This chapter introduces the analytical framework of the book. It centers on the concept of the "figure" of the boss and unpacks some of the key terms used in the rest of the book, such as "bossism," "Mafia Raj," "the art of bossing," and "mafia-owned democracy."
Chapter 1 maps the peculiar South Asian backdrop against which the bosses of this book stand out as figures of bossism in the first decade of the twenty-first century. It illustrates the criminal political economies at the heart of Mafia Raj; how vernacularized ideas and practice of democracy are used to pursue mafia-like businesses; the role of party machines in forging bosses' careers; and the multiple sources of protection that bosses need to cultivate to obtain and maintain impunity. It also outlines how "the art of making do" (jugad) transmogrifies into the art of bossing and how the informal economy brushes with organized crime.
Set in provincial Bangladesh against the background of sprawling criminal activities from smuggling to money laundering and drugs, Chapter 2 shows how a well-educated young man uses his actor's skills and capacity for violence to become a mastan (enforcer) with a longer-term project to become an elected political "godfather." It describes a young entrepreneur at the very start of his career and the difficulties he encounters establishing his "will to boss."
Chapter 3 is set in rural Indian Punjab. It features a lower-caste self-appointed boss who through bluffs and hustling, and by portraying himself as a Robin Hood who steals from corrupt politicians to provide for the poor, is trying to carve out for himself some authority in the local environment of power. During this process he is profiting by siphoning off state resources and acting as a vote contractor. His performances illustrate how the fantasy of the boss is deeply shaping the lives of ordinary people across South Asia and inspiring a craving for power.
Chapter 4 analyzes the volatile role of aides and associates in the management of bossism in Andhra Pradesh, South India. It shows how henchmen are bosses in their own rights and how they rule over their "jurisdictions," It also highlights how factionalism, class, and caste dynamics shape bossism hierarchies and how bosses control people or resources by subcontracting coercive control to their henchmen and runners.
Chapter 5 examines how criminal bosses seek to style themselves as informal adjudicators in Lahore's working-class neighborhoods. A variety of small-time and influential strongmen are presented to capture the distinctive appeal of extralegal forms of adjudication. The chapter illustrates how these men draw on popular fantasies of power rooted in the ideal of the "genteel gangster" to become informal adjudicators and to discipline through their capacity to kill with relative impunity. Contrary to other cases presented in this book, this chapter suggests that, depending on the political environment in which they operate, criminal formations in South Asia may also strive to maintain a distance from electoral politics.
Chapter 6 explores the rise of a town boss in what is popularly viewed as an extremely misogynist and muscular political world but is also one of the most vibrant laboratories of Indian democracy since independence: the state of Uttar Pradesh. It unravels the transition from traditional protectors to contemporary mafia-style bosses (dabang). The story brings to light the masculine character of bossism and the way women navigate through muscular and macho systems of governance and, in the process, develop particular bossing styles and statecraft techniques to enhance their authority.
Returning to Bangladesh, in Chapter 7 we meet the "godfather," a typical figure in Bangladesh's politics. The chapter is about an elected Member of Parliament who is well known for using brutality and extortion to bolster his position and intimidate opponents and for having unsavory associates. He has used this combination of the licit and the illicit with success to the extent that he is now the unquestioned boss of his hometown southeast of Dhaka with a population of eight hundred thousand.
Chapter 8 is the last of the ethnographic chapters. It takes up again in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and examines the creation of a "boss-hero." Known as "the legend," Ravi is the exemplar Robin Hood figure who steals from his opponents and from the state and gives back to his own people. Born into the violent factional politics of the southern region of Andhra Pradesh, he was the deadly rival of a man in the opposing caste and the opposition party. Ravi's assassination in 2005 immortalized him as an icon of the Telugu Desam Party, and his widow upholds his political legacy in her ministerial position in the state cabinet today.
The concluding chapter sums up what we learned about the art of bossing and what we could learn in the future by focusing analytically on the figures of bossism. We argue that this prism has the potential to bridge fields of inquiry that have generally been studied and theorized separately, such as democracy, the state, business, violence, and crime. Such a holistic approach offers the possibility of further understanding the ways violence, coercion, crime, and money are embedded in social relations and how such relations contribute to creating charismatic forms of authority in South Asia and beyond.