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November 24, 1998


'If I don't win it means that the netas are not the only chors, the people are also foolish'

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A Ganesh Nadar in Karera, Chambal

Malkhan Singh, the infamous but reformed dacoit of the Chambal valley, is contesting the assembly election from the Karera constituency, Shivpuri district, Madhya Pradesh.

A call to his house in Gwalior elicits the response that he would be available in Khaira Ghati, at the local Durga Mandir.

Karera is a barren area. There are very few trees. A crumbling fort overlooks the small town. We accosted a Malkhan Singh propaganda van and his supporter escorted us to Khaira Ghati.

The supporters looked tough. One man walked past me with a loaded gun and a belt laden with cartridges, looking every inch like a wizened warrior of Chambal.

Malkhan Singh was putting on his starched pyjamas, already clad in a spotless white kurta. He is tall and fair and has piercing eyes. He sat down and dyed his moustache, then put a tilak on his forehead very carefully.

He spoke in measured tones, sometimes angrily and sometimes with humour. His entourage laughed loudly when he smiled and glared when he was angry. Everybody was totally attuned to his moods. That he was playing a role was beyond doubt.

A man sitting by my side unloaded his gun, then took out a few spare cartridges, counted them and showed them to Malkhan Singh. He in turn counted them and returned them. The worthy reloaded his gun. The action was simple, yet unnerving.

We conducted our chat on the verandah of Durga Mandir.

He claimed that in politics and in life he believed in the truth and only the truth. "In present-day politics there is corruption, injustice, rape, falsehood -- this is wrong. I want to improve Karera."

He was born in Bhind, in the Chambal terrain. "Everybody is born in their own village, even Raj Babbar -- he came here yesterday, you are here today." This was to a query as to why he was standing from Karera and not contesting from Bhind, from where he lost the last Lok Sabha election.

I asked him where he studied. "Chambal," was the cryptic reply "The real education was there." Then he added, "I am here to destroy injustice and corruption. When one is reborn, evil is always destroyed."

About Chambal he said, "We have to walk, we have to die of hunger. Walk in darkness without batteries, no horses, even Raj Babbar's horse wasn't there. I made a real film on Chambal with real bullets. Ask Raj Babbar why he made such a false film about Chambal.

"In the Chambal, when children leave their homes, nobody looks after them. Millionaires are happy even when they go to jail. They get special facilities. Somebody looks after their children. Not in the Chambal, though."

One of his workers turned up late. Malkhan Singh asked, ''Where were you?'' ''I was on the rounds,'' was the reply.

"When I was in the Chambal, the DGP asked a constable, 'Malkhan Singh passed this way today, where were you?' The constable replied, 'On my rounds, sir'." We all laughed at this anecdote. Malkhan Singh reprimanded him, "When you are late, I notice, I worry."

He continued his monologue: "I am not selfish, I am not after profit or land or building. I am not going to loot or grab or rape.

"I will destroy all the evil forces.

"When I was in Chambal I supported many a politician. There is very little justice in our country... I was released because there were no witnesses, so there is some justice."

Then he told me how to identify an honest officer. "If a policeman goes around with a stick and on a scooter, he is honest. Those who need security are dishonest."

As an individual he wouldn't be able to do much, so wouldn't he be better off in a party? "Netaji Bose, Bhagat Singh didn't have a party. So I don't need a party. The people are my party. The lion has always been alone. Only goats roam in a heard. One man is enough for this Vidhan Sabha. The Sabha won't function if there is injustice. They thump the benches, I will thump the corrupt. I will pick them up and smash them.

"I am not a robber who slinks and hides his face. I announce 'I am Malkhan Singh'. I don't believe in caste or religion. In the Chambal there is no distinction. Remember, only Malkhan Singh can wipe out corruption. I cannot sit quietly. I will work for Karera. I am sitting in the mother 's temple and speaking the truth.

"I have nothing to lose or gain but I will do nehle pe dehle (go one up on my opponents) before I call it a day. In the Chambal, after Maan Singh, I was respected. I am sleeping in this open temple so I can know the cold of the poor. Do you know how cold it was last night?

"If I don't win it means that the netas are not the only chors, the people are also foolish. They are ready to die." This was said in an amused tone and not a threatening one.

There was a public meeting in Karera at 1400 hours. Malkhan Singh readily posed for pictures with his crowd, two posed with guns and one displayed his moustache. "Better than Veerappan's?"

Malkhan Singh also insisted that I eat with him. So we sat on the floor, and ate from leaves. A simple meal of roti and vegetables. Two women were cooking under a tree.

In Karera a local cop said, "As far as I am concerned he is still a thug." Another volunteered, "He stands for elections so he can collect money from his benefactors." An inspector of police added, "We apply Section 110 to known goondas. In my area I had booked 51 criminals under 110. You will find all the 51 under some political patronage or the other. I have arrested one man against whom there were two warrants, from a political meeting. When normal people become leaders there is only corruption, but when criminals become leaders...." he sighed in exasperation.

The inspector of Shivpuri, Bhanu Pratap Singh, related an encounter with Malkhan Singh. "At that time I was a sub-inspector in Gijrea. On January 9, 1981 we were trekking near the Ratnagadh Matha village. We were nine of us, we knew that Malkhan Singh, Ghanshyam, Gangadhimar and Uday Singh Gadariya's gangs were in that area. Suddenly we were surrounded by the dacoits. Malkhan Singh asked us to surrender and throw down our arms. We decided it would be foolish to throw ourselves at their mercy, and fired back. The exchange lasted three hours. The dacoits retreated and we came back safely."

Assembly Election '98

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