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The original Don

 

Surajdeo Singh became the byword for mafia in the 1970s and 80s
TSI | Issue Dated: May 12, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Surajdeo Singh | Coal mafia | UP | Dhanbad | JMS | INTUC |
 

Late Surajdeo Singh, the original coal mafia `don’, belonged to Gonia-Ranigunj village in Uttar Pradesh’s Balia district. His story is no less exciting than Haji Mastan’s.
 
He started life as 'khalasi' in the Ranigunj Coke Association in West Bengal but soon moved to Dhanbad. He soon became a key muscleman of BP Sinha, who was an influential labour leader during the 1950s, a man credited with the very emergence of mafia in Dhanbad.

Soon after Indian coal was nationalised in 1971, Surajdeo Singh started grabbing the reins of Dhanbad's treasure trove of coals, clearly outsmarting his mentor Sinha in both arm-twisting and political connections.

Gradually Singh established his own labour association called the Janata Mazdoor Sangh (JMS) and began bringing in influential labour leaders and cadres of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) ) under his flag. By 1974, he successfully merged BP Sinha's labour unions of Borargurh and Kushtaur coal mines to his JMS.

In 1977, there was an epic clash of authority over Bhuridih mines between Sinha's supporters and JMS musclemen. After Sinha was murdered at his residence on March 28, 1979, Surajdeo Singh became the uncrowned mafia king of Dhanbad.

However, unlike Sinha, whose supremacy was inarguable and who had succeeded in making key mafia figures his associates, Singh came under fierce competition from Sinha's supporters, all of them dons themselves, and thus began a circle of violence that threw law and order out of gear in Dhanbad – for all times to come.

The fact that Surajdeo Singh belonged to the native village of former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar helped his transition to politics. He won the Jharia Assembly seat on a Janta Party ticket in 1977, after which he further cemented his position as the undisputed don of the mining underbelly.

By 1975, he is supposed to have made as much as Rs 50 crore (a huge sum if you consider the fact that the Bofors scam which rocked the nation a decade later involved only Rs 64 crore paid in kickbacks to top defence officials) with his illegitimate businesses.

It also became a family business. Singh's illegal errands, murder and loot were carried out by his brother Bachcha Singh, who also had many criminal cases pending against him. Another brother Ramdhir Singh too was involved.

Surajdeo's other trusted sword arm was Raghunath Singh who is believed to have played a major role in the killing of BP Sinha.

Surajdeo Singh was ruthless with people who posed a challenge. When one of his former associates Sakaldev Singh floated a parallel labour union called Bihar Janta Khan Mazdoor Sangh (BJKMS), he was immediately on Surajdeo’s radars.

In 1983, in a spine chilling, cinema-like climax, his men fired at Sakaldev's house at Sijua crossing in Dhanbad continuously for two hours in broad day light without any police intervention!

Surajdeo's ways became the talk of the nation. On February 1, 1988, his men led another dramatic attack, this time on SK Roy, INTUC leader and rival. At about 11 in the morning, they surrounded the INTUC office and fired indiscriminately on Roy's ambassador car, killing his bodyguard Collector Singh and three others, Vinay Sharma, Surendra Rai and Anandi Rai. Surendra Rai was to appear before a special trial court a week later to testify against Surajdeo Singh who was accused of a failed murder attempt on SK Roy in 1982.

With the mafia don's death in 1991, family power had waned in favour of another mafia honcho Suresh Singh, but not for long. The don’s legendary residence, Singh Mansion in Dhanbad, continues to remain an epicentre of activity with significant political clout.  His widow Kunti Singh is Jharia MLA, brother Ramdhir Singh is Ballia Zila Parishad Chairman and son Sanjiv Singh is being groomed to take over family 'business’.

Times have changed but the Singh Mansion continues to be a beehive of activity, reportedly knee deep in the battle to control both ballot and bullet so as to keep their political clout and mafia rackets going.

Closer to the Godfather saga, Sanjiv Singh, Ramdhir Singh and his son Sashi Singh are main accused in the December 2011 slaying of Congress leader Suresh Singh, an old Surajdeo adversary.

In turn, Suresh Singh was believed to have masterminded the disappearance and alleged murder of Sanjiv Singh’s brother Rajiv Ranjan Singh. The names of these two families have become synonymous with 'blood’ killings.

Sanjiv Singh, however, dismisses allegations against his father. “The fact remains that my father was a trusted leader committed to peoples’ welfare. We were named accused in coal merchant Pramod Singh’s murder case but the court absolved us of all charges. Local leaders cannot digest people's continued affection for us which is why they concoct stories and try framing us in false cases.” Touching indeed.

However, Singh did admit that illegal practices pertaining to coal do take place in Jharkhand on a fairly large scale. “I would say 30 to 40 per cent of them (cases of coal smuggling, illegal mining etc raised in the media) is true,” he says. He should know.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017