Thursday, December 7, 2023

Blood Feud Born Out Of Coal Rivalry Takes Centrestage In Dhanbad

Darpan News Desk IANS, 13 Nov, 2019 08:28 PM

    Remember 'Gangs of Wasseypur'? Its fleshed out characters, some whacky, others deadly dangerous, all monochromatic. Press the refresh button, for many of those names are going to leap out of the celluloid frame and be part of our daily narrative again.

    The seminal 'Gangs of Wasseypur' is inspired by the story of bitter rivals Shafi (Shafiq) Khan and Surya Dev Singh, driven by a deep-rooted visceral hatred for each other, where every nuance had flair and cutzpah for it embodied a craft.

    Pulp faction presented with all the blood, gore, violence and brutality of an age which refuses to be air brushed. Coal mafia don Surya Dev Singh is shown as Ramadhir Singh in the film.

    For the impending Jharkhand polls, the BJP has fielded Ragini Singh from Jharia, replacing her husband Sanjeev Singh who is being tried in a local court in connection with the Neeraj Singh murder case. She is in turn facing her sister-in-law Purnima Singh of the Congress, the widow of the slain former Deputy Mayor Neeraj Singh, who was the cousin of Sanjeev Singh.

    It is a blood feud of a different level which carries on for generation after generation. Taking to the media, Ragini Singh said, "Party workers are my strength. Besides, our family has been serving the people of Jharia for long. The party has once again shown confidence in our family. Now with the blessing of mother Kunti Singh (former Jharia MLA and mother-in-law of Ragini) and husband Sanjeev Singh, I would fight and retain the seat for the party. People will definitely repose faith in our family."

    On the possibility of facing her sister-in-law, Ragini said, "It's not an issue as the people of Jharia have faith in the Singh Mansion, especially in Kunti Singh."

    Outgoing MLA Sanjeev Singh had defeated Congress candidate Neeraj Singh by a margin of 33,661 votes in the 2014 Assembly elections. Life, they say, imitates art, and in this case it is the truth. But that is only after art itself imitated life. In September 2019, the battle to control India's coal capital -- Dhanbad -- took a turn for the worse and became hot button all over again. Man, it is said, is a prisoner of his past and while everyone has a dark side, what triggers blood thirsty tendencies still remains unknown.

    When exiles in time return to haunt our memory and recesses in maximum combat utility mode, you know trouble is headed your way. There is a momentum to time and things then follow symmetrically. When cinematic pulp mirrors real life, it is no big deal. World over, movies have been inspired by slices of real life. When the opposite takes place, you begin to worry.

    Remember the fabled 'Gangs of Wasseypur', which dealt with the coal mafia in all its bloody splendour? News coming from the erstwhile badlands of Bihar isn't all good. Just when one thought that the Nitish-Laloo marriage was trying to fix what was broken, peace was shattered and in a return to an earlier but more recent age, vignettes of its brutal past have reappeared.

    A big monkey wrench bunged into the delicate balance of law and order in the state where Nitish Kumar was allegedly playing do-gooder. A throwback to the violent days of lawlessness and defiance. Once again proving that we are all human and everyone bleeds the same way.

    At the very epicentre of the new badland's fables remains the control of the iconic Singh Mansion in the middle of Dhanbad, where an interlocking family conflict has been the cynosure.

    Escalation took place when Neeraj Singh, former Deputy Mayor of Dhanbad and nephew of the dreaded coal mafia overlord-turned-politician Surya Dev Singh, was shot dead along with his three gunmen on a busy street near Dhanbad's Steel Gate area under the Saraidhela police station in 2017. The injured were rushed to Dhanbad's Central Hospital where they died.

    Neeraj Singh sustained innumerable bullet wounds in the fusillade of fire. In a true gangland style execution reminiscent of military style killing, it brought back painful memories of a bygone era, the last vestiges of which one thought had been consigned to the ashes of history.

    Blood feuds don't end in a generation or two, as Anurag Kashyap showed us so evocatively in 'Gangs of Wasseypur' 1 and 2. They have a permanence attached to them where neither side is willing to forgive or forget, for revenge and vengeance is embedded in the consciousness and emerges at an appropriate time.

    In this specific case, it can't be truer. The bitter and violent clannish rivalry between BJP's Jharia MLA Sanjeev Singh and his cousin Neeraj Singh, son of Rajan Singh, one of Suraj Dev Singh's brothers, resurfaced with this incident. Like in the stylised 'Gangs of Wasseypur' where Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) and Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) are pitted against one another in a tale of retributive justice and brinkmanship, this modern day tale is a mirror image.

    Neeraj Singh was struck by as many as 67 bullets after motorcycle-borne assailants intercepted his SUV barely 100 metres from his home and opened fire from an AK-47 rifle and pistols at around 7.30 p.m. Incidentally, Neeraj Singh also had an uncle named Ramadhir Singh, who was convicted in a murder case and is in jail.

    Neeraj Singh too was accused in several criminal cases, including murder. The coal mafia, which has wanted to control coal and railway contracts, has seen much blood letting over time.

    Locals will tell you that Neeraj Singh, a mechanical engineer, had a bitter political rivalry with his cousin Sanjeev Singh, Jharia's BJP legislator. Neeraj Singh had unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Jharkhand Assembly election from Jharia constituency on a Congress ticket against Sanjeev Singh.

    First Sanjeev Singh's driver, Ranjay Singh, was killed in a shootout in the heart of the city. Neeraj Singh too had a chequered past and was forced to enter politics in 2009 after the death of younger brother Mukesh Singh. He was initiated into politics by his uncle Baccha Singh. After failing to win a seat in the 2009 Assembly election, he became the Deputy Mayor of Dhanbad Municipal Corporation in 2010. A year later, he joined the Congress.

    Killings have been a way of life in this dreaded neck of the woods -- in 2011, four assailants shot Congress leader and coal merchant Suresh Singh in Dhanbad Club. Earlier in 1999, a coal merchant was bushwhacked and shot just as another coal merchant Binod Singh was shot. In fact, the real Ramadhir Singh is serving a life sentence in this case. He is uncle to both Sanjeev and Neeraj Singh, protagonists in the latest drama.

    Suraj Deo or Surya Dev was considered the 'Don of Dhanbad' and Anurag Kashyap's 'Gangs of Wasseypur' is an ode to the king of coal mafia. Surya Dev Singh's death set off a battle for supremacy and dominance between Neeraj Singh and Sanjeev Singh over the control of the coal mining business.

    Anurag Kashyap himself has described his lyrical tribute to the coal rivalry in Gangs 1 and 2: "The film is essentially about two families from Wasseypur and one from Dhanbad. In the process, it explores the larger chunk of the coal and mafia activity. The film deals with the emergence of Mafia.

    "I didn't want to limit to coal activity so family story had to be shown and what the mafia is doing there now. What we have done with this film is even if it's a fictional film, we have taken actual shots of sand mining. In the film nothing is recreated. Every shot is real. The entire river has been turned into sand mine as there is not an ounce of water."

    Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an extraordinary ride through Bollywood's spectacular, over-the-top filmmaking". Referring to the violence and pace of the film, she said "Gangs of Wasseypur puts Quentin Tarantino in a corner with its cool command of cinematically-inspired and referenced violence, ironic characters and breathless pace."

    Maggie Lee of Variety notes Kashyap never lets his diverse influences of old-school Italo-American mafia classics a la Coppola, Scorsese and Leone, as well as David Michod's taut crime thriller "Animal Kingdom", override the distinct Indian colour.

    Calling the film "the love child of Bollywood and Hollywood," she felt the film was "by turns pulverising and poetic in its depiction of violence."

    Lee Marshall of Screen International wrote: "The script alternates engagingly between scenes of sometimes stomach-churning violence and moments of domestic comedy, made more tasty by hard-boiled lines of dialogue like 'in Wasseypur even the pigeons fly with one wing, because they need the other to cover their arse'."

    He described the song lyrics "as if mouthed by a Greek chorus of street punks", commenting sarcastically on what's happening on screen.

    Born to Rajan Singh, the younger brother of Suraj Deo Singh who rose from a humble colliery worker to the undisputed don of Dhanbad, and homemaker Sarojini Devi, Neeraj Singh went to Delhi Public School in Dhanbad and got a BTech degree from Hindustan College of Science and Technology in Mathura.

    As a report in one of the newspapers of the time suggested, "Popular among trade union workers of Janata Mazdoor Sangh, established by the late Surya Dev, where Neeraj Singh was joint secretary, the young man did not have much luck with the ballot. He joined the BJP before 2009 Assembly polls, but the party didn't give him the ticket for Dhanbad. He contested as an Independent but lost to Mannan Mallik of the Congress. He then joined the Congress and was elected as Dhanbad's Deputy Mayor in 2010."

    In 2014, the Jharia Assembly poll saw the battle of the two scions, Neeraj Singh from Congress and first cousin Sanjeev Singh from the BJP, in which the latter drubbed the former. But, Neeraj Singh's inter-personal skills helped his youngest brother Eklavya become Dhanbad Deputy Mayor in 2015.

    Despite personal differences with many members of the Singh Mansion, Neeraj Singh was close to uncle Bachcha Singh, the late Surya Dev's right hand, who reportedly helped him in business. It helped that Bachcha Singh was the Urban Development Minister in governments led by Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda.


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