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India’s Law-of-the-Jungle Raj

The recent public murder of notorious Indian gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed serves as a potent reminder that Indian society and politics remain plagued by crime, brutality, and lawlessness. In fact, Ahmed's life and death suggests that the dysfunction is deepening.

NEW DELHI – At around 6 p.m. on March 26 of this year, a portly man with a twirled mustache stepped out of Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat. A 20-member team of police was ushering him into the prisoner van that would take him to a court in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, to face judgment in a kidnapping case. A waiting reporter asked if he was afraid, and the man – the gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed – responded, “I know their plan; they want to murder me.”

As the police convoy traveled across the country, a horde of media followed closely behind. When Ahmed urinated at a roadside stop, voyeuristic camera-wielders zoomed in on his back, with the footage broadcast live to viewers across the country. A veteran criminal was about to get his comeuppance, or so many hoped, and nobody wanted to miss a thing.

Ahmed had long gotten away with murder – literally. He was responsible for more deaths than anyone will probably ever know. He often faced charges, but repeatedly avoided conviction. This enabled him to contest and win multiple elections, first to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly and then to India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha. Although the group of criminal-politicians has grown manifold, he was a trailblazer.

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