Mario Puzo would have felt at home in today’s India; so would have Vito Corleone and Luca Brasi. The mafia here avoids incarceration thanks to money and muscle power, while the few dons who go to jail flagrantly operate their political and criminal empires from inside, living in luxury and equipped with high-end cell phones.
The mafia’s organizational skills are so efficient that it controls everything, from the international drug trade to mining, construction, tobacco and liquor smuggling and more; at its cruel core is money and money alone. The Italian mafia was the template for other omnipotent criminal organizations such as the triads, the Yakuza and the Russian Bratva, considered the world’s most powerful mafia. The sinister scourge affects India, too, on many levels.
Last week, when over seven million schoolchildren were traumatized by the examination paper leak, the trail led to the door of the education mafia. The highly respected, effective and credible Education Secretary, Anil Swarup, was forced to admit on television: “the education mafia is more dangerous than the coal mafia”, and warned that it would destroy India’s future. The dark domain of the mafia encompasses civil contracts, liquor licences/permits, government projects and the transfers and postings of key officials.
It is not surprising that the film Munnabhai, MBBS portrayed the total takeover of all aspects of Indian society, with goons deciding how much milk is to be sold, which newspapers and magazines are to be distributed, which medicine brands are to be supplied to hospitals, and even the location of a tiny tea shop. Moreover, gangs running the lucrative business of providing domestics to urban middle-class couples, providing fake IDs to gullible girls trafficked from poverty-struck areas in the north-east and the south, have proliferated countrywide. The mafia has become the new outsourcing giant for a large variety of services; both legal and illegal.
There is no better person than Swarup to gauge the power of this rising menace. He had previously handled the coal department, which has been for long the source of illegal wealth amounting to over Rs 40,000 crore annually. As an insider, he is one of the many civil servants who have witnessed the infiltration of illegitimate facilitators in the system, which not only destroys the credibility of the bureaucracy but also erodes public confidence in the fairness of the establishment. All institutions, from the judiciary to Parliament, are concerned about the growing influence of mafia groups over the day-to-day affairs of people.
Until recently, the mafiosi were confined to the economic and political sectors. Powerful caste/local leaders of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh controlled the illegal extraction of coal and sand from riverbeds. Hardcore criminals coerced or bribed local administrators to grant them mining contracts at throwaway prices and excavated more than the area allotted. Gradually, illegal mining became the major source of income for political leaders not only in north India but also in the south. Elections have been commandeered by the political mafia.
Today the mafia has extended its tentacles everywhere.
*Drug mafia: Controls the sale of fraudulent drugs to various hospitals and clinics. It also dictates the choice of brands doctors prescribe. The nation’s health care system, both public and private, is now the source of the malaise than the cure due to ineffective or dangerous medicines. Fatalities and diseases have risen significantly in hospitals because of improper medication.
*Liquor mafia: Operates the multi-crore network that transports illicit liquor and illegally manufactured Indian Made Foreign Liquor from licensed units across India, and is a major source of political funding. The dominance of the liquor mafia on India’s political establishment is evident from the fact that alcohol has been kept out of GST to enable state governments to retain control of excise rates. Over and above tax evasion, every year over 500 people die from consuming adulterated and poisonous alcohol.
*Land, forest and sand mafia: Singularly responsible for the death of rivers and forests, and slums all over the country. Controlled and patronized by politicians, it chooses vast tracts of riverbeds and government land for mining and developing residential clusters without basic civic amenities. Half of India’s urban population now lives in unauthorised colonies. This genre of mafia has not only grabbed public land but also builds commercial and residential complexes on riverbeds, dried-up water bodies and forests. In some states, it has encroached on many parts of both national and state highways. According to unofficial estimates, the market value of illegally captured public land far outstrips the annual GDP of the country.
*Education mafia: Establishes many new medical colleges, professional institutions and universities, framing the curriculum as it controls examinations and coaching systems, striking at the very roots of talent creation. For a price, it can arrange university degrees without one sitting for an exam, seats in top medical colleges, permission to increase seats and even top slots in examination results, as happened in Bihar.
*Child trafficking mafia: Flourishes rampantly in semi-urban and rural areas. With agriculture increasingly becoming an unviable economic activity, marginal farmers are forced to send their offspring to cities to work as child labour. Many are subject to sexual and physical abuse. According to experts, over 10,000 racketeers are involved in child commerce. They supply village kids to tiny manufacturing units operating out of slums and hideouts, which make products for even famous brands. A large number of children are kidnapped, tortured and maimed to be deployed on the streets as beggars.
Ironically, in this age of technology, where modern tools of management and governance exist along with better monitoring capabilities, the role of a parallel and illegal delivery system of public services is growing faster and enjoys the full protection of various levers of power. Born after the chaotic collapse of the Sicilian feudal system in the 19th century, Cosa Nostra and its local versions are active in the US, South America, Europe and Russia.
The burgeoning might of the mafia poses a terrifying threat to New India by flooding the nation with bogus doctors, illiterate teachers, deadly hospitals, toxic water tanks, ineffective weaponry, crippled health care and a degraded environment. Unless the establishment is freed from its noxious grip by backing honest and determined officials, the very soul of the nation will be imperiled.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla