The new mafia Raj

Unholy trinity a mafia-police-politician nexus is seen as the root of all corruption

The new mafia Raj

* Bhilai, September 28, 1991: The sparkling morning light was streaming through the window of a small room tip-toeing inside the mosquito net when the roar of gun shots splattered it with blood of trade unionist Shankar Guha Niyogi sleeping on the bed. Niyogi had taken up cudgels with the powerful mining lobbies and influential and rich industrialists backed labour contractors.

* Amritsar, September 1995: Jaswant Singh Khalra had raked
up the controversy of human rights violation by Punjab Police and had produced evidence of thousands of bodies surreptitiously burnt by the police. He was last seen washing his car outside his home. His body was never found.

* Rohtas, February 2002: Three attempts on life had not fazed Indian Forest Service officer Sanjay Singh from waging a battle with illegal mining and beedi smuggling outfits. His body was found in the forests in Rehal forests. Police later claimed it to be a handiwork of ‘Naxalites,’ which the Maoists rebutted stating that they had nothing to do with the murder.

* Gaya, November 2003: Satyendra Dubey, a project director with the
National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) working on the national highway project, Golden Quadrilateral, was shot dead after he wrote to the then Prime Minister about the unholy nexus among corrupt officials, politicians and contractors.

* 2012 January onwards:  RTI activist Premkant Jha killed in a town outside Mumbai; whistleblower S Bhuvaneswaran hacked to death in Kolathur, Tamil Nadu and March 8, IPS officer Narendra Kumar Singh crushed to death while trying to stop illegal mining in Morena in Madhya Pradesh.

The list is endless. And the chilling chronicles of killings continues its upward graph adding statistics as marauding guns continue to spew fire and smoke making it difficult to ascertain whether Indian social structures has black stripes on a white skin or white stripes on a black skin.

Honest cops, officers and citizens have always faced flak while combating corruption; but post-1991 scenario has taken the governance and tolerance threshold of criminal syndicates to its nadir wherein reprisal attacks border on insane violence.

The Indian subcontinent is now haunted by a hydra-headed spectre hovering in the pale on a razor’s edge where light is grey. Call it mafia, call it criminal syndicate or by any other name, the spectre is a part of the socio-politico-economic fabric of the society.

Be it in sand or be it in adulterated oil, adulterated milk, illegal mining or land grabbing, the spectre with an ability to camouflage its interests morphs itself into socio-political institutions, to function with impunity.

Today’s mafia does not operate in dark alleys; it operates in the swanky air-conditioned boardrooms and well-lit political offices discussing the riches in rural and forested India. Not that the criminalisation of politics is new to the nation, but the brazen attack on civil servants or a conscientious citizen by goons coupled with state’s hesitancy in tackling such cases indicates the intertwining of power interests between politics and criminal syndicates.

Maharashtra’s case

While several states do have a reputation of being badlands of the country, Maharashtra considered to be one of the most progressive states is a case in point where criminalisation of politics and corporates blend with a fury of a Moltov cocktail.

The burning of additional district collector Yeshwant Sonawane in Nashik district last year on Republic Day is one such case where fabrication was mixed with indisputable facts to gloss over a horrific reality. Sonawane had spotted goons from oil adulteration mafia on an isolated forested lane near Nashik. The goons grabbed him and within minutes Sonawane was charred to death.

The state finding itself in a tight corner with allegations of political-criminal syndicate nexus spilling out, deftly managed cultivated unsubstantiated leakages in media arguing that the murder was an outcome of an argument between Sonawane and Nashik oil-adulteration mafia leader Popat Shinde over the bribe amount.

Interestingly, investigating agencies failed to mention that Shinde was a common figure in every political rally irrespective of political flag. Prior to the rise of senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) minister Chhagan Bhujbal’s son Pankaj Bhujbal in Nashik, Shinde was always seen rallying support for Shiv Sena party when it was in power. Thereafter, history-sheeter Shinde was seen at the forefront of Pankaj Bhujbal’s rally.

Sharing dais with politicians Shinde was a force to reckon with in northern Maharashtra region. He was one of the powerful figures in the criminal oil syndicate, operating in Khandesh region, thanks to his proximity with ruling party politicians and media persons. And Shinde’s death within a couple of days after Sonawane’s murder came as a respite to the quaking ruling party politicians. 

According to senior journalist Daya Kishan Joshi of the former investigative tabloid Blitz: “The issue was not whether he (Sonawane) had anonymous complaints filed against him in ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau,) since it is very common even for honest officers to have complaint filed against them not only by corrupt fellow officers but also by gangsters…the issue was and continues to be, do such complaints absolve or deny the existence and acts of criminal syndicates. In fact, such reports act as a subtle warning to other honest officers.

Birth of land sharks

“Moreover, the issue of an existence of organised criminal syndicates is not as simple as made out to be. Organised criminal syndicate exists and thrives on existing socio-economic-political structures. Take for example Mumbai, the existence of criminal syndicates has always been a common phenomenon in this city from sixties till early nineties when high seas smuggling flourished.

Thereafter, the hydra-headed criminal syndicate changed its face following the de-reservation of land, into becoming land sharks. And the city saw mushrooming of land mafia, murders of whistleblowers including slapping of false charges on honest government officers.  And there is not much difference with other kind of mobs. By and large they are all supported by politically influential landed and moneyed class wanting to rake in profits; and that is why in the present day the shift is towards the mineral rich interiors of the country which hitherto had not attracted much attention, say in seventies or eighties.”

El Dorado of Indian subcontinent

Whilst the past two decades saw a fall in the cloak-and-dagger mafia activities in cities, natives from rural and other mineral and timber rich forested areas of India, much to their shock, found that the subterranean structures of their once-peaceful homeland were fast becoming a curse.

These mofussil regions are witnessing today what the American subcontinent witnessed in 19th century - the Gold Rush. They are the 21st century El Dorado. It is a history of American natives’ decimation and devastation that is being re-enacted in the subcontinent.

Describing the devastation during the Gold Rush, James J Rawls and Richard J Orsi in their book “A Golden State: Mining and Economic development in Gold Rush California,” mention “The human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans dependent on the health and bounty of the natural environment, became the victims of starvation and disease when it suffered from the effects of placer mining … as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats. The surge of mining population also resulted in the disappearance of game and food gathering locales as gold camps and other settlements were built amidst them, causing the forests to be cut down…Starvation often provoked the Native tribes to steal or take by force food and livestock from the whites, increasing white hostility and provoking retaliation against them…resulting in large scale massacres and sexual assaults on native women.”

Director of Delhi-based Institute of Economic Growth, Bina Agarwal, in an interview to media had observed: “Forests on which local tribal communities depend for their daily needs have been destroyed for mining iron ore, bauxite and other minerals…the resources have proved to be a curse for local tribal communities, but not for those who exploit them for profit. It is important that the land be returned to the local communities, which would ensure conservation and protection.”

Unholy trinity

However, most of the states shy away from this policy delineated by the Forests Rights Act, 2006 as it would shatter the unholy trinity - Political, Business houses and Mobsters. The underworld which once flirted in the cities, today have entrenched themselves in far-flung states that boast of forests, ravines, minerals and sand shores.

And thus it is not surprising to hear murderous attacks on empathic and sensitive people daring to voice against the pillaging by criminal syndicates; the wares are sold in a grey market to agents of buyers sitting faraway in air-conditioned boardrooms of big business houses clinking glasses with political big-wigs.

The natural resources in these states have pole-vaulted, the stakes in the past few years making the market more and more predatory. Jharkhand is one such mineral rich state and ironically now also rich with incidents of killings, plundering and scams. Last November, a 52-year-old nun Sister Valsa John confronted the illegal bauxite mining mafia. She was hacked to death. And the lone-warrior’s death did not even cause a ripple in the media.

Medical murder?

Similarly, in Haridwar, environmental activist sanyasi Swami Nighmananda died under mysterious circumstances in a local hospital. He was on a hunger strike protesting against the mining syndicate operating on the Ganges river bed. The allegations were: hospital authorities in collusion with the mining companies and local politicians executed a ‘medical murder.’
According to a study carried out by Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), since 2010, 12 RTI activists have been killed, including a policeman who had sought details under the Act. The study highlights the vulnerability of whistleblowers and honest officers waging a battle in a system which has all the traps of “Mahabharata’s Chakravyuha,” wherein the exits are marked: Morgue and Wayside garbage dump.

Death Watch

At least 16 whistleblowers have paid with their lives in the last ten years:

Sister Valsa John, a missionary from Kerala, who was fighting for the rights of poor tribals in Jharkhand, murdered by the coal mafia. 

Shanmugam Manjunath, an IIM-Lucknow alumnus and marketing manager of Indian Oil Corporation, was killed by the oil mafia for ordering the sealing of two petrol pumps
selling adulterated fuel in Lakhimpur Kheri of Uttar Pradesh in 2005.

Amit Jethwa, environmentalist and social worker, shot dead on July 20, 2010, for filing cases against illegal mining in protected areas of Gir Forest in Gujarat, naming BJP MP, Dinu Solanki, as a respondent. Gir forest is the home of the famed Gir lion. 

Satyendra Kumar Dubey, project director at NHAI, was murdered in Gaya,Bihar on Nov 27, 2003 for writing to the then Prime Minister on corruption in the
Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project.

Yashwant Sonawane, Additional District Collector, was burnt alive by oil adulteration mafia on Republic Day last year at Manmad, Nashik district of Maharashtra.

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