Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Tale of Crime and Reform from Bihar

by Ratnakar Tripathy

This is a tale from Bihar about how crime and politics weave into each other in Bihar and elsewhere in India. This is also a tale about how crime and democratic politics often part ways as well. The tale here has a happy ending however, not just for the criminal turned politician but also the voters of Bihar and our democracy. Which is why I am going to add a preface to this story with a moral.

I wish to narrate this story to make a single simple point – that our understanding of crime-politics nexus is highly mechanical, linear, simplistic. The fact is the arena of democratic politics impacts a criminal career in many possible ways. The key word here is ‘dynamics’ namely the constant flow and the coming and going between professional crime and politics in our democracy. If Bihar is much safer today, it is not because hearts have changed but because it doesn't pay or rather it is increasingly hazardous to continue in crime. On top of that if you fail to inspire sufficient dread among the common citizen who seems to care two hoots for your haughty menace, crime loses glamour and prestige!

Imagine a mid-life crisis faced by a pro criminal – at the age of 50 when the first alarming signs of ageing appear as the children grow up, and as a don finds more risk than reward in his criminal career, he turns a worrier. He knows no trade except one that requires little other than social skills and leadership qualities, both of which have been part of his make-up since his adolescence – politics seems the easy answer. Why not? He is a graduate, reads the papers regularly and can deliver a coherent speech in front of a large audience. When he joins his paws smiling politely to say ‘Namaste’ his ring-laden hands don’t exactly look like a bludgeon!  
But the moment a criminal or an ex-criminal as we prefer to call them enters politics, we throw up our hands in despair giving up on our democratic system which has no easy way of purging them out unless convicted after many grinding years. But before a frenzied state of outrage completely overwhelms you, take a pause and listen to this real life tale, a report from ground Bihar Elections 2015, except I won’t name names here, thus no characters, no sources identifiable easily.  Here it is:

‘A drifted into petty crime during college days in Patna and by the early 1990s was already a feared figured in his locality in Patna. He ran a gang of chain-snatchers, raiders and kidnappers for some years before rubbing the local police the wrong way and had a few bones cracked before being hauled to the prison. Inside the prison over time he turned more professional than ever forming an interstate gang and monitoring and running it from within the prison walls. His name began to appear in the press and his contacts extended all the way in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The lanes around A’s abode were avoided by outsiders as the residents put more and more layers of steel grills between them and the streets. I was told around 1995-2004 there was a near hundred percent chance of being mugged if you entered certain lanes after sunset.  Not to mention the gangs chucking crude bombs on each other during daylight hours! Cases against A were piling up like medals earned by an athletics prodigy.

A made a steady climb in the criminal hierarchy before serving his time and finding release. Of course this happened time and again like a vicious circle before A turned into a ‘respected’ criminal even the cops couldn’t trifle with. A became notorious for being quick to draw and aim exactly. In the meantime, he had made quite a bit of money even as his hair began to turn grey and his daughters reached a marriageable age.’

Agreed, thus far the story sounds like a faceless cliché – it could be anyone’s story. But hear the rest. 
‘2014 - enter a top cop posted in Patna. A is summoned to a secret meeting where it is made clear that his career is about to be cut short. There is competition from other dons and younger talents of course over the ever shifting turfs but then a police encounter is made to seem not too remote a likelihood. Reality sinks in. A gets the willies early into this silk smooth and affectionate counselling session at midnight. Quaking in fear he falls at the feet of the tough cop with a good heart. Leafing through a thick file on A, the top cop suggests a way out. And what is that?

 A few days after this meeting along with his entire brood, oldies, adults, men, women and children, A forms a semi-circle in front of the top cop in a pre-dawn assembly. The site is the Ganga River where the entire clan stands knee-deep in water, their hands folded in prayer. What follows is an improvised ceremony where under the ‘priestly’ gaze of the top cop A takes an oath - he pledges never to touch the gun again. Marigolds, incense and tearful eyes of the relieved family members define the moment around the riverside temple. Before the first river bathers arrive, the crowd has scattered with no trace of the mammoth moment.’

But then the last barber shop before the river front, a gossip hothouse which serves me for haircuts is where I heard this story in whispered undertones. I won’t have heard the tale if I hadn’t expressed my worry over the likelihood of A being elected an MLA from my area.’     

My concern here is not to pose A as an exemplar or even presume that A has been able to extricate himself from the world of crime irreversibly. The simple point I make here is this – it is because people like A all over Bihar have been tamed by politics and a regime of common law and order that in today’s Patna you can go for a night show and walk home whistling the tune of the day.

A is very much around but he is not pointing a gun at anyone anymore! He is asking for votes in a secret ballot system even as he fights his umpteen cases. The point is there is now more going out of crime in Bihar, wherever, than coming into it.

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