Sacred Games, the first Indian Netflix Original Series shows the rise and fall of Ganesh Gaitonde’s (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) crime gang. This gives us a sneak peek at an organised crime gang. In this article, I try to put together a basic framework for the operations of a typical organised crime gang and map this to how Ganesh managed to build and operate his gang.
The goal of any criminal gang is to earn money and/or earn a reputation and have complete control over their respective area of operation. It usually starts off with an individual or a group motivated by power or money. Now, with this mission statement, they set out to form a gang to help them achieve this. The short-term goal is to make money, which is then used to grow. The long-term strategy is to gain power and reputation. The gang usually starts off with crimes such as robbery and extortion. This small amount of money is used as capital for paying salaries to the gang members, recruiting new members, procurement of arms and weapons to help with the day-to-day operations of the gang. These activities are sometimes complemented by ‘takeovers’ of other small gangs. One of the major reasons for the failure of a gang is competitive rivalry. Thus, they make it a point to fight out and eliminate the competition using brute force. Once the gang has earned a reputation, they start branching out into other kinds of criminal activities. These are high-risk and high-reward activities such as contract killings, smuggling, sales of drugs, and other illegal goods. The decision to enter these kinds of activities is highly dependent on the policy of the gang and the gang leader’s mindset. In some cases, the gang might choose to stay away from drugs/alcohol. With further growth, the various activities of the gang function as an SBU (Strategic Business Unit) where one person oversees the operations of each unit. In this situation, the founding members usually stick to the role of the CXOs and refrain from taking part at the grass-root level. They become more of a ceremonial figure for closing major deals and chalking out a big picture plan for the gang.
The key to the success of any business is not just to earn money but to invest it in the right places to facilitate continuous income generation. This is important for a criminal gang because their main activities are risky and might lead to the complete elimination of the gang. This investment is done by setting up shell corporations. The operation of these shell corporations is usually taken care of by an external hire who may not necessarily be a part of the gang. The next important aspect for survival and success is publicity. Most gangs choose the film industry as their go-to means of mass communication because of this subtle yet strong nature to put forth a message and to reach a greater proportion of the public. Secondly, it can also act as an investment opportunity.
Another important aspect of a gang is the members and the roles they play. In general, each person might hold more than one position of responsibility. Every role and hierarchy within the gang is clearly defined and should be strictly adhered to. The top-level management includes the leader and the money handler. These are generally the ones who form the gang. The leader decides and executes the policy which is not limited to the rules of the trade, the dos, and don’ts. This person is also in charge of deciding who gets to be a part of the gang. Major deals and activities are headed by the leader. The money handler is the one in charge of all the finances of the gang. This person also takes care of devising investment strategies, money laundering schemes, and setting up shell corporations. The operations of the shell corporations are also overlooked by the money handler. Next in line is the information liaison whose job is to collect all sorts of relevant information ranging from general happenings in the city to major events and deals that might open up. This information is very essential for planning out the activities and also enables better decision making. Another set of people who are crucial for the growth and sustenance of big gangs are the legal advisor, law enforcement officer, and policymaker. One key difference is that they need not be part of the gang or associate themselves with the gang in public. They are secretly funded and supported by the gang. The legal advisor is useful in bailing out members of the gang and also provides legal insight in most situations. The law enforcement officer helps in controlling fights in the city caused by the gang members. The policymaker is used to obtain insider information about policies and potential deals. The workforce of a gang is mainly used for activities involving intimidation and violence. It is important to create and maintain an image of fear among the people to help facilitate the operations of the gang.
Now, let’s try to map this to Ganesh Gaitonde’s gang. His main aim was to rule over Bombay. First, he found Paritosh Shah, who was appointed as the money handler for his gang. With Paritosh’s help, he converted his black money into white which he got through gold smuggling. His next plan was to find an area in Bombay where no gang operated and that is how found Kailashpada. He realised it was the best time to start his gang’s activities. He met Bada Badariya and Chota Badariya, two loyal men who then became his workforce. They started off with some petty crimes to get enough money to keep the gang functioning. He did not immediately commit a big crime because he understood he was not ready for it, he waited. He then met Kantha Bai, who was claimed to be one with information about happenings in the city. Ganesh wanted her to be his information liaison, but Kantha Bai’s priorities were different. She was business-minded and did not want to be part of a gang yet. Ganesh realised he had to incentivize her, and that is how he started off a liquor business with Kantha Bai to get close to her. Soon, Kantha Bai started trusting Ganesh and told him about the garbage dump in Gopalmath, the place where the real riches of Bombay lie. Ganesh realized he had to defeat the current gang, led by Momin, which was operating in Gopalmath. He wanted to do something big to grab the attention of the public and announce his dramatic entrance. An idea struck him, and he burnt the garbage dump eliminating Momin and his business. This incident became a huge sensation and people in Bombay started talking about Ganesh. He managed to establish his presence across Bombay, but it was limited to the slums in the city. He was not satisfied with this, he wanted to capture the richer parts of Bombay because that is when he truly can control Bombay. He came to know of Sulaiman Isa who was the main man operating in the richer parts of Bombay. He waited for the right timing to pick a fight with Isa and when the opportunity presented itself, he took Kukoo, Isa’s close aid. This incident shook everyone in Bombay because the unrivaled Sulaiman Isa finally had a worthy competitor.
Another interesting thing to note is that Ganesh Gaitonde was a man who steered clear of all religious controversies. In another incident when Bipin Bhonsle, a local MLA candidate approached him for support in the upcoming elections, he explicitly told him that ‘Ganesh does not belong to anyone!’. This shows that Ganesh always had his final goal in his mind and did not budge. He was an able leader, clearly defined roles for every member of the gang, and did not tolerate insubordination. He took people from all ethnic groups into his gang and did not discriminate. Paritosh Shah suggested the idea of investing the money in a business and that led to the start of Ganesh’s own airline and cola company. These business establishments acted as his shell corporations which were overlooked by Paritosh. This doubled as a publicity stunt where he showed people that he was not a bad guy. While all this was happening, he did not forget his competitor, Isa. He killed a few of Isa’s men to show his power, which did not turn out to be beneficial for him, as he too lost a few of his men. Kantha Bai helped Ganesh realise that he needed to take down someone close to Isa to inflict pain upon him. After some research, he came to know about Usman, Isa’s brother-in-law and eliminated him. This shook Isa and he fled the country for a while. In spite of all his efforts, Ganesh still could not bring Bombay under his control. There was a rising instability in his gang, which led to gang members fighting among themselves. He realised that all this was due to a mole in the gang which turned out to be Bada Badariya who joined forces with Sulaiman Isa to bring down Ganesh and his gang.
Though Ganesh Gaitonde did not achieve his lifelong dream of controlling Bombay, he proved himself to be an able strategist and managed to form a gang from scratch and keep it running for a considerable amount of time. He started from the bottom and went on to become a feared gangster in Bombay. Maybe we could learn some business sense from a criminal mastermind?
PS: Sorry for spoilers :)