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Seeing Vikas Dubey as ‘Robin Hood of Brahmins’ distorts true picture of caste, crime, politics

Indians’ fantasy wrongly turned Vikas Dubey into a UP don who could overturn the government if arrested.

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If it wasn’t for Indian media’s sensationalism and distorted hype, Vikas Dubey wouldn’t be remembered today as a big crime lord who seemingly terrorised Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur city and had connections in high offices. In fact, the gangster who shot to national infamy after the killing of eight policemen on 3 July, was a small-time criminal, with his operations confined just to Chaubeypur — a town of about 4,000 people.

Dubey had no known business empire, except petty land capture and extortion around his village. His announcement while surrendering in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain — “Main Vikas Dubey, Kanpur wala (I am Vikas Dubey from Kanpur)” — was not a roar of a mafia boss, but more a genuine, plaintive cry for recognition. He was not on the list of the most-wanted criminal before the fateful night of ambush, contrary to what news channels told us. It was only after the killing of eight policemen that the reward to help in his arrest was announced at Rs 50,000, which was increased to Rs 1 lakh, then Rs 2.5 lakh and finally Rs 5 lakh — all in the space of a week.

Petty and middling criminals are a dime a dozen in every district of Uttar Pradesh. As Manoj Bajpayee’s character says in Jaago (2004), “Every home in UP boasts of three netas, two gundas and one IAS.”

Also read: Vikas Dubey put Kanpur on the map, but many in city hadn’t even heard of him until shootout

Distortion and conspiracy theories

The portrayal of such a nondescript gangster as some criminal mastermind deformed our understanding in three ways.

First, it gave rise to vague conspiracy theories that Vikas Dubey was murdered for holding the dark secrets of powerful politicians. It is highly unlikely that Dubey would have any political connections above the level of an MLA. Politicians patronise criminals for three reasons — as strongmen enforcers, sources of finance, and swingers of vote.

Dubey’s role as an enforcer for powerful politicians is doubtful since there are more influential criminals in Kanpur. Not only locals in Kanpur, but also players in the real estate business — Dubey’s primary field of business — had not heard of him.

You can’t be a bahubali of an area if your name does not even strike recognition, let alone fear. Except the murder in 2001 of BJP leader Santosh Shukla, who held a rank a of minister of state, none of Dubey’s other victims were high-profile, and thus the outcome of political designs. The animosity between Dubey and Shukla stemmed from the fact that Shukla was the political rival of former Vidhan Sabha speaker Hari Krishna Srivastava for the Chaubeypur assembly seat. The last time Srivastav contested and won was in 1996. Dubey’s other murders involve relatively petty disputes over land or money. He was hardly a contract killer of the likes of UP dons Sri Prakash Shukla or Munna Bajrangi.

Further, the political economy of Chaubeypur couldn’t have provided Dubey with a resource pool large enough to bribe higher-level politicians. His income was estimated at Rs 10-12 lakh a month, according to his local political rival Lallan Bajpai. This was enough to buy the support of ‘two-three accomplices in every police station’ (in Bajpai’s description), around Chaubeypur, but not higher public officials, let alone powerful politicians.

As a swinger of votes, by his own admission, even without accounting for the boasting symptomatic of criminal entrepreneurs, Vikas Dubey enjoyed ‘tremendous political clout (only) in my area’. For example, as seen in a 2006 interview, Dubey cites being village panchayat chief twice and zila panchayat member once, and his wife being a zila panchayat member. Both his political horizons and political influence was restricted to Chaubeypur.

The political patronage one would expect for such a criminal would be at most at the level of the local legislator. In another video from 2017, Dubey bragged about his political links with BJP MLAs Bhagwati Prasad Sagar and Abhijeet Sanga, saying they helped him clear his name. It need not be mentioned that the decision on whether to kill in an ‘encounter’ a criminal who had killed eight policemen, especially after  intense popular anger, would not hinge with a few legislators.

Also read: Uttar Pradesh is India’s broken heartland, break it into 4 or 5 states

A failed criminal-politician

Second, the intriguing thing about Vikas Dubey is not that he was a powerful criminal, but that he could never become one. The killing of BJP leader Santosh Shukla in 2001 should have set him up to a career path ending in a widespread business empire and political office. This was the path taken by criminal-politicians in Uttar Pradesh such as Harishankar Tiwari, Brajesh Singh, Dhananjay Singh, Ateek Ahmad, and Mukhtar Ansari, among countless others. Yet, Dubey failed to spread himself outside the vicinity of Chaubeypur for two decades.

His failure to rise as a criminal-politician provides us with deep insights into the intersection of crime and politics. Vikas Dubey failed to develop a reliable patronage network in his community, which could be leveraged into political power. ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta remarked that “Vikas Dubey became its Robin Hood [of Brahmins] in Kanpur, as Hari Shankar Tiwari might have been in Gorakhpur in the past.”

How does one become a Robin Hood by murdering people of his village and community over petty issues? It is true that all his accomplices in the gangs were Brahmins, so were almost all his victims, including DSP Devendra Mishra who was killed in the ambush. One would be hard pressed to find Muslim victims of Mukhtar Ansari or Brahmin victims of Hari Shankar Tiwari.

And, the fact that Dubey never broadened his horizons meant that all his extractive operations were confined to his own area. Usually, criminal politicians with larger ambitions use the money earned from elsewhere to dispense patronage in their villages and blocks. Vikas Dubey would more likely be seen as a pesky troublemaker than a benevolent Robin Hood.

Also read: The case against dividing Uttar Pradesh into smaller states

Caste dominance feeds the rise

Third, another misreading (stemming from seeing Dubey as a Brahmin neta) is imputing wider political dynamics on his career turns. Shekhar Gupta asserts that “Brahmins and Thakur gangs came up in response to the increasing political power of the lower and middle castes”. In fact, the process is the exact reverse.

Political power (and economic affluence) precedes the emergence of bahubalis from a certain caste. For instance, backward caste bahubalis from the UP hinterland emerged in the decades after the Green revolution, in the period when they had gradually amassed a lot of economic and, consequently, political power at the local level. Brahmins and Thakurs were, in fact, the dominant bahubalis across UP before the political empowerment of the OBCs. And they remain so even today, but their dominant position is being challenged today. Similarly, Dalits have not been able to produce criminal mafias despite gaining a foothold in politics because they don’t influence the power dynamics of local political economies. Criminals emerge leveraging the local politics of the area where their caste/community is dominant or powerful.

Thus, a truer picture of the caste-criminal-political dynamics of Uttar Pradesh would help us not only better understand the nature of crime but also illuminate how our politics actually works at the ground level.

Also read: Killing Vikas Dubey doesn’t end crime. For that, parties must let go of control over police

Delhi media’s fantasy 

A lot of commentary emerging from Delhi not only draws on stereotypes based on a metropolitan imagination of the ‘badlands of Uttar Pradesh’, but also deepens those stereotypes. How Vikas Dubey was turned into a UP don that could overturn the government if arrested reflected a fervid fantasy of the media that made for poor discourse.

In the past few years, many mafia dons, including Ateeq Ahmed, Dhananjay Singh, or Md Shahabuddin in Bihar, have been arrested and we have not heard of any political fallout of the secrets they might have shared with investigating agencies. In fact, UP’s special task force (STF) found concrete evidence on linkages between politicians and Sri Prakash Shukla – we have not seen any demands on resignations of these politicians.

Why? They belong to all political parties. And even members of higher-level police and administrative bureaucracy benefit from this nexus.

The reality is both simpler and more complex in their own ways, and if we are to ever tackle crime, we must begin to better understand its structure and material bases. Vikas Dubey was a lost opportunity in this endeavour.

Rahul Verma is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. Asim Ali is Research Associate at CPR. Views are personal.

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  1. If these two writers are to be believed, how come the authorities have declared that he had many (around 20) bungalows and flats in his name. Whatever may be the case he was a murderer and was hunted down like a dog. Period. This should be a lesson to every big or small criminals in the state and all of them are on the hit list of the Yogi’s government and will follow Vikas Dubey to the grave.

  2. What a joke.Media created a don out of a petty criminal .So pen is mightier than atom bomb not a sward.

  3. India’s caste system is a disgrace. Sickening that people can consider a hardened, depraved criminal the savior of one caste or another. Twisted mentality. Drastic overhaul of electoral law needed to break politician-gangster nexus. Drastic reforms of police and judicial system needed to ensure law enforcement, justice and protection to the common citizen.

    • You touched the core problem : ‘India’s caste system is a disgrace. Sickening that people can consider a hardened, depraved criminal the savior of one caste or another.’

      But your solution did not refer to this. The caste system should have been eradicated through school education system from childhood. Congress should have done it.

      But caste is the bedrock of Hinduism. Therein lies the problem.

  4. Good analysis. In the latter paras, the writers asseert that Brahmins and Thakurs are still dominent. The last Brahmin CM to rule UP was ND Tiwari. For over three decades, Brahmin leaders have been out of power. In UP where either political power or criminal muscle along matter for remaining in reckoning, how did Brahmins still remained dominent? I think, this part of the analysis is flawed.

    As a south Indian, I have not come across a caste based mafia culture here, much less a Brahmin mafia. Brahmins are generally considered incapable of such violence. I am distressed that castes out of political power have to form Mafias for protecting their interests. Probably, Vikas Dubey did not protect Brahmin interests. It shows how far down the civilisational ladder UP has slid.

    • UP elected a criminal Yogi, who had cases against him. Hindus see him as a saviour of Hindus and cows.

  5. Sorry to say but only Jyoti Yadav in the Print looked at this evil Vikas Dube as some sort of gaurav of brahmins and tried to create some sort of brahmin narrative around him on the basis of twitter etc. (we had recommended that she be fired from twitter. any young person with so much kalushta in her mind should not be given any responsibility; still stand by that recommendation)
    Brahmins hate Vikas Dube.
    Brahmins were his main target.
    He was a goonda who could work unhindered because of the curious system of policing and justice that we have in India, especially in UP, wherein the innocent have little protection.
    Yogiji is providing some semblance of justice to the public at large much like Mayawati did earlier.
    Mayawati was lambasted by ignorant commentators from Delhi then and Yogi is being condemned by ignorant critics from Delhi now.
    Mayawati could not manage a re-election, hopefully Yogi would, despite all the animus shown by thePrint

    • Yogi is a communalist, casteist, and he has criminal charges which he dropped when he became CM. But he is the saviour of Hindus for you. So India’s problem is Hinduism.

  6. An apt and well-researched one and that too by Delhi based academicians. kudos. These criminals are like cockroaches. You cannot eliminate them but they can be only restricted. In Akhilesh Government, Muslim small-time musclemen were patronised resulting reign of terror in towns leading to the rise of Islamophobia while our innocent Muslims remained out of the game but had to suffer. The Islamophobia helped the BJP in winning the assembly elections spectacularly.

  7. The Media and Institutions who purports to attempt to glorify a mafia/criminal into a messiah are NO LESS CRIMINALS in the country and require to be Banned, Banished and Boycotted wholeheartedly.

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