Sandeep Sahu

As the sordid details of how gangster Syed Usman Ali alias ‘Tito’ built his Empire of Crime unravels layer by layer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Kendrapara don flourished with active political patronage at every stage.

The similarities of Tito’s case with the rise and fall of the Dhalasamant brothers, who ran a similar crime syndicate from Cuttack, are hard to miss. In both cases, the gangsters built their empire, brick by brick, over several years before the law finally caught up with them. Both of them were courted and patronised by all three major political parties in the state as they went about building their extensive network of crime that stretched from tender fixing to extortion and illegal sand mining. And lastly, in both cases, their denouement was the result of a tug of war between the ruling party and the BJP.

If BJD leaders, including Barabati Cuttack MLA Debashish Samantaray, were seen in the public place in the company of the ‘D Brothers’, the BJP’s foremost leader in the state and Union Petroleum and Skill Development Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was seen and heard publicly endorsing Sushil Dhalasamant as the ‘Baimundi’ of Cuttack! Senior Congress leader Bhakta Charan Das too was seen attending a function where Sushil was present on the dais. When these things became public, each of these political dramatis personae sought to drag the other two parties into it even as they tried to hide behind their role as people’s representatives to make light of their public appearances with the gangster.

The same routine is now being repeated in the case of Tito. Allegations of collusion have been flying thick and fast between the BJD and the BJP. Things have become particularly vicious since the IOCL requested the CBI, as per the ‘advice’ of the Petroleum ministry, to probe how Tito managed to get two Indian Oil petrol pumps – one each in Kendrapara and Paradip – sanctioned in the name of his wife Benazir despite his criminal antecedents. If the former has sought to drag Dharmendra Pradhan into mud by accusing him of links with Tito’s crime syndicate, the latter has alleged that ruling party legislators in Kendrapara protected and patronised the don.

Coming as it does soon after handing over the probe into the sinking of the Mongolian vessel MV Black Rose, laden with 23, 000 tonnes of illegally mined iron ore, in 2009 to the CBI, the probe into the allotment of petrol pumps to Tito appears to be part of the BJP led Union government’s plans to embarrass the state government and the ruling party in the run up to the next elections. In response to the handing over of the probe against Tito to the CBI, the BJD has hit back raising some pertinent questions on the issue. When did the Petroleum Ministry come to know about the allotment? Why was it silent all this while when the allotments were done in 2014? Would the CBI probe only these two allotments or others too?

The truth is both these contending parties have a lot of explaining to do not just about these two allotments, but about the rise and rise of Tito over the years. The state government – and the BJD - must explain how the district administration and the entire law enforcement machinery remained mute spectators as Tito expanded his empire, cocking a snook at the law as he did so. It goes without saying that such crime syndicates cannot run for long without the administration and the police winking at it. How come the special task force (STF) of the State Crime Branch unearthed so much information about Tito’s ‘business’ ventures in just a fortnight? Why was the police silent all these years? How was Tito’s brother inducted into the BJD recently?

On its part, the BJP too has to answer several questions on Tito, especially the allotment of petrol pumps to him. IOCL CGM Pritish Bharat today sought to implicate the then Collector of Jagatsinghpur, who had issued the no objection certificate (NOC) for the allotment, in the case. But he did not bother explaining how IOCL authorities failed to take note of the known criminal background of the Kendrapara gangster. If the BJD is guilty of shutting its eyes to Tito’s criminal enterprise, the BJP too cannot shirk its responsibility for the allotment by seeking to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the then Collector. Just as the BJD cannot escape responsibility by apportioning blame on the IOCL, the BJP too cannot get away by pointing fingers at the Collector. The fact that all these allegations and counter-allegations are coming only after the arrest of Tito suggest that both parties have been indulgent towards the gangster for years.

The ‘encounter’ followed by arrest of Tito came about in circumstances eerily similar to that of the Dhalasamant brothers. Like in the case of the Cuttack don, the law came down on Tito like a tonne of bricks only when he started hobnobbing with BJP leaders. If the grapevine is to be believed, the decision to crack down on Tito’s empire too came after reports of the gangster meeting a senior leader of the BJP in Delhi.

If there is a lesson for the two parties in these two widely discussed cases, it is this: the cynical use of criminals to further short term political interests must stop because it proves politically costly in the long run.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).