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Atiq Ahmed: The life of India’s gangster-politician killed on live TV 2023



Atiq Ahmed: The life of India's gangster-politician killed on live TV

In Prayagraj, a city renowned for its cultural heritage, the four-decade reign of terror orchestrated by Atiq Ahmed, a notorious gangster-politician, came to a shocking end last month. In a gruesome incident broadcast live on television, Atiq Ahmed and his brother were mercilessly shot dead, marking the conclusion of a tumultuous life in which the line between crime and politics became increasingly blurred. Soutik Biswas in New Delhi and Vikas Pandey in Prayagraj delve into the chronicles of Ahmed’s turbulent journey.

It was on a misty January morning in 2005 when Raju Pal, a newly-elected legislator, found himself ambushed in Prayagraj. Two vehicles abruptly appeared out of thin air, veering dangerously before stopping in front of Pal’s Toyota SUV. From these vehicles emerged over half a dozen men who opened fire on Pal within his car. After relentlessly shooting multiple rounds, they left the scene, leaving the crumpled and bleeding politician behind. Bystanders, rushing to his aid, carried him to another vehicle en route to the hospital. However, the assailants returned to further attack their dying target. Ravindra Pandey, a crime reporter, witnessed the assailants’ convoy speeding past the bustling cafeteria where he was sipping coffee. Their relentless pursuit only ceased when the vehicle transporting Pal reached the hospital. As an act of ruthless brutality, the assailants fired a couple of additional rounds into Pal’s lifeless body to ensure his demise. A shocking 19 bullets were discovered in his lifeless form. It is worth noting that Pal, who allegedly had close ties to the criminal underworld himself, had been married for just nine days.

This incident was witnessed by the entire city; everyone knew who was behind the attack, recalls Mr. Pandey. At that time, Atiq Ahmed was already the most feared gangster-turned-politician in Prayagraj. A year prior to the killing, Ahmed had become a Member of Parliament (MP) following five consecutive terms as a legislator from the city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Pal’s alleged murder was a consequence of daring to challenge Ahmed on his own turf. In order to contest and eventually win a parliamentary election from the neighboring Phulpur constituency (a prestigious seat that had been previously held by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, thrice), Ahmed had entrusted his Allahabad West seat in the state elections to his brother and fellow strongman, Ashraf. However, Ashraf suffered a shocking defeat by 4,000 votes at the hands of Pal. In retaliation, the gangster and his cohorts reportedly sought vengeance by having Pal murdered, and they were subsequently named as the primary accused in the case. Portrayed by his trademark white turban and portly physique adorned with a handlebar mustache, Ahmed exuded an intimidating presence, epitomizing the archetype of a gangster-politician.

For over four decades, Atiq Ahmed, the son of a poor horse-drawn carriage driver and a homemaker mother, reigned over Prayagraj’s criminal underworld. This serene city, nestled at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, India’s holiest rivers, had a deceptive façade that concealed a combustible blend of crime and politics. None had contributed more to this notoriety than Atiq Ahmed. Within the confines of his home, he played the role of a loving father to his five sons, owning pedigreed dogs, hosting extravagant parties, and organizing poetry recitals known as mushairas for his friends, once even featuring a respected Bollywood lyricist.

Outside the walls of his opulent abode, Ahmed’s activities were significantly less benign. He brazen

Ahmed was no stranger to controversy and legal troubles. Despite his criminal background and numerous cases against him, he managed to navigate the system and maintain his political career. He had a knack for intimidating witnesses, manipulating court proceedings, and exploiting his connections to influential individuals.

Throughout his tumultuous journey, Ahmed ruled over Prayagraj with an iron fist. The city, known for its rich cultural heritage and intellectual pursuits, became entangled in a web of crime and politics under his reign. It was a city of paradoxes, where poets and singers coexisted with gangsters and corrupt politicians.

Ahmed’s rise to power was fueled by fear and violence. He instilled terror in the hearts of both his rivals and ordinary citizens. With his portly figure, handlebar mustache, and trademark white turban, he commanded respect and struck fear into those who crossed his path.

His criminal empire extended beyond mere street-level thuggery. He orchestrated property seizures, extorted money from businessmen, and operated an extensive network of illegal activities. He held sway over Prayagraj’s criminal underworld for over four decades, accumulating a staggering number of cases against him, including murder, kidnapping, and extortion.

Law enforcement agencies and politicians seemed to turn a blind eye to his crimes, either out of fear or complicity. Even the judiciary exhibited caution when dealing with him, with several judges recusing themselves from his cases. It was a clear reflection of the pervasive influence he wielded over the city and its institutions.

Ahmed’s political career ran parallel to his criminal exploits. He leveraged the deep-rooted social divisions in Prayagraj, capitalizing on caste and religious affiliations to secure his position. Aligning himself with political parties, including the Samajwadi Party and later Apna Dal, provided him with a shield of protection and a platform to expand his influence.

He mastered the art of constituency service, effortlessly muttering orders to his aides while addressing the needs and concerns of his constituents. The walls of his party headquarters were adorned with imported automatic weapons, symbolizing the intersection of politics and criminality in his life.

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However, not all were blind to Ahmed’s true nature. There were individuals who fell victim to his brutality and faced the wrath of his criminal empire. Businessmen were forced to relinquish their properties, families were torn apart in land disputes, and innocent citizens were beaten and threatened.

Despite his criminality, Ahmed managed to present himself as a champion of the people. He espoused the values of equality, secularism, and social justice in his public speeches. He portrayed himself as a sacrificial figure, sacrificing his personal life for the betterment of society. But these acts of charity were nothing more than a façade to cultivate a favorable image and maintain his grip on power.

The end of Ahmed’s reign came abruptly and violently. The live TV broadcast of his and his brother’s cold-blooded murder shocked the nation. It was a stark reminder of the dangers posed by gangster-politicians and the fragility of law and order in certain parts of India.

With Ahmed’s demise, Prayagraj breathed a sigh of relief, hopeful that the grip of fear and corruption would loosen. The state government vowed to eradicate the influence of mafia figures like him, promising a safer and more just society.

Atiq Ahmed’s life serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the blurred boundaries between crime and politics. His story reveals the dark underbelly of power, where individuals with criminal backgrounds can exploit the system, amass wealth, and instill fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

As Prayagraj moves forward, it is crucial to remember the lessons learned from Ahmed’s reign. The city’s rich cultural heritage and intellectual pursuits should thrive without the shadow of

corruption and criminality. Efforts to strengthen law enforcement, promote transparency, and empower citizens to actively participate in the governance process are essential to prevent the rise of figures like Atiq Ahmed in the future.

Rebuilding Prayagraj’s reputation will require not only dismantling Ahmed’s criminal network but also addressing the underlying social and economic factors that allowed him to thrive. Poverty, unemployment, and social inequality create fertile ground for the cultivation of criminal enterprises. Investing in education, job creation, and social welfare programs will help uplift the marginalized sections of society, reducing their vulnerability to the influence of organized crime.

Furthermore, strengthening the judicial system and ensuring the independence of the judiciary is imperative. The judiciary must remain unbiased and fearless in the face of powerful individuals, regardless of their political connections. Specialized courts and fast-track mechanisms should be established to expedite the handling of cases involving influential politicians and criminals, ensuring justice is served swiftly and fairly.

Political parties also bear responsibility in preventing the rise of gangster-politicians. Screening and background checks for candidates should be rigorous, with a zero-tolerance policy for individuals with criminal records. The party leadership must prioritize ethical conduct and public service over personal gain, setting a strong example for aspiring politicians.

Civil society organizations, media outlets, and whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing corruption and criminality. They should be protected and encouraged to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. A culture of accountability and transparency should be fostered, with mechanisms in place to investigate and prosecute those involved in illegal activities.

Ultimately, the transformation of Prayagraj requires a collective effort from all stakeholders. It demands the active participation of citizens, the commitment of political leaders, and the dedication of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. By learning from the dark chapter of Atiq Ahmed’s reign, Prayagraj can emerge as a beacon of progress, where the rule of law prevails, and the spirit of cultural heritage and intellectual pursuits thrives.

The legacy of Atiq Ahmed serves as a stark reminder that the fight against organized crime and corruption is an ongoing battle. It requires constant vigilance, unwavering determination, and a commitment to upholding the principles of justice, integrity, and equality. Only then can Prayagraj, and indeed the entire nation, reclaim its true potential and become a bastion of prosperity and harmony.