GANGSTERS in Uniform The run of “encounter specialists”
“In a cult Hindi movie Jewel Thief, the main protagonist master thief, creates an illusory character and makes everybody including the police run after the phantom purportedly having similarities with one of the character.”
A section of police officers in Mumbai police force made use of this movie theme and got themselves dubbed as “encounter specialists”. Grabbing headlines everyday for the past several years this group went around spouting all kind of fabricated stories to gullible and credulous scribes who in turn made them ‘extra constitutional,’ powers in the city.
The arrest of one—all the time in news—police inspector Pradeep Sharma is a case in point of the mediocrity that has seeped inside the media. The rise of Sharma and his ilk was not due to their achievements. It was purely because the post-1993 serial bomb blasts period—the mid-nineties witnessing the collapse of organised crime—gave a section of police officers play with silly underworld stories lifted from C-grade novels and films and dole them out to gullible and by-line crazy scribes, desperate to fill space and time slots.
Though they were not the first of the police officers to realise the power of media, but Sharma and his group were certainly the first to become aware of the increasing dumbing down in the media. They used it effectively, even more than the wily ruling politicians, who gave them appropriate backing so as to get the entire force politicised.
The power over the media of these so-called “encounter specialists,” was there in black and white when last year Sharma sacked on the grounds of having nexus with over-the-hill gangsters and throwing his weight around a la filmy extortionist style at small-time builders, nonchalantly doled out interviews to scribes who lapped it faithfully putting out feeble defence for his actions.
Nobody, neither in the media which is expected to be a watchdog, nor in the government circles ever bothered to question the claims made by these officers. Not a single killing, of the so-called gangsters, was ever questioned, or a check made on the antecedents of the killed ‘gangster’. The entire killing was legitimised even if victims were roadside vagabonds and tagged with fictitious fancy names—langda chuha or safed kauva.
The elimination strategy was encouraged for two reasons: One it helped the police in keeping scribes occupied with the favourite media obsession-once-there-was-a-mafia-theme-with fictitious C-grade gobbledygook; the other was that a section of powerful ruling politicians wanted to raise a new breed of gunmen to bring the land lobby to its knees.
Like in the eighties and early nineties, when the organised crime was at peak because of smuggling, politicians had used the gangs effectively to rope in financers. The post-1993 serial blasts changed the scenario and the orthodox economic structural changes put an end to smuggling empire which had initially given rise to the violent-organised syndicate clashes.
Political classes desperately needed a new breed of gunmen, and like in the movie Jewel Thief, the bogey of the eighties and early nineties gun-toting gangster had to be resurrected. This is not to say that extortion ceased to exist. Extortion has been in Mumbai like in any other part of the country both pre and post-1947. It is also a fact that the collapse of smuggling empire did give rise to high-profile extortion; but all these so-called high-profile extortion cases were connected with dirty money.
The smugglers had invested a lot of black money into the brown gold—land, hotels and films for laundering. With the gradual erosion of customs duties, smuggling became an unprofitable venture and most of them wanted the returns on their investment and thus the extortion became ubiquitous in the netherworld. The screenplay that was being written on the canvas of Mumbai crime world had protagonists, who were more like robbers robbing another robber or a fence.
Both politicians and police officials like Sharmas’ and Nayaks’ and Vazes’ saw a glorious opportunity to make profits: raise the bogey of ‘underworld’. Ironically, with operations akin to overworld, they managed to establish their flags in the growing war over the land.
Extortion of small shopkeepers and small-time builders, slum dwellers which corrodes the very fabric of the city dwellers never rankled, the conscience of Sharmas and Nayaks. Their blood boiled only when people with dubious source of monies were harassed, and politicians ruling and opposition backed them. The media not to be left behind in the race also backed them.
Even a small reprimanding note to any of these officers by an honest senior became a headline denouncing the senior. Endless reports were churned out graphically describing the fictitious fear these officers had instilled in the non-existing underworld. The real operators even if they were reclining in jails relished at the protection and their connection with this select band of renegades.
The heady cocktail of media adulation and political support made them tizzy and harbor illusions of being an extra-constitutional power. The ruling powers realised it and like in the world of organised crime where the unwritten code is very simple: The rise and the fall of any gangster is corollary to the rise and fall of his political mentor, the fall of these men in uniform was imminent.
The system is harsh and then no amount of publicity helps. The fall of Sharma, who had once audaciously dissuaded gangster Chhota Rajan’s wife from going to Bangkok where the latter lay wounded, in front of intelligence officers who were waiting in the wings to nab her for possessing forged passport in a span of couple of years, like a fading film star was left trying to clutch wisps of smoke of power slipping from his fingers.
His desperation which left his media lackeys in tears came out when a notorious chemical and synthetic drug-trafficker Amjad Khan was bumped off in daylight in front of City Civil and Sessions Court, in south Mumbai.
Sharma, who was then posted in the far-off DN Nagar Police station in north-west Mumbai suburb, rushed to the scene and fed every scribe with a concocted story— “Khan was a police informer.” Even after the killing, Sharma despite being posted at DN Nagar police station held a press conference to state that he had solved the murder, which had taken place miles away from his jurisdiction.
The desperation was obvious. Khan was his book-keeper for him and in his death he took away a lot of account numbers.
The scribes, however, like always lapped it oblivious of the fact that Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had once arrested Khan from a godown stuffed with Mandrax tablets (banned synthetic psychotropic substance). At the time of arrest Khan was relaxing with a posse of policemen.
Stunned DRI officials found that it was at the instance of Sharma that policemen were deputed to guard history-sheeter Khan. When the information was passed on to the upper echelons of police commissionerate, the seniors in hushed tones quietly buried the files as ‘they’ (rd encounter specialists) had god-fathers in political circles.
Some years ago, Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil in a casual chat with this writer candidly admitted, “Aamcha kadey suddha gangsters uniform madhey aahey,” (Even we have some gangsters in uniform) and after a pause added, “Ironically, these uniformed gangsters have friends in media and I believe they dole out a lot of gifts and cash to them (media persons). We will take action at appropriate time.”
Sometime back during a festival holiday, when state government finally decided to transfer Sharma to Amravati, media offices were bombarded with ‘first-hand-source,’ based reports describing Arthur Road Jail inmates (rd criminals) distributing sweets, celebrating the transfer.
Strange though it sounds but the scribes who wrote the report were blissfully unaware that during every festival, non-governmental organisations and social workers distribute clothes and sweets amongst jail inmates—a practice that has been going on since pre-1947.
Of course, Sharma did not bother to go, simply, because he still believed that his political god-fathers and media will bail him out. He failed to realise that be it him, Harshad Mehta or the now convicted and largely-forgotten police inspector Emmanuel Amolik, dubbed by the media during eighties as sharp-shooter and who was reportedly in the team which allegedly-trapped serial killer Charles Sobhraj in Goa, Dr Frankenstein’s monster in the end is always abandoned by the creator—the system.
By Prabhat Sharan from Mumbai