of Mau, DP Yadav and Madan Bhaiya of western UP, among other top guns in the crime-politics galaxy. Underworld criminals like Abu Salem and Bablu Srivastava want to contest elections and become legitimate role models. From eastern to western UP, this is Omkara territory, and it always gets a boost when the SP comes to power. Ramesh Dixit, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), claims that criminals are ruling the roost in the state. Others on the saner side of the political spectrum share his views. “In the last three to four years, criminals have controlled the commanding heights in UP. They are in politics and manage all the decision- making,” claimed an IPS officer of the UP cadre, on condition of anonymity. “These criminal-politicians are important for political parties during elections, as they garner votes from their respective castes and communities. Later, they extract their pound of flesh by cornering government contracts and enjoy immunity for their everyday crimes,” he added. The gruesome killing of over 40 children in Nithari, Noida, by two pathological creatures, over a period of two years, has shocked the entire nation. In UP, the response of the harassed populace was quite different. Many of them are convinced that the serial-killings could not have taken place without the tacit support of the police and politicians. All kinds of conspiracy theories have been swirling in Lucknow and elsewhere, suggesting the involvement of political higher-ups or a businessman close to the ruling elite who was responsible for granting protection to the prime accused Moninder Singh Pandher. Some of their misgivings about the local police found further corroboration after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took charge of the case. The UP police was not only lax, but at some stage, it is alleged, there was pressure not to arrest Pandher, and suggestions that there was a strong element of complicity. The murder and disappearance of Meerut lecturer Kavita Chaudhary is shrouded in mystery. Top politicians are said to be involved, as in the Amar Mani-Madhumita case, where too Madhumita was murdered. Even the violent rape of two girls of an Allahabad madrassa, whereby they were picked up at gunpoint, is a classic reminder of the total breakdown of the law and order machinery. Criminals, murderers, rapists and gangsters just have no fear of either the civil society or the state. Everywhere, in this deadly, shadowy world of organised crime, it is possible to see a section of criminals and politicians working in transparent tandem and making the life of ordinary people difficult, loaded with fear. Concerned by the manner in which the criminal mafias were enlarging their area of influence and driving government and other legal entities to a corner, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court asked the principal secretary in the ministry of programme implementation, Gopabandhu Patnaik, to submit a report on mafia operations in UP. He came out with stunning findings. Patnaik also detailed the modus operandi of many such entities that were gobbling up public funds and real estate and increasing their space in public life. The report quoted a letter from the chief secretary of the state in which he said that the menace of the mafia had reached such proportions in districts like “Ballia, Gonda, Sant Ravidas Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, etc., that government engineers cannot discharge their duties properly”. The committee identified the following mafia activities: Award of contracts of building/construction activities, sale of scrap, supply contract, tahbazari and toll collection. Liquor contract/excise auction. Sale and purchase of land/building/unauthorised occupation of land and building/unauthorised removal of tenants from properties. Illegal takeover of government, semi/non-government institutions, cooperative banks. Illegal use of vehicles. The Patnaik committee also classified organised criminal activity in UP into: criminal mafia, finance and land mafia, education, and sports mafia. The report may not have named names, but it does not require great understanding of UP politics to figure out whom the report is referring to, especially in this particular case:  “The chit fund mafia floats chit funds, offers promises of exceptional returns on innovative (but fake) investments, which in turn brings money, and then (they) run away. They tamper with shares and stamps. They acquire land for housing project for poor to build their own houses, multiplexes and malls. Old couples in bungalows are ‘advised’ to move to flats in their own ‘interest’ and multi-storied buildings come up in such places owned by mafias. They are above master plans and land use. They finance politicians and hire retired bureaucrats, offer junkets and gifts to serving government servants who bend rules and regulations to help them. Any upright government servant who comes in their way is hounded, harassed, transferred or sidelined.” It is these entities that are controlling politics and manipulating the judiciary and bureaucracy to their advantage. They may not always kill, but these people cause irreparable harm to the democratic system in the long run. The report points at the criminal mafia that moves around in motorcades with the dons’ henchmen flaunting firepower, collecting hafta and undermining legitimate businesses. Not too long ago, a senior police officer’s car was stopped by a don when he was trying to overtake him. After stopping the car, the criminal forced the officer to step out of the car; he pointed his gun at him and warned him that he should not get too carried away by his uniform. The officer was so taken aback by the brazen conduct of the mafia gangster that he went to Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and pleaded that action must be taken to save the dignity of the UP Police. It was only after Yadav’s intervention that the don was arrested, but that too for a short while. The police are equally responsible for the environment of lawlessness. Often, several police organisations are infiltrated by sundry gangsters who provide advance information to their bosses. “Once we were tapping a conversation of a mafia don with some Pakistani ISI operatives and we were about to arrest him, but someone from the raiding party tipped him off,” claimed a senior police officer heading that party. What is worse is that a senior minister of the state government called up this officer and asked him if he was about to arrest the don. “Don’t do that”, he was told. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government may have been criticised as being soft on goons, but the truth is that UP has been totally criminalised in the last few years. Every political party has its own criminals and share of skeletons. Mayawati gave legitimacy to the likes of Mukhtar Ansari. The BJP has its own set of goons; the services of some of them were used during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The BJP’s abiding contribution in communalising the underworld is well known. Wasn’t Chhota Rajan propped up as the ‘Hindu-nationalist’ counter to Dawood Ibrahim when LK Advani was the Union home minister? It’s common talk in police circles in UP that there is a ‘Hindu mafia’ and a ‘Muslim mafia’. “Now there is a criminal crescent that is visible in UP. All the major Muslim mafia dons work together and have links with the ISI too,” revealed a police source.  The Congress, which has been in wilderness for more than ten years now in much of the Hindi heartland, gave space to eastern UP mafia dons like Hari Shankar Tewari, who later bloomed to become ministers in various regimes. The eastern UP mafia has endured different political parties and has lived off all the irrigation projects that have come up in these flood-prone areas. Its modus operandi is to corner all the contracts for raising the height of the dams meant to check the overflowing rivers during the monsoon. The truth is that no work takes place on these ‘ghost dams’ and floods ravage this area year after year. Thousands of crores have been milked from the system in this way. A large part of the money has sustained chit fund companies and the local politics of the state. The lawlessness in the state is driving away investment, as a recent World Bank study indicates. According to this report, most of the investment is going to areas around the national capital, Delhi, and little to other parts. Private sector investment in UP, contrary to what the UP Development Council headed by Amar Singh might say, is far less than the national average. Businessmen consider law and order as one of the three obstacles to investing in UP. All the fancy advertising in the media is hogwash, as the World Bank study reveals. There is no power and little infrastructure. But a lot of it exists on paper. Rampant loot by the mafia and corruption in the government have pauperised the state. Stories of farmers’ committing suicide have started flowing in. Even the National Human Rights Commission has criticised the government for its human rights violations. The government is just not doing enough to ameliorate the plight of the farmers. Its much vaunted attempts to keep the sugarcane farmers happy by giving them high procurement prices have also gone down the tube after the central government banned sugar exports.  UP is in the throes of lawlessness and misery. Its continued slide from the standpoint of the human development index and other economic indicators presents a strong case for change in UP. Can the voters rise above castes and communal affiliations and plump for authentic change?