EXCLUSIVE | MP polls: Chambal's dakus and gun cult

The bandit analogy of Chambal is so dominant that little do most people know that the region is dotted with marvellous monuments of Hindu temple architecture

Daku Mohar Singh (left) and Daku Malkhan Singh. Credit: DH Photo/Anand Mishra

Guns boom for no rhyme or reason and the possession of firearms determines a person’s social status. Welcome to the ravines (beehads) of Bhind and Morena, which account for nearly two-thirds of the entire licensed guns in the Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh.

The Chambal region has formed the plot of many Bollywood potboilers, including the recent Irrfan Khan starrer 'Paan Singh Tomar'. The bandit analogy of Chambal is so dominant that little do most people know that the region is dotted with marvellous monuments of Hindu temple architecture.

Thirty-four Assembly seats fall in the Gwalior-Chambal region, which has complex caste dynamics and a history of violence.

The names of daku (bandit) Malkhan Singh and Mohar Singh still evoke awe. They used to send shivers down the spines of people in Bhind and Morena. They are now in hot demand by political parties during every election.

DH tracked both the bandits during the election coverage of Madhya Pradesh.


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Now the one-time close associates -- Malkhan (74) called ‘Dadda’ and Mohar (91) called Baba (grandfather) -- are on different sides of the political discourse.  

While old age has caught up with Mohar, Malkhan is still in the pink of health and his residence B-15 in Sadashiv Nagar Lashkhar in Gwalior has a board displaying the name “Thakur Malkhan Singh." Dadda sees a stream of visitors daily.

 Every morning, Malkhan combs his hair after a bath and applies the trademark 'lal tilak' on his forehead, preserving his old age daku look. Malkhan was the subject of many dacoit movies but he has never contested an election.

He has been working for the BJP for 24 years and is campaigning for about half a dozen BJP candidates in the 2018 Assembly polls. His mobile keeps ringing as he hops from one constituency to another and organises his community members to vote for his chosen candidates.

The 90-plus Mohar Singh, who campaigned for the Congress till the 2013 Assembly polls, says that “change is happening this time. It is necessary for the Congress to come to power. Otherwise, the BJP will destroy everything."

He says: “Hamari party alag, unki party alag." (Malkhan and I belong to different political parties.)

Mohar is now a proud farmer, who takes care of his 125 bighas of land in his village Mehgaon in Bhind. He was also elected to the Mehgaon Municipality for two terms in the 90s.

Both Mohar and Malkhan cite “injustice” as the reason for picking up guns and spreading terror in the ravines of Chambal. Malkhan surrendered in 1982 when Arjun Singh was Chief Minister and Mohar in 1972. They both agree that “gun does no good to anyone”.

The fascination for guns, however, lingers around the bandit land. And it is a major challenge during the polls for the police of Bhind, Morena and Gwalior to receive the deposits of around 80,000 licensed guns.

The Officer in Charge of Mehgaon Police station Sanjeet Singh told Deccan Herald that around 1,900 firearms have been deposited at Mehgaon police station itself.

“Like the lease for opium farming is a kind of status symbol in Mandsaur and Neemach regions, having a licensed gun is some status issue in Chambal," Sanjeet says. "And this is not limited to any particular caste. Gurjars, Brahmins, Scheduled Castes all have a fascination with guns.”

There is a ban on firing guns in public spaces but the rule is hardly enforced. No marriage is complete without gunshots though injuries and deaths have happened. Off late, the licensed guns are helping village youths earn money as armed security guards.

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EXCLUSIVE | MP polls: Chambal's dakus and gun cult

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