Main Vikas Dubey, Kanpur wala’ is now etched in Uttar Pradesh’s popular memory.
It is hard to remember the last time Kanpur consistently featured in national headlines for a week. But paradoxically, Vikas Dubey, the gangster responsible for it, was a stranger to most of the city’s residents until he tore into our notifications a week ago.
Not Kanpur, what Dubey controlled was Chaubeypur – a tiny kasba in the suburbs of Kanpur, which, according to the 2011 Census, had a population of just 4,000.
The people of Chaubeypur worshipped the man out of fear. Many in Kanpur say that a large part of Dubey’s political influence came from the fact that he could almost single-handedly swing the Brahmin vote there.
But neither his persona nor his stories of terror ever left the dirt town of Chaubeypur. Although, no one really calls him Chaubeypur’s gangster, but Kanpur don has a Bollywood-esque ring to it.
Overturning the reel trope
There is a standard trope in most police dramas: the earnest cop remains a nobody while everyone knows and fears the big Mafiosi. Similarly, the investigating officer is hardly known to anyone, but the villain enjoys a certain notoriety among the masses.
But the real life story of Vikas Dubey seemed to turn this trope on its head. Until he and his men shot dead eight police officers on 3 July, few in the city of Kanpur had even heard of Dubey or his past crime saga. On the other hand, deputy superintendent of police Devendra Mishra, who was killed in the ambush, was fairly well-known. My conversations with several Kanpur residents bore witness to this.
There is another, rather personal anecdote that highlights how the whole Dubey affair effectively overturns the ‘popular villain-unknown cop’ trope. Gangster Dubey and DSP Mishra were both diabetics — and had been treated by my father, an endocrinologist in Kanpur.
DSP Mishra was a regular patient and had visited my father just a couple of weeks before 3 July. My father remembered berating him for his uncontrolled blood sugar levels. At the same time, he had no recollection of seeing Dubey, even when his assistant reminded him that the gangster had consulted him a few times or the fact that his face had been on television for most of the past week.
Media can’t locate him either
But the people of Kanpur aren’t the only ones without a clue about Vikas Dubey. There’s the Delhi-centric ‘mainstream’ Indian media, too.
The popular perception about India’s national media is that it barely understands small towns or their political scene — basically nothing beyond the National Capital Region. Critics of the Delhi-centric media contend that journalists need to visit these places to grasp the real sense of politics and people’s perceptions. But Vikas Dubey’s case was just another example of the media’s out-of-sync coverage.
Over the past week, media reports have consistently tried to paint Dubey as a larger-than-life ‘Godfather’ or ‘Goodfellas’-type Mafiosi who could bring Kanpur city to a halt.
In reality, though, Dubey’s control hardly ever stretched beyond tiny Chaubeypur, let alone the whole of Kanpur, which has come to be identified with a strange mix of stereotypes. On the one end is its image of a de-industrialised town with flailing leather businesses, and on the other is its depiction in popular culture as the quintessential small-town in India’s heartland.
The tale of two realtor brothers
Dubey’s fame being limited to his tiny kasba is evident in what two realtor brothers told me on the condition of anonymity. One of them, whose real-estate business is entirely in the countryside, was allegedly blackmailed by Vikas Dubey, who had demanded money after claiming rights over one of his properties.
Ironically, his brother, a prominent realtor in Kanpur, hadn’t even heard of Dubey until last week.
This is significant because most people believe that Dubey owed most of his fortune to his credentials as a land mafia. Much like most influential gangsters in the heartland, he is said to have used his political contacts to sustain his land-grabbing business.
Since the news of Dubey’s ‘encounter’, speculations, both on social media and offline, about how the gangster was essentially killed to save his political and entrepreneurial patrons, have only grown. And yet, Kanpur’s foremost real-estate broker hadn’t even supposedly heard of the man.
This is not to say that Dubey was not well connected. But it is more than obvious that Dubey’s influence and appeal never spanned across Kanpur – the very city that he now seems to have put on the map.
There are many who seem to be justifying Dubey’s ‘encounter’ killing by the Uttar Pradesh Police, arguing that this would serve as a deterrent for other similar Mafiosi-gangsters.
What they fail to realise is this: in a highly populous state such as Uttar Pradesh, caste-religious electoral calculations ensure that even small townships such as Chaubeypur have enough resources for a Vikas Dubey to leverage and become an influential gangster. But UP has too many Chaubeypurs and their own Dubeys. It’s a sad fantasy that one ‘encounter’ can deter them all. So when an opportunity arrives to help stop the growth of such criminals, it should be grabbed with both hands. Sadly, though, with Vikas Dubey’s ‘encounter’, an opportunity to unearth several incendiary political-business-mafia secrets has also died.
Views are personal.