Dey dared them all. And died for it

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The killing of a journalist in broad daylight in Mumbai raises fears of the underworld’s resurgence.  Rana Ayyub reports

Silenced Police officers investigating the crime scene in Mumbai
Photo: Deepak Salvi

TOWERING OVER 6 feet, Jyotirmoy Dey certainly deserved the nickname ‘Lambu’ by which he was known in the journalistic fraternity. His gritty stories of the mafia and the politician underworld nexus were etched with a firm and fearless hand. Shot down in broad daylight in an upmarket Mumbai suburb, he had to his credit some of the most sensational investigations into the mafia, corruption in local bodies and high-profile corporate scams. He had a network of enviable sources not just in the police but also in the murky world of organised crime, which led him, it is said, into a symbiotic relationship with intelligence agencies.

Dey’s two books, Dial Zero (on police informers) and Khallas (about underworld operations) raised his profile not just among journalists but also among filmmakers and actors, who would garner insights from him on the finer nuances of the underbelly of the city. It is these very reasons that make the timing of his killing significant. For the past three years,  Mumbai Police has been claiming that most of the gangs in the underworld have been wiped out and the remaining operators are absconding.

So when, on 17 May, shots were fired at Pakhmodia street, a busy bylane of Mumbai, killing a certain Arif Syed, it ruffled feathers. Syed, after all, was one of the most trusted men of Iqbal Kaskar, younger brother of Dawood Ibrahim. Did this signify that the era of gang wars had returned?

Such a reading of the situation would be too simplistic. The underworld never went into decline, it just shifted focus over the past decade with the connivance and active help of the state machinery. For a couple of years now, there had been a lull in gang war shootouts — a lull in comparison to the turn of the century, when firings and encounters dominated headlines. Chhota Rajan, Chhota Shakeel, D Company were all a part of daily routine and glamourised by the media that published interviews of gang lords and gave intimate details of their lives.

Silenced A file photo of J Dey
Photo: Nimesh Dave

Dey’s killing has to be understood in this context .

Picture this. In March this year, soon after taking over the reins of Mumbai Police, Commissioner of Police Arup Patnaik did something unprecedented. He issued an internal circular (a copy of which is with TEHELKA). Strongly worded, it reprimanded the officers who worked in zones that were a part of the Slum Redevelopment Area of getting involved in corruption and also helping mafia lords continue with their hold on real estate.

It said: “Underworld/criminals have got into the developers space. The builders might have also brought in some influential politicians as investors in their projects. Thereafter, they manage to get a particular officer posted in the police station concerned to take care of their interests for a consideration. Conversely some officers have lobbied to get posted in such areas. Moreover some retired police officers are employed by these private firms to bring influence on the police stations.”

Patnaik had taken over charge of the Mumbai Police from famous top cop D Sivanandan who, while heading the State Intelligence Bureau, was supposed to have brought the activities of the underworld to an all-time low. There are whispers that the Chhota Rajan gang has many a time worked actively with the Intelligence Bureau to counter the Dawood Ibrahim hegemony. The circular ruffled many feathers in the top echelons of the Mumbai Police, who had till then not been subjected to such harsh words from top bosses.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) report of an officer posted in Zone I (a zone infamous for having the maximum number of underworld- related cases) resurfaced within two days of the killing of Dey. The report, prepared in 2007, did the round of many media houses. It was good fodder for speculation that Assistant Commissioner of Police Anil Mahabole could have been behind the killing of Dey, because the scribe had published a number of stories exposing him in the tabloid Mid-Day. However, Commissioner of Police Patnaik and Home Minister RR Patil, who were well aware of the proximity of some officers with the underworld (as is obvious from the circular), sprung to the defence of the officer whose transfer had been done under pressure from journalists demanding action.

Some officers tried to point out it was the oil mafia and not the underworld that killed Dey

A senior minister in the Maharashtra government told TEHELKA: “Just because this action was taken does not necessarily mean that Mahabole was involved in Dey’s killing. There were cases pending against him pertaining to the underworld. Had the transfer not been done, journalists would have said we are trying to shield the corrupt.” Patnaik too implied such a distinction when asked about the transfer of Mahabole. “He was not transferred, he was only attached,” he said.

The ACB report cast aspersions on Mahabole’s handling (when he was Senior Police Inspector) of Dawood’s sister Hasina Parker, who now allegedly handles most of the don’s dealings in Mumbai. So Dey could have been killed because he was trying to identify officers shielding the D Company. Or he could have raised hackles for his report in May this year, raising questions about the firing at Kaskar’s driver. He could have also been caught in a gang crossfire. Except that they have never physically hurt a scribe, with the exception of ex-journalist Ketan Tirodkar who was shot at by members of the Arun Gawli gang in 1998. A self-proclaimed whistleblower, Tirodkar had filed an affidavit in the MCOCA court in Mumbai implicating himself.

ASKED TO comment on Dey’s killing, Tirodkar put forth a radical view. “No journalist will be attacked by the underworld unless he crosses the line of being a journalist and tries to play some sort of role, perhaps as an interlocutor of sorts between gangs and the police or between two warring gangs,” he said. “I was attacked because I had become a kind of mole for the Gawli gang. Perhaps I asked for it.”

However, many journalists went on to dismiss Tirodkar’s view, as did most senior officers close to him.

While all this does not absolve the underworld, what about the theory that the oil mafia was behind the killing? “Yes, the oil mafia is strong and in the past has attacked an RTI activist but they wouldn’t attack a scribe,” says a senior police officer. Surprisingly, a battery of officers, including encounter cops, tried to drive home the point that the oil mafia and not the underworld was behind the killing.

There are doubts about the motives of these cops. While the Mumbai Crime Branch has detained three members of the Chhota Shakeel gang, only time will tell whether the masterminds behind the murder will be nabbed. The Maharashtra home department finds itself in conflict with at least three ministers and certain cops who are known to have interests in real estate.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Home Minister Patil have a difficult road ahead of them of clearing the mess within the top echelons of the ministry and the police. As a senior minister in the government remarks: “How does one prioritise? We have let our officers, administrators and ministers indulge in corruption and compromise as they had maintained a semblance of balance where underworld activities were concerned. The media too could be involved. To get the house in order, a lot of mess will have to come out in the open.” Perhaps the time is now.

Rana Ayyub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.
rana@tehelka.com

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