Vijayawada

When gangs ruled the roost in Bezawada

Alankar Theatre that was set on fire by the mob after the brutal murder of Vangavetti Mohan Ranga Rao on December, 26, 1988 in Vijayawada.   | Photo Credit: M.A. Mohan Rao.

Vijayawada is today part of an urban conglomerate that is going to be part of a new capital of Andhra Pradesh. Though it is a peaceful city today, four decades ago it was notorious for gang wars. In a chain reaction, the rivalry between two local gangs resulted in the worst event in the history of united Andhra Pradesh.

Riots and looting broke out after the assassination of sitting MLA Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga Rao, who is said to the head of one of the two gangs. As many as 42 persons were reported killed in police firing and other violent incidents on December 26, 1988. Over 700 government and private buses were damaged all over the State. The damage to property in Vijayawada city itself was said to be over ₹100 crore. On the fateful day, groups of men were seen prying open shop shutters with crowbars, throwing molotov cocktails into them and then pulling down the shutters again and leaving quietly. This was done to hundreds of shops.

Good policing pays

The city has since been transformed mainly by years of good policing. The primary objective of all police Commissioners of Vijayawada was controlling the gangs of the city and their illegal activities. The gangs also lost their grip in the city with the improvement of civic amenities in the over 100 slums in the city under the British Government Overseas Development Authority (ODA) scheme.

In the early 70s, rowdy elements ruled the roost in Bezawada (old name of Vijayawada). Bezawada was a railway junction and a transport hub. Taxis, private buses and goods vehicles operated with the town as the base. Gangs fought with each other to control gambling, liquor trade, prostitution, black marketing of cinema tickets and also transport business, which was bustling here.

Gangs operated under the guise of trade and student unions. Settling of various disputes, including financial and property, were also the mainstay of gangs in Vijayawada. Kidnapping, torturing and in extreme cases murder of people who do not toe their line were common.

Turf wars

The turf wars grew in intensity leading to a string of murders some of them very gruesome. The first notable murder took place in February 1974. Chalasami Venkataratnam, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader was murdered in broad daylight near Bandar Locks.

In a retaliatory step,Vangaveeti Radhakrishna, Venkataratnam’s rival and elder brother of Ranga, was murdered within six months (same year).

This led to a string of retaliatory murders — Devineni Gandhi in 1979, his brother Murali in March 1988 and Ranga in December 1988. Besides these, there were nearly a dozen murders committed on similar lines between the Vangaveeti and Devineni groups. With the murder of Ranga, the murder spree came down a few notches, but rowdy gangs continued to hold sway indulging in various illegal activities. The conducting of illegal settlements continued with people being kidnapped, beaten up in the worst cases even killed.

Ranga and Devineni Rajasekhar (Nehru) began as individuals, but they sought the support of their communities, Kapu and Kamma respectively, as their rivalry escalated. After the formation of the Telugu Desam Party, the community rivalry became political with Nehru joining TDP and Ranga joining the Congress. Both the leaders were elected MLAs of their respective parties.

The “legal” settlement darbars conducted when D.T. Naik was Police Commissioner and the zero tolerance to rowdyism and gambling of all sorts when N.V. Surendra Babu was the police chief went a long way in curbing the gang menace.

A committee consisting of a senior police officer, a revenue officer, an advocate and other prominent citizens was constituted to hold weekly hearing for resolving “petty finance and property disputes” in a transparent manner. This measure also helped in loosening the vise-like grip of the gang leaders over underprivileged people who were forced to resort to them for want of resources.

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2020 7:20:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/when-gangs-ruled-the-roost-in-bezawada/article24667239.ece

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