People like us who live in modern India’s bustling megapolis’ sometimes tend to forget that the old, corrupt, feudal India continues to thrive in the midst of all the tech fuelled Unicorns and UPI and the much hyped ‘India stack’. This evocatively written piece from The Print describes how infamous gangsters from the Hindi speaking heartland continue to run large crime syndicates from behind bars even as they are moved from one jail to another outside the comfortable confines of their home state of UP.

The first ganglord profiled in this piece is Atiq Ahmed, a man who seems to rule over the city of Prayagraj. The Print describes how Mr Ansari extorts money from real estate developers in that city: “Ahmed told Zeeshan to transfer a certain amount to Ali’s account or face dire consequences.
“When I refused, he threatened to kill my family and me. ‘Either send the amount or transfer your land in my wife’s name,’ he said,” Zeeshan alleged. “He was speaking to me from the Sabarmati jail. Not even an inch moves in Allahabad without his permission. And he does all this from behind bars,” he added.”

The Print then explains that gangsters like Atiq wield such power that even from behind bars they can get people killed: “…Atiq got into trouble last month over Umesh Pal’s murder…A prime witness in the 2005 murder of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA Raju Pal and his two security personnel, Umesh was shot dead on 24 February in Dhoomanganj, Prayagraj. But roughly 200 on-ground handlers still carry out Atiq’s instructions, extorting money from the city’s top businessmen and real estate agents…

Ahmed’s name is mentioned in the FIR registered by Dhoomanganj Police based on Pal’s wife’s complaint. “Everyone knows he orchestrated the murder,” said a station officer while sipping hot, sweet tea.”

The Print then goes on to describe the power of another legendarily infamous ganglord, Mukhtar Ansari: “Mukhtar Ansari, a five-time MLA from Mau, is no different. But he is a little more careful, says Mau Police. He intervenes only when his on-ground handlers are unable to sort things out.

He was sent to Punjab’s Roopnagar jail in 2019 over an extortion case, but his criminal empire in UP continued to thrive. His son, Abbas Ansari, and others committed several crimes in his name, religiously following his instructions.
Chotu Lal Gandhi, a human rights activist from Mau, has been receiving regular threats from Ansari’s henchmen. Gandhi has been creating hurdles for Ansari and his men by consistently protesting and writing to the administration.

“Mukhtar Ansari has done only gundagardi in Mau. He has encroached upon poor people’s land,” he said, stressing that he refuses to succumb to Ansari’s threats.

Abbas, Ansari’s son, was imprisoned in Chitrakoot jail in November 2022 after the Enforcement Directorate arrested him in a money laundering case. He, too, has demonstrated a cosy, sweetheart deal he enjoys with jail officials.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the lives of these high profile criminals is their ability to manipulate prison officials at will. The Print explains that even this is done using a time tested modus operandi: “During a surprise inspection in February, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) MLA was caught enjoying special treatment in prison. On 7 March, Chitrakoot jail superintendent Ashok Kumar Sagar, jailor Santosh Kumar and warder Jagmohan Singh were arrested.
“The three jail officials regularly took bribes from Abbas and allowed his wife Nikhat Bano and driver to take cellphones inside the jail,” Bareilly Police said.

There were also accusations of similar “special treatment”—allowing family members in, food from outside, and cellphones—against Mukhtar Ansari when he was lodged at Roopnagar jail. He was shifted to UP’s Banda jail in 2021 on the Supreme Court’s orders.

“A convict or an undertrial who disobeys the law of the land cannot oppose his transfer from one prison to another, and the courts cannot be helpless bystanders when the rule of law is being challenged with impunity,” the Court had said. This ruling came after the Adityanath government filed a writ petition seeking Ansari’s transfer from Punjab to UP, alleging he was conducting “illegal criminal activities” from his cell in Roopnagar. As per a Deccan Chronicle report, the Supreme Court noted that the UP Police was denied custody of Ansari 26 times, between 14 February 2019 and 14 February 2020, on “trivial grounds” such as diabetes mellitus, skin allergy, hypertension, backache, and throat infection.

Ansari has also reportedly threatened jailers. He was sentenced to seven years in 2022 for abusing and pointing a gun at a jail official in 2003. Ansari had threatened to kill jailer SK Awasthi after he checked the people who had come to meet him….

Anand Lal Banerjee, former DGP (2014-2017), has a story about the luxuries that Ansari was afforded in Ghazipur jail, where he was lodged in 2010.

“He would use the pond in prison to keep fish he got from outside for dinner. He caught and ate the fish as and when he felt like it,” said Banerjee….

A jail official told ThePrint that these gangsters dig out the family history of jail staff and use it as a tool to threaten them.

“And that’s how the bribe system comes into place. They pay the jail staff and get their work done. Those who refuse have their family members killed,” said a police officer who has worked at Tihar Jail in Delhi.”

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