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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blowing Hot and Cold on Mafia

This piece was written after I heard the news of  the suicide of an esteemed junior colleague, Rahul Sharma.  Rahul Sharma was, by all accounts, an intrepid fighter against entrenched criminal elements.  I had come across the story of his persecution in a news item "Officers Mess in which I had  also figured.  The community did not reach out to him while there was still time.  Another young IPS officer, Narendra Kumar, who visited me in my office briefly when he had come for training to Bihar was brutally done away with at around the same time.  Media accounts suggest that he has also left behind a legacy of selfless struggle against politically connected mafia in the briefest tenure.  

In the meanwhile I was approached by a newspaper to write a piece for them on the mafia and their links etc. So I sent it across to them. But I find that the  paragraph, "These deeds 'reveal' the perpetrators to us, and us to our own selves..." missing; a section which  brings home to me, personally, the tragic futility, even the absurdity, of the fight for these "mini-states" and the ambivalent stand of the community on this issue. So, I am putting the original piece on my blog.  

I also wanted to know whether the fiendish asymmetry is brought home to me only because I am a police officer, or are there others also who share my views.
We simply cannot wish away our mafia.  There are so many of them, active in areas which affect each one of us deeply.  The resource mafia, illegally exploiting coal, timber and other forest produce, wildlife or sand, depredates our environment.  Or the development mafia bagging contracts for roads, bridges, railway lines and other projects takes away from us the fruits of planned growth.  Or the land mafia, or the education mafia or the health mafia, the electricity mafia, or the co-operative mafia.  One could go on and on.  And we live with them all the year round, relegating their activities to the basement of our brains. As a token of our appreciation, we sometimes elect the Mafiosi to the various legislative bodies, sometimes several times in succession.  

One wonders whether we could do without them. 
A legion of decentralized dictatorships, these neighborhood mafias mediate a host of functions of the state.  We do not find anything unnatural about it.  Because we have come to accept the political culture where a politician is expected to provide avenues for his "caste men" and cronies for looting the resources of the state.  At the ground zero of politics, there is a consensus that this is an absolutely democratic method of rewarding political support.  We do not seem to protest.
They are not the anti-heroic outlaws hounded by police, marked by the enemy’s bullet, as popularized by movies.  The one sure-fire formula of political patronage earns our Mafia the homage of the law enforcement officials.  Their control of the institutional environment allows them to enjoy the fruits of their crime and die in bed of old age.  But some day things do slip and go out of hand.
Regrettable though it may be, sometimes it becomes necessary to remove a Yashwant Sonawane by the simple expedient of pouring some kerosene on him and igniting him.  Or to bludgeon the nosey activist Sister Valsa John for agitating against the peacefully profit making enterprise of illegal coal mining in Jharkhand.  Swami Nigmanand was similarly removed from the scene by a combination of intrigue and heartlessness. Shehla Masood, the RTI activist; Arup Kalita, the Assam environment activist; Satyendra Dubey, the engineer in the Golden Quadriateral project; Manju Nath, the Indian Oil officer; Ajay Kumar Singh, SP of Lohardagga; the divisional forest officer Sanjay Singh of Kaimur; the journalist  Dey, to name a few allegedly lost their lives because they refused to peacefully co-exist. 

Then the dirt comes to the surface.
These deeds “reveal” the perpetrators to us, and us to our own selves, compelling us to stage a mass ceremony of innocence, make a communitarian plea of alibi.  That is why we are revolted by the bomb-and-gun variety, because his deeds disturb the even tenor of life.  If the outrage were in support of the cause championed by the martyred enforcement official, the community would regularly rally behind those many harassed and victimized officers and activists who are trying to rein in these self-same elements.  Towards them, while they are alive, their attitude is of the audience watching a daring stunt. Will they, or will they not carry it off?  Before they fall victim to the assassin’s bullet, they may have knocked at the door of their superiors, may have sought for the amplification of their voices in the media. But all in vain.  Their deaths are like the deaths foretold.
Why are we reaping such a bountiful harvest of mafias?  The answer must lead us to the nature of our politics, which has now completely rid itself of its ideological baggage.  Even the rhetorical tenors of its emancipatory pronouncements barely hide its annoyance at being forced to pay lip service to all those high ideals.  In the absence of passion in the field of politics, the pursuit of political power is less about mobilization and more about managerial enterprise.  Governance is about providing the middle class the security to visit malls and cinemas, and the poor some doles – endlessly.  The rest is easy.  A deft coordination of interests, a hard bargaining skill for the spoils and a keen eye for keeping things at sub-crisis level is all that it is about.  In an environment where the political tenure is short and uncertain, brutish and nasty Mafia is the obvious mode of entrepreneurship.  

After all has it not been said that Mafia is illegal capitalism, capitalism legal Mafia.