Do We Love Our Mafia?

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We simply cannot wish away 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 wild life or, sand, depredate 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 wherein a politician is expected to provide avenues for his caste men and cronies for looting the resources of the state. At 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 antiheroic outlaws hounded by police, marked by the enemy’s bullet, as popularized by movies. The one surefire 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 oil and igniting him. Or 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 quadrangle project, Manju Nath the Indian Oil officer, Ajay Kumar Singh SP of Lohardagga, the divisional forest officer Sanjay Singh of Kaimur, 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 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 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?


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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