It is hardly a secret that the big cities of India are honeycombed with armed gangs, including more than a few owing allegiance to dons based in Pakistan. Sectors of economic activity such as movies, construction and selected sports are known to have preserves that march to the beat of gangsters. Among the reasons why so many movies are being shot on locations outside the country is because of the certainty that doing so in India would invite the attention of extortionists. In the US, the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation cleared away the dirty underbrush of criminality, which had been created by the policy of Prohibition. The banning of liquor in the US from 1920 to 1933 directly contributed to the growth of the Cosa Nostra (or Mafia), as syndicates of criminals took over the trade in bootlegged alcohol, the way they have in places in India where similar experiments have been tried, especially in Haryana in 1996, a step that Chief Minister Bansi Lal of the Haryana Vikas Party was forced to rescind after an explosion of crime and extortion followed the decree, which incidentally had very little effect on tipplers, who simply went on to (unsafe) bootlegged alcohol or crossed the border into Delhi. Now Kerala is on track to repeat the Haryana experience, while in Tamil Nadu, some political parties are seeking to cloak itself in moral garb by demanding total prohibition in the state. Incidentally, a sizeable section of the police as well as other officials favour prohibition, aware of the avenues for graft that such a move would create.
Citizens have a right to security, and this has been severely compromised in several cities in the country by the operation of numerous criminal and indeed anti-national gangs in big cities. Most of the victims of such extortion are afraid of going to the authorities. The reason is the fear that several within the administration are themselves in the pay of such elements, who are lavish in the bribes they give out of the proceeds of crime inflicted on ordinary citizens. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, several tens of millions voted in the BJP confident that the party would root out corruption and ensure security. Hence the need for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enforce a Zero Tolerance policy towards corruption in the government, together with a Zero Gangster approach towards organised crime. While there has been much hand wringing about, for example, police “excesses” in some states which faced an active insurgency, the reality is that to have permitted the terrorist elements to run riot would have entailed the loss of several more lives than the police policy of Zero Tolerance exemplified by Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, who made Punjab safe for the citizens of the country as a consequence of policies that were effective. Within the ranks of the Indian Police Service, there are numerous officers of the efficiency and dedication of K.P.S. Gill, and they need to be identified and tasked with the rooting out of criminal gangs, initially in the big cities and subsequently in smaller population centres. Such efforts should be backed wholeheartedly by the government, both at the state as well as at the Central level, and those responsible for the cleanup should be given the manpower, equipment and resources essential to success. Even Delhi, the capital of India, as well as the business capital of the country, Mumbai, have long been afflicted by gangs. We need a country free of gangsters if the economy is to grow at the speed made possible by an enlightened populace.