Giving new meaning to the phrase-“power lies within!”, the gangsters of north India have now realized that the safest place for them to be is inside the prison and operate from the safe halo of their four walls. In a recent interview conducted, a gangster, who wished to remain anonymous and is part of a ring operating in the national capital region (NCR) and nearby areas explained that some people join criminal gangs for “fame" while others are addicted to drugs and need quick money to get their fix and see this as a viable route. Elaborating on the ‘tricks of his trade’, the gangster further went on to explain how everyone wants to be associated with big names and with such association comes the promise of easy money and easy access to things that were till now beyond the reach of the so called petty criminals. He also explained how procuring illegal firearms in Delhi is easy as these gangsters have good contacts with suppliers who bring them weapons from MP, Bihar, etc that are handed over in Delhi itself.
It was also disclosed by him as to how the prisons have become “ business hubs” for such criminals as everything that is required to run a racket is readily available inside at the ’right price’. “A phone, among other things, can be procured in jail for Rs 50,000 to 60,000. All gang leaders have their henchmen outside and they stay in contact. Phones are used to extort money, demand protection money, and threaten businessmen or property dealers." He also went on to say that jail is a place where many gangsters feel safe as here they will not come on the radar of their rivals or police. Moreover, the jail administration and security personnel are also in cahoots, said the outlaw.
Corroborating his story, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the country’s primary counter-terrorist task force, In a shocking reveal, as part of its crackdown on the gangster-terrorist nexus syndicate operating in India, has identified several such gangs whose kingpins have been found operating from inside the jails as well as overseas.
Based on the information received by the Special Cell of Delhi Police, the NIA has till now, registered two FIRs against such gangs under Section 18 (Punishment for Conspiracy), Section 18-B (Punishment for Recruiting Any Person or Persons for Terrorist Act), and Section 20 (Punishment for Being a Member of Terrorist Gang or Organisation) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA and Section 120-B (Criminal Conspiracy) of the IPC.
After conducting three rounds of raids at around 80 locations in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi as well as in the Union Territory of Chandigarh, it was found that the premises covered belonged to gangsters like Canada-based Goldy Brar — who has been detained in the US, Neeraj Bawana, Lawrence Bishnoi, Sunil Maan alias TilluTajpuriya, Kala Jathedi, Jitender Gogi and their associates.
The Nia has also clarified that all these gangsters, in collusion with their associates have been running their operations from different jails in India as well as from Canada, Dubai and Pakistan. The agency also revealed that the goons are procuring high-end weapons from outside the country and planning to start targeted killings in India in order to strengthen their hold and spread panic. Most of these gangsters are also associated with absconding terrorists and hence their nexus with other terrorist groups cannot be denied.
Such a criminal-drug peddler-terrorist nexus is not a new phenomenon, it has been there for a long time and is now gaining ground particularly in context of India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine. This nexus was first started in India by the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the early days of Punjab terrorism as ‘Operation Topaz’. Due to the absence of fencing on the borders in those early days, several people who inadvertently crossed over the borders due to lack of clarity were arrested by the Pakistani army and forced to either convert or become terror mercenaries to hit Indian interests. Later on, the ISI started hitting from within the Indian borders by using the Mumbai-based underworld dons, and the result was the Mumbai blasts in which Dawood Ibrahim was found to be the main accused. Security agencies have also recently observed the illegal entry of 191 drones into Indian Territory from Pakistan which has again raised major concerns in terms of internal security within the country.
The latest modus of operating from within the prisons seems to be the ‘third wave’ of the same ISI machination however, to the relief of the authorities, the agencies in India appear to have received some information beforehand hence are taking strict action in terms of forwarned being forearmed.The process can be said to have started with the permission that was granted by the Indian government’s decision to allow blacklisted Khalistani operatives to enter India after which several of them came back to India from the US, Canada, Germany and a few other countries, and, started indulging in terror conspiracies. Now, in light of the fresh evidence that has unfolded, the NIA has written to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) proposing to shift most of these gang leaders to prisons in South India starting with the names of 25 gangsters that have been recommended for transfer. Sources have been known to say that these names also include top gangsters like Bishnoi, who is a key accused in the murder of Moosewala, Bawana, Tajpuriya and Jathedi.
One of the primary reason for shifting these gangsters who have been found to be operating smoothly from inside the jails, has been that they would at least have to face the language barrier if they are shifted to South India thereby making it more difficult for them to operate smoothly. Most officials however, also feel that this move will also only grant them a short term respite and might even prove to be counterproductive in the long run as there is the impending danger of these criminals fostering new linkages with highly radicalised operatives of ISIS and PFI who are active in South India. This transfer would then prove to be that catalyst in spreading the disease of these activities. Then there are also the problems related to the co-ordination between the centre and the state agencies while shifting theses gangsters from one state tpo the other, in this regard, the NIA is coordinating with the police in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and they are all as per the statement of an NIA official cooperating in sharing information and in operations.
The NIA also stated that in the recent sensational crimes and extortion calls by criminal syndicates and gangsters to businessmen and professionals, including doctors which created widespread scare, cyberspace was being used by these gangs to publicise these crimes and create terror among the public at large, an intention in which they have also succeeded beyond expectation. It has also been found that there was a deep-rooted conspiracy among terrorists, gangsters and drug-smuggling cartels and networks, who were operating from both within and outside the country to ensure that these plans succeed. Many of the gang leaders who had fled from India are now operating hand in glove with those who are settled within the safe confines of jails in India and are hatching conspiracies from inside the jails of different states in collusion with an organised network of operatives based abroad. The gangster-terrorist nexus supports each other in the sense that gangsters extort money, for that they need protection which then is provided by the terror groups.
These criminals have been operating in a manner that spreads the maximum amount of panic among the people. The targeted killings of popular singers like Sidhu Moosewala are examples of how by ensuring that their acts are made the front page news, these criminals also make sure that they take the maximum benefit of the resulting panic.According to the NIA, in the instant case, a conspiracy was being hatched by the members of a criminal syndicate/gangs based in India and abroad with an intention to raise funds, recruit youth to carry out terrorist acts in the Union Territory of Delhi and other parts of the country and these members were further planning to execute heinous crimes including but not limited to targeted killings of prominent persons, in order to strike terror in the minds of the people of the country. NIA further had also during one of the hearings informed the Court that during the Police Custody examination of the accused Lawrence Bishnoi who is the main accused of this case it had been found that he operates gangs/syndicates to commit terrorist acts in India with the intention to strike terror in the minds of people.
The life of a criminal is such that once they become a part of the trade, going back to normal life no longer remains an option for them. During the course of their life, they make so many enemies both among the police and among rival gangs that they also fear for their own lives. Revenge is always in play so the safest place for them is to be inside the jail and operate from there. Breaking this jail operated nexus is going to be a tough ask but the way the NIA is bent upon cracking this case, shifting the gangsters to the south might just be what is required to break their back!
(The author is an Advocate on Record practising in the Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and all District Courts and Tribunals in Delhi. She has done her Doctorate in Criminal Law and is the Legal Member in the Internal Complaints Committee of various private as well as Government Organizations. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)