Late last week on an empty field by the national highway that led to Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh Police shot dead Vikas Dubey, ganglord and small-time politician from Chaubeypur.
The template was the same as any encounter killing—the victim grabbed a cop’s pistol and was killed when he fired at the police. Irony of ironies: sub-inspector KK Sharma, one of the two cops arrested for tipping off Dubey, sought the Supreme Court’s protection fearing an encounter against him.
The SIT formed by the UP Police to probe the events includes the encounter specialist, DIG J Ravinder Goud, who was booked for killing an innocent man 13 years ago, according to local TV channels.
The five-state manhunt for Dubey and his subsequent arrest in Ujjain and death nearly a week after his Gang of Chaubeypur massacred eight policemen in Bikru village reflects the darkness that plagues India, and specifically UP. It points to a lethal nexus involving politicians, policemen and criminals.
The 52-year-old Dubey, who was patronised by the system, may have taken many secrets of powerful men to his grave.
The full story of his network will never come to light. His life encapsulates the police-caste-politician culture in the heartland where a dreaded criminal becomes a force in the region and eventually contests elections.
Dubey was a small-time ‘bahubali’ who grabbed votes for netas at gunpoint in the ’90s.
He became a small-time politician after winning the Shivrajpur seat in a Zila Panchayat election from jail where he was serving a murder charge.
His epitaph would fit nicely his dreadful monikers—the Gabbar of Bikru and Don of Shivli.
What makes Dubey and others of his ilk thrive in the Hindi heartland?
The trend of the mafia entering politics in significant numbers began in UP.
According to a report, 143 legislators of the total of 403 MLAs in the current UP Assembly have criminal antecedents.
The rise of the 'Dons'
Starting in the 1980s, incremental public development activity in UP led to the rise of crime and criminals—a contradiction in itself.
Many big gangsters began their career as government tender mafia. They became big railway contractors and bagged other government infrastructure projects.
These contracts were finagled using muscle power. They amassed huge wealth. Money begets money. They splurged this new wealth on politicians and government functionaries such as legislators, the police and the general administration.
It was, and still is, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Politicians needed criminal muscle power to win elections.
As reward for this help, they ensured that their criminal associates had their say in contracts and odious activities such as murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, extortion, fraud and land grab.
Governments of the day were reportedly lenient towards them. Some nefarious criminals were Atiq Ahmad who controlled Allahabad and adjoining areas.
Abhay Singh, Brijesh Singh and Dhananjay Singh were dons of Eastern UP. Dhunni Singh and later his son Akhilesh Singh ruled Raebareli.
Ahmed, now in jail, holds the dubious title of UP’s first crime lord to be booked under the Gangster Act on several accounts of dacoity, murder, extortion and fraud.
He is accused of killing BSP MLA Raju Pal who had defeated his brother Ashraf in the 2004 UP state polls. The UP STF killed Shri Prakash Shukla, the ‘lone wolf’ of the Wild East of crime, in an encounter in September 1998. He was one of the most ruthless gangsters and contract killers active during the 1990s.
Shukla allegedly murdered don-turned-Gorakhpur MLA Virendra Pratap Shahi, a Bihar minister in Patna and even reportedly took a `6 crore contract to bump off the then BJP CM Kalyan Singh.
Shukla’s criminal record includes several sensational kidnappings for ransom, including Lucknow businessman Kunal Rastogi’s son.
The 2005 Bollywood flick Sehar revolves around various incidents in his life and his eventual death by police bullets.
Sources say Shukla was killed because he had no political godfathers; quite a loaded statement. Some UP gangsters were enchanted by the Mumbai underworld. Take Om Prakash aka ‘Babloo’ Srivastava and his Lucknow-born and -educated girlfriend Archana Balmukund Sharma, who was famous for her ‘killer looks’.
The influence of organised crime in Bollywood has been widely discussed: femme fatale Archana had a brief acting stint in the ironically named Dev Anand-starrer Gangster before following in her boyfriend’s footsteps.
She was wanted in multiple cases of abduction in North India, which she had executed on Srivastava’s behalf. Her whereabouts are unknown after she jumped bail; media reports claimed that she was mysteriously murdered in Nepal.
Many of the gangsters are fascinated by Bollywood and ironically, their end comes in the manner similar to several such films.
In commercially successful Shootout at Wadala, John Abraham plays Mumbai gangster Manya Surve, an educated criminal who knew how to plan robberies like a pro. He is killed in the movie as was real-life Surve in the city’s first recorded ‘encounter’.
For Nayakan, Kamal Haasan won several awards for his portrayal of Varadarajan Mudaliar, an unsophisticated don from South India who dominated the crime scene during the 1980s in Mumbai. Its remake, Dayavan, with Vinod Khanna in the lead, was a box office hit.
Mafia politicians are born
The 1980s saw many bloody battles between warring ganglords such as Hari Shankar Tiwari and Shahi who became an independent MLA.
The much written-about Tiwari is the first organised gangster in UP to successfully enter politics. A self-proclaimed Brahmin leader like Dubey, he contested as the Congress candidate from Chillupar constituency in Gorakhpur in 1982 and became a state Cabinet Minister.
He later played footsie with BSP for a while and managed to enroll his sons and nephew into the party.
“Tiwari started inspiring young criminals who hankered for a permanent abode in politics after a ‘successful’ stint in crime,” says Manoj Kumar, former SSP of Gorakhpur.
This is a standard practice for many mafia leaders to become politicians. Soon criminals realised the potential of their power to influence people and make powerful friends.
They resented their henchmen status. They aspired to be independent of politicians.
They had both muscle and money so why not become politicians themselves instead of just helping the netas?
Abhay took the Samajwadi Party (SP) route. Atiq first joined Apna Dal and later SP. Brijesh and Dhananjay took to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Coincidentally, sworn foes Mulayam Singh Yadav-led SP and Mayawati-led BSP hold the dubious distinction of politically harbouring several criminals over the last three decades.
Both parties enjoyed a large share of power during this period since the exit of the Congress from the state’s helm in 1989.
The gangster juggernaut started rolling in the state, in the real sense, from Eastern UP, Gorakhpur to be precise.
Atiq is a five-time Independent legislator, who graced Parliament as the MP from Phulpur on SP ticket before being expelled from the party in 2009.Brijesh, promoter of the Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party, has been behind bars since 2008—he ranks among the most powerful dons in UP.
His wife Annapurna Singh and cousin Sushil Singh are a BSP MLC and MLA respectively. Many of these criminals entered crime for personal reasons: Brijesh after avenging his father’s murder in Varanasi and Shri Prakash, for murdering a man who made a pass at his sister.
Brijesh supported BJP MLA Krishna Nand Rai, who was killed in 2005 by another gang leader from Eastern UP, Mukhtar Ansari.
Ansari, however, was acquitted years after the incident but it is believed that the killing of Rai was the handiwork of his gang and another dreaded criminal Munna Bajrangi, who grew under his tutelage. Incidentally, though in an unrelated incident, Bajrangi was shot dead in 2018 by one Sunil Rathi inside Baghpat District Jail. Brijesh subsequently escaped to Mumbai and became a member of the D-company, according to police sources.
However, he split with Dawood after the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. In 1992, he along with an associate entered a Mumbai hospital posing as a doctor and gunned down a member of the Arun Gawli gang, three policemen and two patients. Sometimes it’s the parties that become opportunistic for survival’s sake.
“Main Kunda ko goonda mukt kar doonga (I’ll make Kunda free of goons),” was Kalyan Singh’s the clarion call during the Assembly poll campaign in 1996.
The challenge was directed at Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, the scion of erstwhile princely Bhadri state of Pratapgarh, who is dubbed a mafia don by the press and his opponents.
However, in 1997, Raja Bhaiyya, elected from the same Kunda Assembly constituency, took oath as a cabinet minister because the CM needed his support to form government, after a year of the Assembly being in suspended animation.
As per the deal, he was to be rewarded with a ministerial berth. The clout Raja Bhaiyya would have wielded as a senior minister ruled out legal punishment later. His elevation is one of many examples when the transition of alleged criminals into politics is smoother than butter.
Ganglords go mainstream
Apart from Brijesh, Dhananjay, a Lucknow University student leader-turned-mafia don-turned-politico was a two-time independent MLA and MP from Jaunpur.
He had joined the BSP after it came to power in 2007 and managed to call the shots in the political as well as the social arena.
Dhananjay involved himself in ‘social work and helped the poor’, drawing praise from CM Mayawati who once called him ‘Robinhood’.
It was later found out that he provided financial help to secure votes like many other ‘bahubalis’ of his time.
He, however, fell out with Mayawati after his name cropped up in the NRHM scam and was arrested in December 2011 in a double murder case.
The exit of the Congress from the Numero Uno position in UP politics in 1989 witnessed some fast-moving events.
This sparked off many twists and turns in UP politics. The SP, which had inducted dreaded dacoit Phoolan Devi from backward Nishad community that constitutes a large vote bank, took the support of brigand Dadua, now dead.
The party wanted backward caste support to boost its prospects. Dadua being Kurmi was a big catch. The BSP and BJP too jumped on the caste and crime bandwagon.
Criminals were drafted into parties or governments at great speed. Senior SP leader and party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary refutes all charges that it was his party that patronised criminals the most.
“It’s a sustained conspiracy to malign the party and dilute its secular and socialist credentials,” he says, adding, “Look at other parties, including the BJP, which are accommodating criminals much more.” Bad choice of words.
UP Congress spokesperson Surendra Rajput, however, blames SP, BSP and BJP alike for the criminalisation of politics.
“The Congress has been criticised for giving a ticket to Hari Shankar Tiwari in the mid-’80s but what about other parties since then?” he asks.
Rajput says the Congress has been out of power since 1989 and hence cannot be accused of vitiating the political atmosphere.
He asks other parties to follow Rahul Gandhi’s call to debar criminals who have spent more than two years in jail from contesting elections.
Dubey was cosy with politicians. He remained pradhan of Bikru village for five years and Zila Panchayat member for 15 years with BSP help.
Later, when the Gram Pradhan seat was reserved, he backed a supporter’s wife who without doubt was elected—a routine affair in grassroots politics.
However, political support is not specific to a time period or tenure of a party in power in some cases.
For example, Badan Singh Badoo and his ideologue Sushil Mooch had their first run-ins with the police in the 1980s.
The first FIR against Sundar Bhati, whose unaccounted property was attached and demolished in Greater Noida after the Kanpur incident, was registered in 1992 in Noida.
Their notorious legacy has survived several changes in political establishment. Providing manpower during elections and getting rewards for carrying out dirty work like killing political foes mutually benefits netas and ganglords.
Money changes hands and a vicious circle is born that goes beyond the ambit of the party in power. An unnamed senior politician says the criminal is the best weatherman in UP because he knows which way the wind is going to blow. Criminals switch to parties that are more likely to come to power.
Caste and criminality
Caste drives politics and in the heartland, crime. Dubey was a Brahmin in a strong-Brahmin area.
The police station of the area was populated by Brahmin cops.
After his death, Facebook went viral with Brahmin fury.
One post read, “You just didn’t kill Vikas Dubey, you actually killed the faith of Brahmins. You killed our Vishwas, not Vikas. All the Mishras, Pandeys, Chaubeys, Tiwaris, Bhumihars! Brahmins should remember who Lord Parshuram fought against,” promising to burn movie theatres if a film was made on him.
Caste is used abundantly to pressure the police. Jats and Gujjars dominate the crime networks in Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr and Meerut.
They have built a trigger-happy criminal force in cahoots with police.
These are affluent regions which fill their coffers with good ‘returns’ on their criminal investments.
Apart from money, in several places in the state, caste and political nexus are the other domineering factors in crime.
A top police officer on condition of anonymity reveals that an internal probe suggested a strong caste angle to the Chaubeypur shootings since the local policemen were of Dubey’s caste and supported him.
Every swathe of territory in the vast caste-ridden UP required different caste equations.
Eastern UP has its own cultural milieu where Thakurs and Brahmins are face to face with Bhumihars fitting in somewhere.
Harishankar Tiwari had mass following of Brahmins while his bête noire Shahi enjoyed the support of Thakurs. Then, there are minority-dominated pockets where Mukhtar Ansari called the shots.
Raja Bhaiyya has his influence in at least five Assembly constituencies in and around Pratapgarh. He along with Brijesh and Dhananjay are classified as ‘Thakur Mafias’, especially when their help is sought against other castes during elections.
In Western UP, though Jats and Gujjars represent only about 6 and 4 percent of the population respectively, many of the gangsters are from these castes.
Sundar Bhati, Sunil Rathi (in Baghpat jail; he killed Munna Bajrangi) are Gujjars. Sushil Mooch and Badan Singh Badoo are Jats. Once a big name in the crime world, Madan Bhaiyya, also a mafia-turned politician, was a Jat.
Crime and politics are so intertwined that it blurs logical thinking of some politicians. The latest bait came from Mayawati who soon after Dubey’s encounter came out wooing Brahmins, talking of their possible ‘victimisation’.
This is seen as an attempt to resuscitate the BSP’s successful social engineering formula in which she used Brahmin card to manage a majority government in 2002.
Getting Khaki onboard
The law and order ecosystem can only flourish when all parts of its hierarchy functions with honesty and without undue influence.
However, several police investigations have pointed to the fact that the local police station is the first level to be compromised through criminal influence.
A mafia network, like Dubey’s, benefits immensely from a policeman who has been posted at a preferred location.
The chain of command of the local administration can then act as per the direction of the criminals. Gangsters access the local informant network through such cops who give crucial tip-offs about police action beforehand— which is exactly what happened in the Dubey case.
A policeman’s loyalty is worth its weight in gold since no crime network can flourish and no accused desperado can evade arrest in UP without the indirect support of the law and order machinery.
In the Chaubeypur incident, Dubey and his henchmen killed eight policemen who had gone to raid his house.
Later, it came to light that the large chunk of police force of the area was ‘managed’ by him and he was informed of the police raid in advance. The geography factor also influences a policeman’s criminal conduct.
Most cops hail from the region where they are posted. This presents a conflict of interest.
For the safety of their families and jobs, policemen in rural and remote areas have no option but to side with the local mafia.
Politicians are often the protective shields for criminals. Posting policemen in a mafia’s area of influence is by and large possible when parties to which the criminals belong are in power.
Though political and official support is a given, the mafia cannot operate successfully without the connivance of local cops in police stations, Dubey being a case in point.
The mafia influences the appointments of like-minded SHOs and other personnel of lesser rank in their dominions.
Not a difficult task considering their clout and money power. SHOs are posted by district SPs; often they get verbal orders from higher-ups to depute a particular officer to a particular place.
According to popular knowledge, mainly during the regimes of SP and BSP, instructions were given to district police officials directly from the state capital to post so-and-so at a particular place.
Similarly, tehsildars, lekhpals and other lower rank officials are posted according to a gang lord’s preference to help their regular businesses to work with impunity and promptness.
All big criminals, gangsters and gangsters-turned-politicians usually follow this modus operandi. How does this work?
Rather dropping cases and inviting the ire of the people and Opposition parties, the political patrons of criminals give verbal orders to officers to go slow. The prosecution argues their case ‘half-heartedly’. Filing chargesheets is delayed. Sections of IPC are poorly applied.
Witnesses are ‘persuaded’ to turn hostile. In a nutshell, criminals with allegiance to a particular party enjoy full immunity during the years of ‘their’ rule. Dubey, during interrogation before his killing, had revealed that about 11 politicians and five senior officers were his friends who used to give him favours.
Can the caste-based nexus of criminals, police and politicians embedded in the system be wiped out for good?
Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, is hopeful. The police have already launched a drive against the mafia, he says, and have prepared a list of 19 most-wanted criminals whose gangs will be liquidated in no time. However, ‘Main Vikas Dubey Kanpur wala (I’m Vikas Dubey from Kanpur)’—his words when arrested—may resonate in India’s popular memory for some time.
Obsession with Bollywood
Many criminals are fascinated by Bollywood. Slain gangster Vikas Dubey’s love for Sunny Deol-starrer Arjun Pandit is stuff of village folklore. Dubey watched the movie more than 100 times and encouraged his men in politics and the police to refer to him as ‘Pandit’.
Yogi Gives Criminals Two Choices: Prison or Death
Taming the criminal shrew of Uttar Pradesh is Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s top mission. He seems to be doing it extremely well, too.
His ‘Thok Denge’ philosophy has civil rights activists and opposition parties frothing at their mouths but people aren’t mourning criminals killed in encounters.
The message to the field officers is loud and clear. End crime, which was rampant during the SP regime. In the last two years, over 100 criminals have been eliminated, 70 in western UP alone.
During the same period, about 8,000 were arrested of which 5,000 were in Western UP. By December 2019, crime declined by 60.94 percent compared to 2016.
“The national share of UP’s population is 17 percent while the crime rate is 10 percent. Rate of murder and other cognizable offences is below the national average,” says Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi.
Yogi’s job as UP’s super cop isn’t easy though. As many as 143 legislators have criminal antecedents. Poll affidavits of 114 BJP MLAs show criminal cases registered against them; 83 of which are for heinous crimes.
According to Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (Law and order), cops have clear instructions to deal with the mafia and criminals with a heavy hand.
“We’ve been asked to act aggressively against offences on the uniform,” he says, stressing that “every bullet fired at the police will be duly repulsed.”
Data shows that the number of policemen killed on duty in India is double that of other deaths.
“The CM has zero tolerance for corruption and crime, especially against women and children. The brief to the police is—maintain peace, security and safety. Organised crime must be dealt forcefully, irrespective of political affiliation,” explains Awasthi. Politics has ratcheted up over encounter deaths.
Civil rights activists are attributing caste and communal angles to police killings: Human rights NGO, Rihai Manch, which has appealed to the National Human Rights Commission to take up such cases, said about 75 Yadavs and OBCs were killed during the May Lok Sabha elections.
Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress face in UP, wants a probe to expose Vikas Dubey’s protectors in the system. Yogi, with his eyes trained on crime fighting, is undeterred.
After the Dubey affair—the 119th criminal to be eliminated since 2016—the crusade against crime has only acquired fresh impetus.
The CM has asked for a list of mafia groups and gangsters to be dealt with. He has ordered the administration to attach their properties and check if they’re continuing their criminal activities from inside jail.
His directive is: “The paths of the criminals lead in two directions—one to jail and the other to death.”