Friday 12 May 2023

Is Ashoka Mody a closet bakht?

Is Ashoka Mody, at least when writing for Project Syndicate, capable of writing a single sentence which isn't mischievous, mendacious or downright mad? Let us see-  

India’s Law-of-the-Jungle Raj
May 12, 2023ASHOKA MODY

The recent public murder of notorious Indian gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed

who was killed by gunmen from a rival gang who had disguised themselves as journalists  

serves as a potent reminder that Indian society and politics remain plagued by crime, brutality, and lawlessness.

No. It is a reminder that under Yogi Adityanath, gangsters are being killed or- like the goons who killed Atiq- they are being sent to prison. That's why Yogi will be re-elected.  

In fact, Ahmed's life and death suggests that the dysfunction is deepening.

His life showed that caste-based political parties fucked up the State something rotten. But now Yogi is in power, the criminals are running scared.  

NEW DELHI – At around 6 p.m. on March 26 of this year, a portly man with a twirled mustache stepped out of Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat. A 20-member team of police was ushering him into the prisoner van that would take him to a court in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, to face judgment in a kidnapping case. A waiting reporter asked if he was afraid, and the man – the gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed – responded, “I know their plan; they want to murder me.”

But everybody in India has seen umpteen films where gangsters run their operations from the safety of a prison cell from which they can always get released to attend some marriage or funeral or bogus medical appointment. Atiq had killed policemen, politicians and gangsters. He knew plenty of people were out for his blood. That's why he wanted to remain in a prison where he had bribed the guards.  

As the police convoy traveled across the country, a horde of media followed closely behind.

They were hoping that cops would attack Atiq's vehicle and shoot him dead in a 'fake encounter'. That would make for good footage. Atiq's mistake was to think the presence of journalists would keep him safe. He forgot that anybody can pass themselves off as a journalist. 

When Ahmed urinated at a roadside stop, voyeuristic camera-wielders zoomed in on his back, with the footage broadcast live to viewers across the country. A veteran criminal was about to get his comeuppance, or so many hoped, and nobody wanted to miss a thing.

This makes for good TV though nobody in India greatly cared for the fellow.  

Ahmed had long gotten away with murder – literally. He was responsible for more deaths than anyone will probably ever know. He often faced charges, but repeatedly avoided conviction.

Because the Courts are shitty. Eye-witnesses keep getting dragged to Court only to find that the lawyers have got an adjournment. They finally turn hostile so as not to have their time wasted.  

This enabled him to contest and win multiple elections, first to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly and then to India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha.

He represented either the Samajwadi party, which is Yadav led, or else the Apna Dal, which is a rival to the Dalit based BSP. Caste politics means criminialised politics.  

Although the group of criminal-politicians has grown manifold, he was a trailblazer.

Not really. But he was the first person to be booked under the 'Gangster Act'. However, there had been a nexus between politicians and 'bahubalis' even in the Sixties and Seventies. The IPS officer knew he had to serve the gangster in power but mustn't be too nasty to the gangster's rival because he might come to power soon enough. This was advise I was given in 1982 by a DIG of Police who had learned this lesson the hard way twenty years earlier.  

To be fair, voters liked gangsters because they had countervailing power over the police and the judiciary.

The law, it seemed, was about to catch up with Ahmed. On March 28, the court in Prayagraj sentenced him to life in prison. To many observers’ surprise, the court acquitted his brother and alleged co-conspirator Ashraf,

because Indian Courts are shitty.  

though he too would have to remain in custody pending decisions on multiple charges against him, including one of murder. Nonetheless, the Prayagraj verdict offered a glimmer of hope that India could restore civilized norms and democratic accountability.

Which is what is actually happening. The State can't keep gangsters safe from other gangsters- more particularly if they disguise themselves as journalists. 

The glimmer vanished quickly.

No it didn't. We don't care if the police shoot gangsters or other gangsters shoot gangsters- provided those gangsters and caught and locked up. No doubt, they still may get knifed by members of a rival gang but nobody is shedding any tears for them.  

Mayhem returned. On April 13, Uttar Pradesh police caught up with Ahmed’s 19-year-old son, Asad. He stood accused of killing two months previously the man his father had kidnapped years earlier. In their “encounter” with Asad, the police shot and killed him and another suspect in the murder.

Which thrilled the voters of UP. India has done extra-judicial killing on a massive scale against all sorts of bad elements.  

Two days after the police “encounter,” Atiq and Ashraf were taken to a hospital in Prayagraj for a medical check-up.

Because he had claimed to have high blood pressure and was having difficulty sleeping due to the heat.  

As they walked, handcuffed, from the police van to the hospital doors, journalists descended upon them, all attempting to get their soundbite.

Atiq thought that getting this sort of publicity would help keep him secure. He was wrong.  

Then, Atiq’s prediction came true: three “journalists” – young men with fake media credentialsshot the brothers dead while their police escorts froze.

 Sadly, few Indian journalists will ever serve their country quite as well as these three illiterate goons. 

Many in the Indian commentariat clicked their tongues about the absence of due process and the denial of the Ahmed family’s human rights.

There was no such absence or denial. The guy demanded a medical examination and the Court granted his request. One may say that the police were negligent but they weren't really. This is the first time gangsters have stooped so low as to pass themselves off as presstitutes.  

But many welcomed the vigilante justice by the police and private assassins: the Ahmeds would never commit another crime.

The police may well have killed the son in a 'Dirty Harry' manner. But gangsters get bumped off by other gangsters all the time. It is a hazard which comes with the job.  

Such vigilante murders are the most visible symbols of decaying Indian social norms and public accountability.

No. They are a symbol of a complete loss of faith in the Courts. Social norms are what they have always been. Public accountability now means that policemen say 'the victim grabbed the gun of one of the officers. We fired in self defense.' Nobody believes this, but if that is what the Apex Court wants, that is what it gets.  

As state and private actors have learned that acting lawlessly can earn them accolades and even riches, the incentives to act dishonestly and lawlessly have increased.

Mody is an economist. He doesn't understand that getting shot is a 'dis-incentive'. It causes people to avoid acting lawlessly because they don't want their body to get pumped full of lead.  

These norms have spread steadily from Uttar Pradesh – anarchic for decades – and increasingly infect all corners of India.

Bihar was and is worse.  Nitish is now busy letting every serial killer and rapist out of jail in time for the next election. 

The country’s economic aspirations and the survival of its democracy are on the line.

Fuck off! China kills lots of gangsters and corrupt people. Its economic aspirations turn into reality. Democracy isn't about keeping gangsters safe. It is about killing the people voters want killed. 

Born in 1962, Atiq (alias Atique or Ateeq) Ahmed was the son of a tonga (horse-drawn taxi) driver. Rather than follow the path of education into the wilderness of unemployment and dead-end jobs, he dropped out of high school and began a life of crime – one that, even truncated, would offer vastly higher lifetime earnings.

No. Most gangsters have low lifetime earnings. Atiq and his brother were smart and rose rapidly by killing people. This had a 'demonstration effect'. Extortion is a business in which being known to have killed lots of people is an advantage.  

He began as a petty thief, stealing coal from railway wagons and muscling in on contracts to sell scraps of rolling stock. But he did not take long to advance his career. At 17, he committed his first murder, followed by his second and third within five years.

India must protect people of this sort. Its democracy and economic aspirations can never survive if gangsters are killed.  

Ahmed marched with the times. By the early 1980s, criminal-politicians were rising to prominence across India, as the movies Ardh Satya (Half-Truth) and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (Let it Go, Friends) portrayed. Those with criminal backgrounds had distinct advantages when contesting elections – not least the bags of black money they could use to fund increasingly expensive campaigns.

The criminals disintermediated their political patrons. They had countervailing power over the police. Sadly, they kept killing each other. Shah Rukh Khan's 'Raees' had originally tried to kill Dawood though he later took shelter with him. That didn't last. He returned to India but the police killed him before he could spill the beans on their own complicity in his crimes.  

They were able to present themselves as “Robin Hood” figures, who would ensure that favored constituents gained access to scarce public services.

They provided a more effective 'contract enforcement' mechanism. If Courts are shitty criminals take over judicial functions. Back in the Eighties a High Court Judge used a 'Don' to get rid of a tenant who wasn't paying his rent. Nobody raised an eye-brow.  

And criminal-politicians seemed immune to justice. A 1993 report by an official committee headed by the distinguished civil servant N.N. Vohra noted that “underworld politicians” used their “financial and muscle power to make the task of investigating and prosecuting agencies extremely difficult.” Not even the judiciary “escaped the embrace of the mafia.”

But 'investigating agencies'- like the Courts- are utterly shit. It's good to have a 'Godfather' who can make a couple of calls on your behalf.  

These were “venal politicians,” as the economist and former governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan has called them.

They were casteist politicians who served dynastic leaders.  

They simultaneously perpetuated the dysfunction in public services and offered themselves as substitutes for a broken state.

Or did nothing except erect statues of themselves.  

Among them was Ahmed, who won a seat in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1989 and occupied it for 15 years – a period of economic stagnation and abysmal human development in the state.

The problem with letting 'educationally backward' people run things is that what you get is 'backwardness'. 

These years of the “jungle raj,” as The Times of India wrote in 1997, were marked by “a soaring crime rate, brutal killings, booming sales of weapons, a confused police, and a frightened populace.”

If wrestlers run the State, the people wrestle with the problem of how to avoid being stabbed or raped.  

Ahmed moved on to the Lok Sabha in 2004. Underscoring the degeneration in Indian politics, he won the seat of Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur constituency, which three times between 1952 and 1962 had elected India’s first prime minister, the renowned statesman and scholar Jawaharlal Nehru.

India's politics had degenerated so much that an Italian lady ruled the country, albeit by proxy, for the next ten years. Nehru would have turned over in his grave- if he hadn't been cremated.  

Ahmed was among the 12% of the 2004 Lok Sabha members accused of serious crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping, and extortion.

That was then. Now he is a corpse. Thank you, Modiji! Thank you, Yogiji! 

The prime minister of the newly elected government was Manmohan Singh.

He had no power. Sonia was running things behind the scenes. As Zail Singh had said 'andar Italian, bahar battalion'- the Indian armed forces kept Italian rule safe just as it had kept the British Raj safe.  

A former finance minister and celebrity reformer, he had dismantled egregious controls on Indian imports and industrial production. Now, Singh promoted a rural job-guarantee program and championed the public’s right to information.

Because that's what Sonia's pals wanted. Singh would have preferred to do more reform and defund stupid NGO activists.  

Unmoved by this progressive agenda, Ahmed maintained a low profile in the Lok Sabha. He once asked the health minister about India’s fight against polio, and – on parole from a stint in jail – he voted against the nuclear deal with the United States. For the most part, he focused on railways – his area of specialization.

So, Ahmed was a more active parliamentarian than Rahul. Good to know.  

But make no mistake: Ahmed stayed busy.

It was because he was busy that he was alive. You have to kill your enemies before they kill you.  

After he relinquished his seat in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, his brother Ashraf (alias: Khalid Azim) contested it, but lost to Raju Pal, one of Atiq’s rivals in the mafia and in politics. Pal was swiftly murdered – in broad daylight – allegedly by Atiq’s gang.

There had been plenty of previous attempts on his life. The thing was bound to happen sooner or later.  

A year later, Atiq had the prosecution’s main eyewitness to that murder kidnapped and tortured, as the court in Prayagraj ruled. Ashraf contested the now-vacant seat in the state assembly and won.

Mayawati's BSP was useless. Incidentally, Atiq had been one of those who carried out a terrifying attack on her personally. She forgave him earlier this year and got his wife into her party. Incidentally, Atiq had alleged, some 20 years ago, that Mamta was trying to get him killed. If she had done so maybe she'd still be CM of UP. 

Atiq never won another election, but criminal-politicians continued to gain ground. By 2019, the share of Lok Sabha members charged with serious crimes had more than doubled, to 29%.

To be fair, some of those 'serious crimes' are imaginary or have been already dismissed.  

The bad was driving out the good throughout the country.

Not in Modi's Gujarat.  

Even in a progressive state such as Tamil Nadu, a quarter of the state legislators in 2021 had outstanding charges of serious crimes.

This remark shows laudable ignorance of the typical DMK 'talaivar'. Stalin is trying to get them to stop beating every other official they encounter.  

A major driver of this trend was India’s construction boom.

in 1989, there was some prospect that a deregulated cement industry could grow rapidly while respecting basic environmental norms. But policy remained whimsical. Activists could always get rules re-written but the consequence was that extraction was organized by criminals. This was pure 'rent extraction'. Supposedly virtuous 'Samajvadi' (Socialist) politicians needed money and muscle power. Sand mining, like alcohol, is banned in Bihar. But these are the two biggest industries there!  

Criminal gangs fought over construction contracts; more ferociously, they illegally dredged sand – a key ingredient in concrete – from river beds and beaches all over India, causing profound economic and environmental damage. River beds dried up; groundwater tables sank; and plants and fish died. The perpetrators grew rich

Sadly, most of the people doing this back-breaking work are living hand to mouth.  

and became politicians.

All sorts of people become politicians but once in power they need money and muscle power unless, like Yogi, they can appeal to religion and spiritual values.

Once out of office, Ahmed became a statistic in India’s broken criminal-justice system. A whopping three-quarters of India’s nearly 600,000 prisoners in 2021 were so-called undertrials – people in police custody awaiting trial. But while Ahmed joined their ranks, few undertrials lived like he did. Beyond contesting elections, he allegedly had a businessman kidnapped and enlisted the help of prison staff to torture and extort him. When he tired of his jail cell, he bribed and intimidated his way to luxury living quarters, including at a railway guesthouse.

OMG! Mody is right! If people like Ahmed are killed, India's democracy will disappear! Why did I not see this before?  

The vast majority of undertrials languish in hellish, overcrowded prisons, often for longer than the sentence they would receive if convicted of their alleged crimes. Many face custodial torture to extract “confessions” – a practice that has become accepted across India.

Smart people confess everything and then say the confession was 'forced'.  

The movie Jai Bhim described a horrific episode of custodial torture in 1993 in Tamil Nadu, where the practice continues to this day, and where 80% of those subject to it are Dalits, who reside at the bottom of the Indian caste hierarchy.

To be fair, the Police will shove things up your arse just for the fun of it.  

In Telangana, a daily-wage laborer was killed by custodial torture after the state’s much-touted surveillance and facial-recognition systems wrongly identified him as the perpetrator of a crime.

In Tamil Nadu a father and son were killed because the police thought it great fun to shove things up their arse. The original arrest was for some lock-down violation.  

Even in Kerala, arguably the most progressive Indian state, victims of custodial torture and their families suffer, while “cops barely pay the price.”

Kerala is very progressive when it comes to beating and killing RSS workers.  

Ahmed’s son, too, became a statistic. Police claim they had no choice but to kill Asad and his accomplice, because the suspects had attempted to shoot their way out of a dragnet. But such “encounters” with the police – in truth, extrajudicial killings – are entrenched in India’s police and governance culture.

Extra-judicial killing on an industrial scale put paid to the Naxalite movement in Bengal and the Khalistani movement in Punjab. The judiciary maintained a discrete silence. 

Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi pioneered the use of “encounters” to suppress peasant and student protests in the late 1960s.

To be fair, it was Jyoti Basu who gave the go-ahead. The Naxals were a rival to his own party.  

Born in Calcutta and overseen by acclaimed police officer Ranjit Gupta, the practice quickly became an essential governing tool.

No. It was only needful where there was an insurgency.  

Violent state coercion of citizens was easier, apparently, than addressing people’s grievances.

The Naxals had taken to killing judges and policemen. They were hunted down and killed en masse. Oddly, those not killed had less of a sense of grievance. They preferred being alive and happy to being aggrieved and shot. 

Police killings subsequently helped to snuff out the Sikh uprising in the early 1990s, and to bring down Mumbai’s mafia in the 1990s, as the movie Satya (Truth) showed.

But the Telengana uprising or Razakar campaigns were put down by the Army. If the police are chicken-shit, soldiers will do the job more thoroughly.  

The police kill suspects so often that Indians do not bother to spell out “killed in an encounter”; alleged criminals are simply “encountered.” Indian elites, anxious to protect their gated lives, celebrate police officers described as “encounter specialists” (a reality graphically portrayed in the Netflix docuseries Mumbai Mafia: Police vs The Underworld).

So what? The same thing happens even in better off Latin American countries.  

Beneath the veneer of democracy in India, deeply undemocratic private and state behavior has become the norm, and, not surprisingly, it is wedded to a refusal to reform India’s electoral and judicial systems.

So, Mody is a fan of Kiren Rijiju- the BJP law minister.  By all means, let us have wholesale judicial reform and execute a whole bunch of criminal politicians. Perhaps this is what will happen if Yogi becomes PM. 

This “bad equilibrium” seems impossible to undo.

Having a useless Judicial system is convenient for all sorts of reasons. There was a time in India when lawyers were respected. Now, we think of them as pimps of a shameless sort. Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer himself, has shown that the Apex Court is beneath contempt.  

The repeated depiction of broken norms in Indian cinema

is like the repeated depiction of broken norms in the films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson 

speaks to the hopelessness, fears, and desire for retribution in a public exposed to capricious and unfair lives.

Most Indians are still very poor. Kill the gangsters and they will rise up through their own thrift, enterprise and hard work.  

Indian and international elites are eager to portray India as a modern country, embracing digital technologies and promoting high-value startups; but the country is racing to the precipice of a jungle raj.

No it isn't. Killing dangerous beasts means there is no fucking jungle- just a nice tree plantation or picnic spot.  

Today, illegal sand mining is flourishing, weapons smuggling continues, and drugs from Afghanistan and Myanmar are being trafficked in huge quantities, with India’s elites the primary beneficiaries.

Very true. Rahul Baba is one of the primary beneficiaries.  

The movie Udta Punjab (Flying Punjab), for example, captures how drugs and arms have spawned a lawless mafia of politicians, policemen, and criminals in Punjab, a once-prosperous state where farmers and poorly educated, “unemployable” youth are under acute stress.

Blame everything on the Badals. We're cool with that.  

For Indians like Ahmed, politics is a protective cover and a lucrative business, not a means of serving their country.

This silly man forgets that Ahmed is dead. What covers him is a 'kafan' (shroud).  

As long as criminal-politicians like him thrive, India’s longstanding challenges will persist.

So, vote for Yogi who will have those gangsters killed.  

Even as a few Indians enrich themselves,

unless they are shot or just beaten to death 

the vast majority will struggle to find jobs, get a quality education, and access health care, while environmental degradation reduces their productivity and shortens their life spans.

Get rid of labor and land regulations. Get rural girls into giant factory dormitories. Kill gangsters. Do it now! 

Violence – greatly amplified by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) forces –

Fuck off! Yogi and Modi and Shah are Hindutva. They approve of gangsters getting a bullet between the eyes. Violence falls. Even riots become less frequent if the minority understands it will be mown down by bullets.  

will continue to envelop India.

But U.P has become safer since 2017 when Yogi came to power. That's why he will be re-elected. Democracy does not mean that criminals should get away with murder. True, Mody was shot by a disgruntled South African economist in America over a dozen years ago. It appears the fellow has absconded and thus won't do any jail time. But that has nothing to do with the state of America's democracy.  

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