LUCKNOW: On the morning of July 9, seven gunshots rang inside a barrack in Baghpat jail, which ended the life of dreaded ganglord Prem Prakash Singh alias Munna Bajrangi, and perhaps started a new chapter in the gang war that has spawned a bloody trail in the badlands of eastern Uttar Pradesh since the 1980s.
The man who killed Bajrangi, Sunil Rathi, is a dreaded gangster himself, serving life sentence for murder and running extortion racket from inside the jail.
But right after the sensational murder, fingers were pointed at incarcerated mafia don-turned lawmaker, Brijesh Singh. And not without a reason. Singh has had a running feud with yet another jailed mafia lord-turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, whose henchman happened to be Munna Bajrangi.
The political affiliations of Singh and Ansari have given an interesting angle to the whole episode. While Ansari is a BSP MLA, Singh got elected as Independent MLC from Varanasi, but several of his family members are associated with the BJP.
Fears are being expressed that the shots that fell Bajrangi could end the lull a decade’s lull in the gang war. The addition of Ansari’s AK-47 wielding ‘executioner’ is just the latest addition to the body count that the rivalry between the two gangs—still active in eastern UP, especially the areas around Varanasi—has seen in the past over two decades.
Having started off as a weaving assistant, earning a paltry Rs 20-30 a day in his Janunpur village, Bajrangi made an entry into the police records when he bumped off a person accused of killing his father. That was way back in 1982 when he was just 15. A year later, he allegedly killed a meat seller over a payment dispute and ran away to Mumbai.
His stay in Mumbai proved a sort of on-the-job training. In 1983, 14 petrol pumps were looted in the city on a single night. Bajrangi was said to be the man behind the feat. He was arrested by Mumbai police and left for his home state after getting bail.
In UP, he also worked as a bus conductor in Varanasi and around 1994, came in contact with Ansari of Ghazipur, a budding cricketer who had been dabbling into the crime world. The story goes that once Bajrangi accidentally shot himself in the foot from his Katta (country-made pistol) and didn’t have money for treatment. Ansari then came as a ‘Good Samaritan’ and paid his medical bill.
Bajrangi paid back for this kindness in an exaggerated way, falling like a wrath on Ansari’s rivals. But the notoriety he gained was for the 2005 murder of then BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai. Police records say Bajrangi and his aides surrounded the vehicles of Rai and his six aides from all sides and fired around 500 bullets from their AK-47, pumping 100 bullets into Rai’s body.
For Mukhar, it was his biggest feat. Rai, himself a strongman, was considered close to Brijesh Singh, who used to operate from outside Uttar Pradesh while on the run.
After this, Bajrangi went off the police radar which raised the reward on his head to `7 lakh. Finally, Delhi Police arrested him in 2009 after prolonged surveillance.
In the meantime, his mentor Ansari had already been arrested by the CBI for Rai’s murder. Later, Singh was also arrested from Odisha in 2008. They are currently lodged in Banda and Varanasi jails, respectively.
But it’s clear that their writ runs even from inside the jail.
Mukhtar had entered politics long ago, winning as an Independent from Mau Assembly seat in the 1990s, and is now BSP MLA. Singh contested the legislative council seat from Varanasi in 2015 and won by a record margin.
The gang war between Ansari and Singh left a trail of blood in Varanasi and adjoining cities like Jaunpur, Mirzapur, Ghazipur, Ballia and Azamgarh. On stake were economic resources of the region — coal, railway and mining contracts and the hegemony over Varanasi silk industry, which does a business of Rs 10,000 crore annually.
The two gangs had everything — most sophisticated weapons, dedicated members, bullet-proof vehicles and political patronage. Their empire extended from Lucknow to Ballia and adjoining districts of Bihar. Ansari was first patronised by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and then by BSP chief Mayawati. Singh, on the other hand, is said to have links with the BJP. His elder brother Chulbul Singh was a BJP MLC.
While Ansari-Singh rivalry kept the Varanasi region alive with the sound of blazing guns in the 90s and 2000s, Gorakhpur earned the sobriquet of ‘Slice of Sicily’ for being the battleground of Harish Shankar Tiwari and Virendra Pratap Shahi in late ’70s and ’80s. As Gorakhpur was the headquarters of North-Eastern railway, their rivalry was mainly over railway contracts. It was also a caste war that started from the student politics of Gorakhpur University.
Tiwari’s ‘Hata’ and Shahi’s ‘Shakti Sadan’ were the two power centres in the gang war that claimed more than 50 lives as long as it lasted. They had a long list of dedicated members who were willing to die for them. With the passage of time, however, both took political recourse. Shahi contest Assembly polls from Lakshmipur and won in 1980. Tewari won from Chillupar in 1985.
Their rivalry continued, but at a lower decibel for over a decade till Shahi was killed in cold blood by a new entrant in the game — Shri Prakash Shukla — in 1997. He was the new warrior of the ‘Brahmin gang’ who knew no rules. He left a trail of killings before being shot dead by UP police’s Special Task Force in 1998 that had been set especially to eliminate Shukla.
After Shukla’s killing, Gorakhpur is having an extended run of quiet. But the Varanasi region is always apprehensive of a booming sound of blazing guns. Bajrangi’s murder has amplified these fears.
Dreaded dons who unleashed a reign of terror in UP
Prem Prakash Singh alias Munna Bajrangi
Area of Operation: Eastern UP, Bihar, Delhi, Mumbai
Status: Murdered in Baghpat jail on July 10, 2018
Crimes: Known as Mukhtar Ansari’s sharpshooter, he had killed about 40 people in his 20 years of criminal life. He was an accused in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005. His involvement in extortion, contract killing, land deals and government work contracts, coal and liquor contracts were well known. In an encounter bid, state police had attacked him in 1998 and he had sustained around a dozen bullets. He contested Assembly elections but lost. He was arrested in Mumbai in January 2009.
Area of operation: Eastern UP
Status: BSP MLA from Mau and in jail for over 13 years
Crimes: Accused in the murder of senior BJP leader and MLA Krishnanand Rai in 2005. At least 10 people fired at Rai’s motorcade killing seven people, including Rai, in Ghazipur district after he defeated Ansari’s elder brother and five-time legislator Afzal Ansari from Mohammadabad constituency in the 2002 Assembly elections. Ansari was accused of hatching the plot in jail.
Area of operation: Eastern UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Jharkhand
Status: Independent MLC from Varanasi since 2016; in jail since 2008
Crimes: Considered an arch rival of Mukhtar Ansari, he is accused of multiple murders. Mainly deals in silk trade, coal mining, railway construction, scrap disposal, public works and liquor business. Singh’s group allegedly ambushed Ansari’s convoy in Ghazipur in 2001 and killed three men. Singh was reportedly wounded in retaliatory fire and was presumed to be dead. Delhi police arrested him in Bhubaneswar in 2008.
Hari Shankar Tiwari
Area of operation: Eastern UP, Bihar
Status: Living a retired life with son Vinay Shankar in politics
Crimes: Harishankar Tiwari was the Brahmin face of dons in UP. Gorakhpur was considered to be the fiefdom of the mafia don-turned-politician, who has been a six-time MLA. He started off with cycle stand contracts and graduated to multi-million civil contracts. His influence in ‘Purvanchal’ can be gauged by the fact that he has been a Cabinet minister in Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav governments. Over two dozen cases of murder, attempt to murder, extortion, abduction etc. are registered against him. He was probably the first mafia don to have won elections from jail.
Virendra Pratap Shahi
Area of operation: Eastern UP, Bihar
Status: Brutally murdered by another gangster, Shri Prakash Shukla, in Lucknow in 1997
Crimes: Often called ‘Sher-e-Poorvanchal’, he was an arch rival of Hari Shankar Tiwari in Gorakhpur. He represented the Thakur lobby in the world of crime in Gorakhpur and Basti. He started off with student politics and stood up to challenge the might of Tiwari in Gorakhpur. He was elected independent MLA twice but had the tacit support of Janata Party. He had a running feud with Tiwari and was killed at his behest by Shukla.
Shri Prakash Shukla
Area of operation: Eastern UP, Bihar, Delhi, Mumbai
Status: Murdered by UP STF in Indirapuram locality of Ghaziabad in 1998
Crimes: UP police had constituted a Special Task Force to rein in Shri Prakash Shukla, who was a ruthless killer and had murdered around half-a-dozen people in a year after killing Virendra Pratap Shahi in 1997. He was booked in multiple cases of murder, loot, robbery, abduction and extortion not only in UP but in adjoining Bihar as well. He had allegedly taken a ‘suapri’ of `6 crore to kill the then CM Kalyan Singh.
Area of operation: Allahabad, Kaushambi and Sultanpur
Status: A former MP, he is lodged in Deoria jail for the past one year
Crimes: He is facing multiple criminal cases of kidnapping and murder, including that of BSP legislator Raju Pal in Allahabad. His gang was active in extortion, sand mining and land deals. Atiq was jailed for several years when the BSP was in power but came out during the Samajwadi Party rule. He was arrested again for assaulting the staff of an agricultural university in February 2017.