Criminal-political-bureaucratic Nexus enables organised crime

This has been dramatically brought out in the recent past with Bishnoi, who operates with impunity from jails across multiple states. 
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

The sensational killing of Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi, national president of the Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, in broad daylight at his house in Jaipur on December 5, is being widely discussed in terms of the victim’s past associations, his role in disruptive politics, as well as possible histories of personal enmity. Two of the shooters, as well as a facilitator, have now been arrested; a fourth suspect was killed at the location of the incident itself. The event is, however, unlikely to have anything more than a transient impact on political alignments within the state. 

This killing, and its wider associations, however, have a significance far beyond Rajasthan’s borders and are a reflection of growing criminal networks that operate with near impunity across the country, and beyond international borders. They have a potential to impact not only domestic security, but India’s international relations as well—as the gangster-Khalistani nexus abroad and the current contretemps with Canada and the US clearly demonstrate. The Gogamedi killing is, moreover, an indictment of India’s policing and justice system, as well as the wider environment of politics and governance. 

The gangs of Punjab have been attracting significant media attention over the past couple of years, most significantly, since the killing of Punjabi singer and ‘political activist’ Shubhdeep Singh, aka Sidhu Moosewala, on May 29, 2022. But, this is hardly an abrupt genesis or a sudden point of escalation. The Moosewala killing was no more than an episode in a long series of tit-for-tat murders, which provided evidence of a flourishing organised criminal underground. The Gogamedi killing is, likewise, a continuation of a chain of ‘normal’ operations of loose complexes of organised crime—in the immediate case, some hard disagreements over the killing of gangster Anandpal Singh, in a police encounter in 2017. 

At the apparent centre of these, and a significant number of other startling cases, is the Lawrence Bishnoi gang, which has claimed responsibility for both the Moosewala and Gogamedi killings. Bishnoi, himself in jail, apparently continues to direct operations, through associates abroad—including Satinder Singh aka Goldy Brar. But, the high-profile killings that attract media attention are only the most visible manifestation of continuous organised criminal operations that persist, uninterrupted. The Bishnoi gang is involved in extortion, drug smuggling, gun running and supari killings, among other organised criminal activities, across multiple states—Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi—which fail to command significant public attention. 

The group is not alone, either in its activities in India or in its networks abroad. ‘Punjabi gangs’ have already earned notoriety in Canada and there is a significant emerging threat in California, US. The overlap with Khalistani terrorism will inevitably create difficulties for both the host and mother countries. These gangs in themselves, however, do not exhaust the problem. There is a wider environment of political and administrative collusion, which enables their activities and survival. Organised crime, with occasional spurts of visible conflict with authority, does not ordinarily confront the state; it is overwhelmingly collusive. This has been dramatically brought out in the recent past with Bishnoi, who operates with impunity from jails across multiple states. 

Indeed, Bishnoi has enormously expanded his group during his time in jail, building new associations and alliances. He has been enabled, moreover, to give video interviews in jail. These have been widely broadcast over social media, and despite the passage of more than nine months, the officials responsible have yet to be identified. The probe ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in March is yet to submit its report. Bishnoi issues frequent statements on social media, and it is evident that he has access to communication devices. All this cannot happen with the help of some low-level jail staffer; collusion at very high levels is required for such persistent violations, such comprehensive facilitation and such complete impunity. 

Bishnoi is just a particularly dramatic example. One needs only to look at the profile of India’s political leadership to understand how entrenched the influence of organised crime is. “Crime and politics,” the Association for Democratic Reform notes, “are synonymous”; the number of Parliamentarians with pending criminal cases increased from 24 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in 2019. The proportion of MLAs with criminal cases is at a comparable 44 percent. Inquiry after inquiry has underscored the ‘criminal-politician-administrative nexus’, but it continues to thrive. This is the structure that supports and enables organised crime, and has made it possible for these gangs to extend their networks abroad as well.        

Ajai Sahni 

Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, South Asia Terrorism Portal

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