The arrest and the subsequent gunning down of gangster Vikas Dubey in a police encounter have once again put the spotlight on the nexus between criminals and politicians in Uttar Pradesh.
Dubey was hunted down after he had killed 8 policemen who had gone to raid his home the last week. The police force has since admitted that a few policemen had tipped Dubey off about the impending raid which enabled him to prepare, massacre the raiding party and flee from the spot.
The Opposition political parties, even those who propped him up during their rule in the state, are up in the arms claiming that the encounter was carried out to protect the ‘big fish’ in the system who patronised and helped him expand his web of organised crime, including murders, extortion, among other things.
But criminals being propped up by politicians and getting active support from the system in Uttar Pradesh dates back to the late 1970s when the caste churning in northern states had begun. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were at the forefront of politicisation of crime and criminalisation of politics. The ‘Purvanchal’ region in Uttar Pradesh, bordering Bihar, became a notorious hotspot.
The region became awash with competing ‘Bahubalis’ -- the strongmen -- and ferocious gang wars were the order of the day. Such was the notoriety of the region that it was called the ‘Chicago of the East’, in an apparent reference to the mafia rule of yore in America.
Hari Shankar Tiwari vs Virendra Pratap Shahi
Both Shankar Tiwari and Virendra Pratap Shahi were student leaders in Gorakhpur University. It was the last ’70s, when the Brahmins and the Thakurs were at loggerheads with each other. Tiwari gradually gained influence among the Brahmins. Their rivalry came to fruition when a young Member of Legislative Assembly of Janata Party, Ravindra Singh, was gunned down at Gorakhpur railway station.
Thakurs, the caste he belonged to, suspected it to be the handiwork of Brahmins. After Singh’s murder, Shahi became the leader of Thakurs in the region and sounded the bugle of war against Tiwari and his gang.
The next two decades saw innumerable instances of members of both the gangs engaging in wild gunfights. Both the gangs also competed to get lucrative government contracts and licenses to build roads, run petrol pumps and sell railway scrap.
As the gory gang wars raged on the streets of eastern UP, Tiwari became the first person in the history of Indian politics to win an election while being incarcerated in prison in 1985. Overall, he was elected MLA as many as six times from the Chillupar constituency in Gorakhpur district.
His patronage was sought by the biggest politicians across party lines in the state and his stature can be gauged from the fact that he became a Cabinet minister in the governments of Kalyan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
Shahi also became MLA twice from the Lakshmipur seat in Gorakhpur district and he too held considerable sway over the politicians and system in the state. Such was his clout that he was hailed as ‘Sher-e-Purvanchal’, or the lion of Purvanchal.
In the mid-1990s, a new kid from the same region emerged on the block who harboured the ambition to become the kingpin. Shri Prakash Shukla plunged into the murky waters of crime after killing a man in 1993 who had whistled at his sister.
Later, he became the close aide of Suraj Bhan, a dreaded don from north Bihar. In 1997, he killed Shahi in Lucknow in cold blood and put paid to the torrid rivalry between Tiwari and Shahi. It was speculated that his next target was Tiwari as he had set his eyes on the Chillupar seat. Many even claimed that he had taken a contract to kill the then chief minister of UP, Kalyan Singh, for Rs 6 crore. But before he could execute his plans, he was shot down by UP’s Special Task Force in Ghaziabad in 1998.
Many rivalries branched off from the Tiwari-Shahi tussle. The most significant among these was the one between Brijesh Singh and Mukhtar Ansari. Tiwari had two trusted sharpshooters who killed on his command -- Matnu Singh and Saheb Singh. Later, both of them fell out with each other.
Brijesh was close to Saheb Singh, while Mukhtar worked closely with Matnu Singh. Mantu was shot dead in the late 1990s near Ghazipur jail and the needle of suspicion was pointed at Saheb Singh. Mukhtar avenged the murder of his mentor by killing Saheb and became the leader of the gang. That was the genesis of the spine-chilling and long-standing gang war between Brijesh and Mukhtar.
Many other criminals took a leaf out Tiwari and Shahi’s book and jumped on to the political bandwagon. Prominent among them being Amarmani Tripathi, Atique Ahmed and Raja Bhaiyya whose reign of terror in their respective regions became the stuff of folklore.
Since then, Uttar Pradesh continues to be the badlands where crime, politics and law enforcement are inextricably entwined.