Once again he studied us all. He had not yet uttered a word. Then he turned to
me and said, "I have murdered more than four hundred men."
"He had the largest reward ever offered in the history of India on his head,"
Sharma added. Mohar Singh looked around the room and then he smiled.
The reward had been the equivalent of $26,500. "Why was it so large?" I
"Because my gang was so terrifying," Mohar Singh replied. "It was also the
largest in the ravines—a hundred and twenty-five
men—and altogether we committed some five hundred heinous acts."
"Murder, kidnapping for ransom [his specialty], dacoity in general," he
replied. "In the early days I was very fond of killing people in order to
create terror in my area, and to extend my control. If I suspected that someone
was a police informer, I'd kill him rather than lose my time in asking him
questions. I was a very impatient young man." He paused and added, "I killed
needlessly; I can say that now."
Before his surrender Mohar Singh had controlled about 180 miles of the ravines,
and had been challenged by no one: he had his own army, system of justice, and
government. He also had the reputation of being a bit of a Robin Hood. I asked
him about that.
"Well, there's no point in robbing the poor," he said.
I asked if he had ever had women in his gang.
"Most certainly not."
"I don't believe in it," he replied. "They're useless. They compromise a gang's
security; they push men too much; they're not strong enough to walk fifty or
sixty kilometers in a night. Many a gang has fallen, or been infiltrated,
because they have had a woman in their ranks."
"What do you think of Phoolan Devi?"
He was plainly irritated, even before he spoke. "She's not a real dacoit," he
said. "If it wasn't for you people in the media, no one would have ever heard
of her. She's a character-loose
woman." I noticed that he chose that phrase with care. "And she never had one
significant encounter with the police."
Sharma, Ram Charan, and the entourage—all of whom had relished their
encounters—indicated agreement by nodding their heads.
Mohar Singh had begun to fidget in his chair, and I sensed that he wanted to
leave, so I asked him what he missed most about his life as a dacoit.
"That was then and this is now," he said with a hint of nostalgia in his voice.
Then he answered my question: "I was the uncrowned king of the region. I miss
"But now," the king of the dacoits went on, "although I had lakhs and lakhs of
rupees, I am merely the president of the Municipal Corporation of Mehgaon. But
I was democratically elected; no one even stood against me." He smiled,
glancing at his entourage assembled around the room, with their rifles balanced
against their knees.
I asked him what his plans were, and he replied that he would be standing in
elections later in the year for a seat in the state assembly of Madhya Pradesh.
He was now on an election tour of sorts, he explained, to round up former
members of his gang so that they could participate in his election campaign.
Then he added, almost as an afterthought, that he had also recently starred in
a Hindi film, The Dacoits of Chambal—playing himself. In a bustle of
activity he swept out of the room, surrounded by his men.