By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji: Remember the school bully. The tough guy who’d grab the best savories from your lunchbox the moment you opened it, and always wanted the lion's share of sweets distributed on Independence Day? Goa's current drug war is much easier to explain with the above analogy.
With the tourism season all set to seriously kick-off, the ongoing gang war in this tourist paradise between Nigerians on the one hand and politically supported local gangs on the other, is simply a case of one outfit trying to greedily corner the dope-selling rights over the biggest chunk of geography ahead of the annual invasion of nearly three million tourists.
And with Thursday's murder of a Nigerian national, the subsequent unruly highway blockade by angry Nigerians and the popular tide of resentment against the Afro community, the local drug dealers appear to be on the winning side. With the police crackdown on all Nigerians in general, in many cases even evicting them from their homes with a 24-hour notice, the Nigerian drug lobby is definitely on the backfoot.
Contrary to the popular notion that chunks of Goa’s coastline have been parceled out amongst drug cartels of Russian, Nigerian, Israeli nationalities, in reality, it’s not territory which is the crucial factor.
“Russian tourists find it safer to buy drugs from their fellow nationals or at places run by fellow nationals. Same applies to other nationalities as well. It works well for the dealers too because they can mix easily and camouflage themselves with their countrymen. No suspicions arise,” says a senior anti-narcotics cell official.
But while the talk about foreigner-run mafia makes for sexy reportage, it is the Indian, in this case very Goan end of the narcotics mafia, which deserves more attention because of the political power it wields, irrespective of which political party is in power, and the quantum of human resource it controls in Goa’s tourism-savvy coastal belt.
How well entrenched are the roots of this local, coastal drug mafia really are can be gauged from how they worship their Gods! Some years ago in Anjuna, a newly elected legislator and local villagers decided to build a temple in honour of the local deity. Raising money wasn’t difficult with the tourist season on. The group organized a rave party near the temple and collected donations from the local drug peddlers, who were authorised to sell drugs at the drug-do, and voila they had enough money to build a temple that same year.
"These are the dealers who are difficult to break. There’s just too much political pressure. So we depend on these dealers to give use minor cases, mostly non-Goans who work for them and don’t have any use for them anymore,” the official said, adding that the race for volume of cases often resulted in small fry being nabbed.
When the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Monday attacked coastal MLAs for allowing the drug menace in Goa’s beach villages to fester and prosper, it wasn’t really off the mark. It was merely articulating a popular sentiment about certain coastal lawmakers. "It is the coastal MLAs who are involved in sheltering drug trade," NCP vice president Trajano D’Mello claims.
Perhaps the first documented connection between Goa’s drug mafia and politicians was legislator Francisco Pacheco-led legislative committee report on drug trade. It suggests that there was “enormous amount of documentary evidence available to pin point the identity and criminal engagement” of the son of a former home minister of Goa in drugs trade. The report also indicts the Director General of Police for being part of the protection network of the drug mafia.
Thursday's violence was not the first. There have been bloody, public scuffles between the Nigerian drug dealers and local gangs in Goa's most popular party lane, near Club Titos, over the right to sell drugs in the beach stretch constantly buzzing with young tourists. But there's virtually no mention of them in police records.
The assembly panel’s report has not been accepted by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government yet, even as Goa’s drug wars spilled out into the streets last week. A serving deputy superintendent of police (SP), formerly attached to the anti-narcotics cell (ANC) of the state police points out that the agitation amongst the drug mafia could also be a result of the maverick, but effective style of young Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Karthik Kashyap, who heads the anti-Narc division, until recently a much-maligned unit known for being in cahoots with the drug mafia.
“The drug hauls in the recent past have been big spilling into crores of rupees of recovery. And this may have rattled some of the operators. They now cannot afford any more losses and have started a desperate hunt to track down moles and minimize damage by these raids,” the officer said.
Obina Paul, the Nigerian whose murder triggered the National Highway blockade by Nigerians last Thursday, could have been one of the suspected moles who spilled the information about a raid on October 27, which netted drugs worth Rs 1 crore and more, the officer suggests. Paul and his friends had been assaulted at a local restaurant a by a local gang on October 30, but the police had refused to register a complaint about the assault. The complaint has been finally registered on Tuesday, five days after Paul’s death.
On Thursday, the protesting Nigerians told police as well as the media that the attack was orchestrated by a gang called Chapora boys, a local gang from a coastal village called Chapora, 30 kms from here. Chapora is Goa’s worst kept secret and represents the seedy underbelly of the state’s narco tourism fetish. While the police have conducted raids on the homes of suspects from the village, whether the cops have the balls and the gumption to finally detoxify Chapora is the million dollar question.