The manufacturing of dangerous lies

INVESTIGATION: J DEY MURDER

The manufacturing of dangerous lies

The killing of noted crime journalist Jyotirmoy Dey and the events following it make for one of the most bewildering stories of our time. On paper, the Mumbai Police have “solved” the case. But scratch the surface and what emerge are mere theories, so perverse and sinister that they warrant an urgent intervention at the highest levels. Ashish Khetan reports.

IT IS one of the most bizarre criminal investigations of our time. The Mumbai Crime Branch probing the Jyotirmoy Dey murder case have arraigned a crime reporter named Jigna Vora, a single mother working as Deputy Bureau Chief with the Mumbai edition of The Asian Age, primarily on the basis of assertions made by fugitive mobster Rajan Sadashiv Nikhalje, alias Chhota Rajan, in a few phone calls. Save one, all calls were made to news channels, weeks after the crime, claiming that Vora “provoked” him into killing Dey, a reputed crime reporter and author, who had spent over 20 years in the profession. At the time of his death, Dey was working as Editor (Crime and Investigations) with the well-known Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day.

Rajan, wanted in over two dozen criminal cases, including murder and extortion, called up several media houses between 1 July and 16 November last year and gave interviews in essence claiming that he killed Dey for two reasons — (a) Dey was mixed up with the Dawood Ibrahim gang and the ISI, and (b) The woman journalist, Vora, “instigated” him against Dey. Rajan’s claims were incongruous in nature. If (a) was the reason for killing Dey, as Rajan claimed, then (b) can’t be a factor, and vice versa.

More importantly, Rajan provided no direct or indirect evidence to back his assertions. It was plain as daylight that the gangster wanted to tarnish the image of two journalists (one of whom was dead and thus not in a position to defend himself, and the other was a single mother with no family or organisational support) and in the process not only mislead the investigation but also justify his sinister acts.

But instead of probing the mobster’s design behind these seemingly malicious interviews, the police shockingly took the words of a dreaded criminal on face value. The Mumbai Police invoked the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against Vora, and after branding her a member of Rajan’s organised crime syndicate, sent her behind bars. In the name of corroborative evidence, a few statements were recorded and the case was declared as solved.

“In my 35 years of reporting on crime and politics in Mumbai, I have not seen a more bizarre theory as the one weaved by the Mumbai Police in the J Dey murder case,” says S Balakrishnan, veteran journalist and former Bureau Chief of the Mumbai edition of The Times of India. “First, the police claim that Rajan called the hit and then he comes on television and ratifies it. Then Rajan makes a claim that Jigna Vora was behind it and the police ratify it.”

Within a week of Dey’s killing, Balakrishnan had filed a PIL before the Bombay High Court demanding a CBI probe in the Dey case. As the probe had just begun at that time, the court dismissed the prayer.

One of the “circumstantial” pieces of evidence that the police have produced in support of their theory is the cell phone call records, which show that Vora had spoken to Rajan three times in a span of 48 hours last May (Initially the police claimed that there were 36 calls; but later it emerged that there were just three calls).

Vora’s editor Hussain S Zaidi has clarified before the police that these calls were for the purpose of interviewing Rajan and were made in the presence of many colleagues. According to Zaidi, Rajan gave an interview to Vora on 25 May (two calls were made on this day). This interview was carried as a flier story titled Rival don calls, says Dawood left Pak 5 yrs ago, in the Mumbai edition of The Asian Age dated 26 May 2011. On 27 May, after seeing the story, Rajan called Vora again and gave some “information” on the alleged nexus between a section of the Mumbai Police and the Dawood Ibrahim gang. “In the second telephone conversation, Rajan had made unverifiable allegations against a section of the Mumbai Police and it was not worthy of being carried as a story,” Zaidi told TEHELKA.

It is a standard practice for all crime journalists in Mumbai who are interested in interviewing Rajan to approach him through his men in the city. Over the past decade, Rajan has given dozens of interviews to different media organisations (including this magazine). Besides, he keeps calling leading crime reporters on a regular basis to talk about Dawood Ibrahim and other underworld-related matters. But the police chose to ignore these facts and used the fact of Rajan giving an interview to Vora as evidence against her.

WHAT IS particularly frightening is that the entire probe was carried out as per a diabolical design between the police, the underworld and a section of the media. The media allowed itself to be used by both the police and the underworld in constructing a deceptive narrative.

In the days after arresting Vora, the police unleashed a witch-hunt against her and moulded public opinion against the incarcerated journalist. Newspapers reported ad nauseam that Vora had called Rajan 36 times before Dey’s murder. These reports were based on quotes from unnamed police officers. The chargesheet filed against Vora on 21 February, however, shows that there were only three calls between Rajan and Vora.

Then the media was awash with reports that were again based on quotes from anonymous police sources claiming that Vora had sent emails to Rajan containing the photographs and residential address of Dey and the registration number of his motorcycle. The reporters didn’t ask the police that why a mobster, who had a powerful gang with dozens of henchmen, would need a journalist to send a target’s pictures or vehicle registration number. Instead, the media took the police on face value. “We have adequate electronic and technical evidence against Vora,” Joint Police Commissioner (Crime) Himanshu Roy was quoted in the media after Vora’s arrest. But in the final chargesheet, a copy of which has been perused by TEHELKA, there is not a word on the emails that Vora had allegedly sent.

The police also fed the media that Vora had deliberately left the city when Dey was supposed to be murdered. The media, quoting Crime Branch sources, reported that Vora abruptly booked tickets to Sikkim on 7 June (four days before Dey was murdered) and took off without a sanctioned leave. To buttress their case, the police recorded the statement of an HR executive of The Asian Age who said that he had no prior knowledge of Vora’s leave. However, in what would qualify as a malevolent tactic to deny Vora all possible alibi, the police, while recording her editor Zaidi’s statement, deliberately didn’t ask him if Vora had given him an advance notice of her leave (TEHELKA has a copy of Zaidi’s police statement). If the police had done so, their theory would have collapsed.

“Jigna wrote to me and also her Bureau Chief asking for a 10-day leave between 9-19 June. She had requested for the leave well in advance and it was granted,” says Zaidi. Zaidi told TEHELKA that though Vora had informed her immediate boss and also the editor about her scheduled leave, the records were sent to HR only on her return from holiday. The police also didn’t put on record the official emails between Vora and Zaidi, which would have disproved their case.

TEHELKA investigated and found that Vora had travelled to Sikkim along with six family friends. Her maternal uncle, Rajesh Vora told TEHELKA, “The tickets (both onward and return) for each of the six passengers who accompanied Jigna were booked on 5 April and her tickets were booked on 7 April.”

He also provided TEHELKA a copy of all the tickets to prove his claim. The papers show that Jigna booked her ticket on Kingfisher flight IT 3167 from Mumbai to Guwahati at 4.37 pm on 7 April (PNR EOQGNE). But the police have maliciously not put the tickets on record. Rajesh Vora also told TEHELKA that this was the fourth such vacation that Vora had taken with the same set of friends.

The smear campaign against Vora went to the extent of accusing her of being an extortionist. The papers reported (of course, basing it on police sources) that she was in the business of mediating in property disputes between builders and charged a hefty sum for negotiating a deal. Nobody asked that in a city like Mumbai, where gangsters and politicians are involved in every property dispute, who would pay money to a female reporter for reaching settlements? Nobody asked what resources or authority did a female reporter have to strike deals between two rival builders? Nobody asked the police for the evidence before publishing such claims. In the final chargesheet, the police have not mentioned a word on any such mediation activities. But the objective has already been achieved. In public view, Vora has already been condemned as a corrupt and unscrupulous reporter.

 

People close to Vora told TEHELKA that she often struggled to pay her son’s boarding fees on time. She used to reside with her ailing grandparents in a two-bedroom flat in Ghatkopar. The journalists didn’t even bother to verify her property details to determine whether the police claims had a kernel of truth. The Ghatkopar flat where she stays is owned by her grandfather. The only property she had was a car whose EMI she had not paid for a couple of months before she was arrested.

 

But instead of rigorously examining the facts, the media turned Vora into a vamp. Several rumours were concocted to show that she was a woman of easy virtue. The fact that she was a single mother reporting in the male-dominated beat of crime and underworld was used against her. Among many speculative theories, a rumour was also spread that Vora had an extra-marital affair with Dey and even got pregnant, and when he refused to marry her, she decided to get him bumped off.

 

“The fact that she was doing very well in the world of crime reporting and used to more often than not score over other crime reporters in getting good and exclusive stories became a source of heartburn for many. The police cashed in on this jealousy of other reporters to malign her,” a senior editor told TEHELKA.

 

The police also claimed that there was professional rivalry between Dey and Vora and that was her motive to get him killed. In support of this theory, the police cited two stories done by Dey and Vora. On 19 May 2011, Dey wrote an article stating that Dawood had left Pakistan. Six days later, Vora wrote a story claiming that Dawood was hiding in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. As ludicrous as it might sound, the police have used these two news reports to argue that since the two reporters wrote stories contradicting each other, there was rivalry between them.

 

To support this theory, the police have recorded the statement of a crime journalist who has claimed that in May 2010 (a year before the murder), Vora had sent Dey an SMS that roughly translated as, “Do you think that you are very smart?” But the police don’t have the actual text of the SMS. The journalist has claimed that Dey had shown him this SMS at the time. But while Dey was alive, he never told anyone that Vora and he were rivals or for that matter Vora had ever threatened him.

 

In fact, Zaidi, under whom Vora was working, was Dey’s mentor and friend. If Vora had ever misbehaved with Dey, it is logical to assume that Dey would have complained to Zaidi about his reporter’s misbehaviour. “Dey and I were in regular touch. I even wrote a commendation for his book Zero Dial. But he never told me about any such incident,” Zaidi told TEHELKA.

 

TEHELKA sent a detailed questionnaire to JCP Himanshu Roy, who first asked this reporter to email him the list of questions but later chose to not respond.

 

LIKE THE Aarushi Talwar murder saga, the police launched a smear campaign against both the victim and the accused in the Dey case as well. Before Vora, it was Dey whose reputation was besmirched by a combination of crime reporters and Crime Branch officials.

 

While reporting on Dey’s murder, most of the leading media organisations, in their bid to get the latest and an exclusive, came out with different theories connecting Dey with the underworld. No substantive evidence or concrete reason was offered for these wild theories.

“If reports in leading newspapers and television news channels quoting unnamed police officers were to be believed, Dey was many things but a journalist,” says Mid-Day Executive Editor Sachin Kalbag. “He was a conduit for underworld don Chhota Shakeel; he regularly travelled abroad to meet underworld dons; he was ‘close’ to underworld don Chhota Rajan; he was to go to the Philippines to give away the location of Chhota Rajan to Chhota Shakeel; he met another don, Iqbal Mirchi, in London during a personal visit, etc. A combination of malicious leaks by the cops and irresponsible reporting by a section of the press demonised Dey to an extent that everything got deluded.”

 

All these reports were based on two nuggets of information. One, a month-and-a-half before his murder, Dey had made a week-long trip to Europe, and two, he was scheduled to make a trip to the Philippines on 19 June (Dey was killed on 11 June). Both these were among a trove of information (which included official emails) that the Mid-Day management had provided to the police hoping that their cooperation would help in nabbing the real culprits.

 

But the unnamed Crime Branch officials twisted this information to make it appear as a proof of Dey’s imaginary underworld activities.

 

“We believe that there is some relevance to this foreign trip. It was the first time Dey had travelled to the UK. It does seem a little odd, particularly because it was not an official trip,” JCP (Crime) Himanshu Roy was quoted as saying in a newspaper.

 

But behind the comfort of anonymity, the quotes from Crime Branch officials turned even more vicious. Sample this: “Our probe indicates that Dey might have met Iqbal Memon alias Mirchi (a suspected drug lord) in London during his visit in April,” said a newspaper report.

 

“Chhota Rajan thought that Dey had provided some information about him to Dawood’s aide Memon and ordered his killing,” an anonymous IPS officer was quoted in a second report. Another newspaper headline screamed, “Dey had unscheduled meetings in London.”

 

Newspapers also reported that Dey had not informed anybody in his family about his “mysterious trip” to London. Some even reported that Dey had made many such secretive trips to London in the past. The media also reported that Dey was scheduled to fly secretly to the Philippines to pass on information to his underworld connections but was killed before that could happen.

J DEY started his journalistic career as a freelancer contributing to the Afternoon Dispatch and Courier and Mid-Day in the early 1990s. He wrote mostly on forest encroachment and man-animal conflict. In 1996, he joined the Indian Express and specialised in crime reporting. At the time, underworld activities were at their peak. In 2005, he joined Hindustan Times. In 2007, he joined Mid-Day as Editor (Crime and Investigations). He also authored two books on the underworld titled Zero Dial and Khallas. Before his murder, Dey wrote a series of articles exposing the oil mafia in Maharashtra. Dey was 56 when he was shot dead by motorcycle-borne assailants near Hiranandani Gardens in Powai, Mumbai on 11 June 2011.

JIGNA VORA, 38, was pursuing a course in journalism from Somaiya College, Mumbai, when she got an opportunity to work with the Free Press Journal as a reporter. In 2006, she joined Mumbai Mirror as a senior correspondent. In 2008, she joined the Mumbai edition of The Asian Age and soon rose to become Deputy Bureau Chief. Vora was divorced and had a nine-year-old son. She lived with her ailing grandparents in Ghatkopar. According to friends, her long working hours forced her to put her son in a boarding school in 2010.

Using the media as their proxy, the police built a narrative that Rajan got Dey bumped off because he had provided the Dawood gang crucial information on Rajan. The police didn’t elaborate as to what information Dey might have provided to Iqbal Mirchi or any other D Company member that could have been harmful to Rajan.

 

The media didn’t bother asking what information a journalist could provide on Rajan whose whereabouts are not known even to the police. The reporters didn’t even ask their police sources if there was any evidence to indicate that Dey had met Iqbal Mirchi in London at all.

 

The truth was that Dey had gone to Europe as part of a holiday package of Raj Travels. “Visiting London was a long-cherished dream Dey nurtured, which he saved up for and fulfilled through the tour,” says Dey’s wife Shubha Sharma, who works as News Coordinator (Special Projects) with the Mumbai edition of The Economic Times. “Besides, he visited London as part of a larger group. I didn’t go along with him on that trip since I had other commitments. It is not true to say that my family or I was not aware of his London trip.”

 

Adds Kalbag, “Dey had taken privilege leave well in advance for his European vacation. I had even provided the cops the mail Dey had written to me asking for leave. Everything was on record and there was nothing secretive about it.”

 

As far as the scheduled tour to the Philippines is concerned, it was Kalbag who had asked Dey to go on a junket offered by the Philippines Tourism Board. “Dey was reluctant to go, but I insisted that he should because I wanted somebody from the crime bureau to avail of this junket as the features section always got to make such trips,” says Kalbag. “I wonder what stopped the journalists to pick up the phone and cross-check the facts with me. But I guess there were people who were more interested in sensational and dramatic stories than facts.”

In fact, the police chargesheets don’t contain a word against Dey or that there was any malafide reason behind his London trip. On the contrary, the chargesheet carries a statement of a tour operator who has testified that during the entire trip, Dey travelled with the entourage in the transport arranged by the tour firm, ate with his fellow travellers and stayed at hotels booked by the firm.

 

The media even cooked up an imaginary estrangement between Dey and his wife. A well-known English newspaper headquartered in Chennai even wrote that Dey was having an affair with a colleague and used it to paint him as an unscrupulous man who had it coming.

 

“The reports came soon after Dey’s passing, when I was in mourning; there was no way I could have responded then. I did, however, write to the editor and the author of the article but they have not yet replied,” says his wife Sharma.

 

IN THE midst of the smear campaign against Dey, the police on 26 June 2011 announced the arrest of seven Chhota Rajan gang members, who they claimed were behind Dey’s murder. Six days later, the police arrested another accused, an alleged bookie named Vinod Asrani, who they claimed had helped the shooters in identifying Dey.

 

On 1 July, Rajan called up a Hindi news channel and ratified the police theory by owning up to Dey’s murder. Perhaps this would be the only case in the history of criminal investigations where the accused and the police were corroborating each other. Rajan told the channel that he killed Dey because he was mixed up with the Dawood gang. The channel ran the story repeating what Rajan had claimed. A journalist’s reputation built over two decades was torn to shreds.

 

‘In my 35 years of reporting on crime, I have not seen a more bizarre theory as the one weaved by the Mumbai Police in the J Dey murder case. Only an independent investigation by the CBI can bring out the truth’

S Balakrishnan
Former Mumbai Bureau Chief, The Times of India

‘The police hypothesis that Chhota Rajan acted in revenge against Dey, rather than at the behest of vested interests, is a suspect theory. Revenge, when there is no issue of betrayal or monetary stake, is unknown in the Mumbai crime world’

Gurbir Singh
Mumbai Press Club President

‘A combination of malicious leaks by the cops and irresponsible reporting by a section of the press demonised Dey to an extent that everything got deluded’

Sachin Kalbag
Executive Editor, Mid-Day

‘Dey and I were working on a story on ACP Mahabole’s underworld links and the officer got a whiff of it. He had come to know the specific leads we had on him’

Tarakant Dwivedi
Crime reporter

A few weeks later, Rajan called another channel and used the publicly available information on Dey’s London and (scheduled) Philippines trip (which had already been reported in the newspapers) to claim that the slain scribe was “working for the D Company and the ISI”, on the lines similar to what the cops had been feeding the media.

Rajan told the channel: “Dey was writing against me, so I called him up and asked politely if he had some personal problem against me. He denied but said that he is going to London and I should meet him there. In the meantime, I got a call from my London-based informer named Usman, who warned me that I should not go to London as he (Dey) was meeting Chhota Shakeel’s men over there. After returning from London, Dey spoke to me and asked why I didn’t meet him. When I said I couldn’t come for some reason, he told me that he is going to the Philippines and I should meet him there.”

It beggars belief that Dey would call Rajan to London or the Philippines and the latter, who has been a fugitive since 1986, would readily agree.

Rajan added, “Dey continued writing stories against me… that my gang has become weak, I’m keeping sick, my loyal people have left me, etc. Hence I got an impression that he was working for the Dawood gang. I tried to convince him, but he didn’t listen. I’m not sure whether he really was close to Dawood. But his writings made me feel like that. But now I regret killing him. Anyway, there is no point in discussing that episode.” In both these calls, Rajan curiously made no mention of Jigna Vora.

RAJAN INTRODUCED Vora in the story on 4 August, when he called a gang member named Manoj. Though aware that the telephone numbers of all his gang members would be tapped in the wake of the arrests, Rajan now gave another version of the so-called conspiracy theory behind Dey’s murder. In earlier media interviews, as seen above, he had claimed that he formed the opinion that Dey was Dawood’s man based on the information he had received from his own gang members. He now claimed that Vora had instigated him by saying that Dey was a “traitor” and “was in touch with the D-gang”.

Curiously, the police had put Manoj’s number on interception on 2 August (A Crime Branch inspector named Shripad Kale wrote to his seniors on 2 August and sought permission for intercepting Manoj’s calls. The permission was granted the same day. The letters are part of the supplementary chargesheet).

Is it a mere coincidence that within 48 hours, Rajan calls the same number and creates the much-needed evidence against Vora? Or was it the case that the police and Rajan were working in tandem, knowing that his conversation would be recorded?

If this is not shocking enough, consider the following. In this call that lasted nearly three minutes, Manoj does not utter a word beyond “hmm” and “okay.” It is Rajan who did all the talking. To a reasonable mind, the entire conversation sounds like an enactment.

Following is the operative part of the conversation:
Rajan: He (Dey) was not a good man. He was working for Dawood and the ISI.
Manoj: Okay.
Rajan: He used to write against our gang. Many editors and journalists were also against him.
Manoj: Hmm…
Rajan: You know that Jigna Vora…
Manoj: Hmm…
Rajan: Jigna Vora used to say all the time that he (Dey) was in touch with them (Dawood gang).
Manoj: Okay.

Rajan then repeats the London and Philippines theory and hangs up the phone. A curious thing to note about this conversation is that Rajan claims that many “editors” and “journalists” were against Dey. But then singles out only Jigna Vora.

In the following months, Rajan rang up a few more TV channels and repeated the same theory over and over, claiming that Dey was involved with the D Company and that he was a “traitor”. The media faithfully regurgitated Rajan’s assertions without questioning his intent (save one Hindi news channel, which refused to run Rajan’s interview saying that the intent of the interview was to plant malicious stories).

Seeing that the self-deluded media has bought into the conspiracy theory propounded by Rajan, the police then added their own dubious bits and weaved an incredulous case, which in essence reads exactly like what Rajan had wanted it to be — Rajan killed Dey because Vora instigated him by saying that Dey was writing anti-Rajan stories. The media, which had all along been a willing ally of the police and the underworld in constructing the narrative, again showcased the final police theory and told the world that the case had been solved.

After all, it was the same media that had propagated this conspiracy theory in the first place and was thus as much a stakeholder as the police in this theory. So, no questions were asked. And hence no answers.

IN A few months, the J Dey murder case had come a full circle. To begin with, it was sections of the Mumbai Police that were the first suspect. A day after the murder, Dey’s colleague Tarakant Dwivedi, who writes under the pen name of ‘Akela’, accused a Mumbai Police ACP named Anil Mahabole as the prime suspect.

“Dey and I were working on a story on the ACP’s underworld connections and the officer got a whiff of it. He had come to know the specific leads we had on him,” Akela told TEHELKA. He added that Mahabole had threatened him in the past after which Dey had handed over incriminating documents of Mahabole’s underworld connections to Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil.

“Dey had given the home minister an Anti-Corruption Bureau report detailing prima facie evidence of Mahabole’s connections with the Dawood Ibrahim gang,” Akela told TEHELKA. After Dey’s murder, Mahabole was grilled for six hours and shunted out from his South Mumbai posting to the Local Arms Control Room.

Suspecting foul play, some veteran Mumbai journalists made representations to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan demanding the resignation of Home Minister Patil and Mumbai Police Commissioner Aroop Patnaik.

It was around this time that anonymous police sources started planting misleading stories in the media. The mining mafia, the sandalwood mafia and the diesel mafia were alternatively blamed for Dey’s murder, depending on which Crime Branch source a journalist was talking to.

“Quarrying, oil mafia roles being probed”, screamed the Hindustan Times on 12 June (a day after Dey’s murder). “The oil mafia may be behind senior journalist J Dey’s killing, suspect Mumbai Police,” said The Economic Times on 13 June. “Dey was working on a report that would have exposed the nexus between the oil mafia, police and politicians,” said the same newspaper, which quoted sources in the Mumbai Police.

On the same day, English news channel CNN-IBN carried a report saying that Chief Minister Chavan told a delegation of journalists that the leads pointed towards the involvement of the oil mafia. “Police may question oil mafia kingpin Mohammed Ali, currently lodged in the Arthur Road Jail,” said DNA on 14 June.

One day later came the news that the police had detained three shooters (some media outlets said two) of the Chhota Shakeel gang for Dey’s murder. Anonymous sources told the media that Dey was planning an exposé on the sandalwood mafia, which would have hurt Dubai-based smuggler Zafar Kasim, who then contacted his business partner Shakeel and got Dey eliminated. The press even reported the name of the shooters who were detained.

“The Mumbai Police claimed to have solved the sensational murder of J Dey. The Powai police, in a joint operation with the Crime Branch, are reported to have arrested two shooters identified as Iqbal Hatela and Mateen,” reported The Times of India on 15 June. The daily carried a quote from an anonymous police officer: “The source who brought the story to Dey informed Kasim and his associates that he was likely to carry a story and started bargaining with him. Dey refused to accept the money… It was at that point that Kasim ordered his killing.”

Another media house reported that police sources had told them that the supari (contract for killing) was for Rs 70,000. No sooner than stories linking Dawood’s right-hand man Shakeel with Dey’s murder had appeared, that Shakeel rang up a news channel and claimed he had nothing to do with Dey’s murder. “I have nothing against Dey. I was never affected by Dey’s writings. Why should I kill an innocent person?” he said.

Yet another media house quoted Shakeel as claiming that a top cop had sought his help in cracking the case. “Now I’m surprised that my name is linked to the killing,” said Shakeel. Bizarrely, the police suddenly did a U-turn and the so-called shooters were released from detention.

THE POLICE got away without answering some of the most fundamental questions: Can Rajan be believed for saying that he killed Dey only because he had written two stories against him? Would Rajan kill a crime reporter on the instigation of another? Can Rajan be believed for asserting that Dey was mixed up with the Dawood gang (for which he has no evidence)?

After all, over the past two decades, almost every time Rajan has eliminated somebody for monetary or other interests, he has labelled him as Dawood’s man to justify it. Can Rajan, a fugitive for over two decades, who could own up to any crime and say anything over the phone for the simple reason that he knows that he would never have to face the law, be believed at all? What was the motive behind the killing of a journalist who has left behind an ailing old mother, an unmarried sister and two small apartments (one of which is mortgaged), each measuring not more than 650 sq ft, as immovable property and a few lakh rupees as bank balance?

Chhota Rajan

The small-time crook who hit the big league

After a fallout with Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan used his IB connections to expand his mafia business

RAJAN SADASHIV NIKHALJE was a native of Lonar village in Satara district, Maharashtra, whose family had migrated to a lower middle-class neigbourhood named Tilak Nagar in suburban Chembur in Mumbai in the 1960s. Rajan dropped out from school after Class V and started selling cinema tickets in the black market. He shot to notoriety in 1979, when he assaulted some policemen who tried to curb the sale of tickets in the black market.

Rajan soon joined local gangster Rajan Nair alias Bada (big) Rajan. After Nair’s murder in 1984, he took over the reins of the gang and became notorious as Chhota Rajan. Soon he became Dawood Ibrahim’s trusted lieutenant and No. 2 in the D-gang.

After the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Rajan split the gang and fled to Southeast Asia. He gradually built a parallel gang and entered into the business of extortion, real estate, narcotics, Bollywood, clubs and dance bars, gambling, betting and prostitution rackets. His illegal business empire is estimated to be worth several hundreds of crores.

In the mid-90s, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) started cultivating Rajan to neutralise the ISI-supported D-gang. Rajan got more than half-a-dozen accused of the 1993 serial blasts bumped off while they were out on bail. It is alleged that Rajan called the hit at the IB’s behest. He soon started insisting on being called a “patriotic don”. In the guise of patriotism and with the backing of a section of the IB, Rajan continued to spread his tentacles across India. It is reported that he owns a farmhouse in Bengaluru with a mini golf course, several prime properties in Goa, Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. He also has stakes in construction businesses in Hyderabad, Baroda and Bengaluru.

With the change of regime at the Centre in 2004, the institutional support that Rajan enjoyed from the IB during the NDA regime dried up. In 2005, new Mumbai Police Commissioner AN Roy went after Rajan’s illegal activities. Two of his most trusted lieutenants — Fareed Tanasha and Vicky Mehrotra — were arrested from New Delhi while they were travelling in a vehicle along with a former IB director. A few months later, his wife Sujata was booked under MCOCA for allegedly indulging in extortion and money-laundering business.

With the passage of time, Rajan has switched over to more sophisticated modus operandi. It is alleged that he now controls the real estate business in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. In every big construction project, Rajan either owns a stake or takes a cut from the builder for not obstructing his business.

“The police hypothesis that gangster Chhota Rajan acted in revenge against Dey rather than at the behest of some vested interests, is a suspect theory. Revenge, when there is no issue of betrayal or monetary stake involved, is unknown in the Mumbai crime world. The arrest of journalist Jigna Vora to support this theory also raises serious doubts,” says Mumbai Press Club President Gurbir Singh, one of the few journalists who have been questioning the police case.

SO WHAT could be Rajan’s motive behind Dey’s killing?

While investigating the J Dey story, this reporter met several senior Mumbai Police officials. One of them who holds a critical position in the Maharashtra Police hierarchy told TEHELKA that Dey was working on an exposé on a new woman in Rajan’s life. According to the agencies, Rajan has taken a new wife who is a Filipino national. His second wife has now started collecting money from some sectors in Mumbai.

It is alleged that Rajan’s first wife Sujata, with whom he has three daughters, was until now the handler of the mobster’s money from businesses like real estate. In 2006, Sujata, also known as Nani, was booked and sent to jail for laundering the gang’s money.

The police built the case that Sujata had floated her own construction company named Khushi Developers Private Ltd and used it to launder the ill-gotten money from the business of real estate and extortion. Police investigations showed that Sujata controlled as many as 37 bank accounts. In short, it was alleged that Sujata had taken over the role of financer and banker for the Rajan gang in Mumbai.

But now, Rajan’s new wife has also started dabbling in the gang’s activities and some gang members in Mumbai have started reporting to her and sending her the money.

Sujata, who comes from a lower middle-class Maharashtrian family, and Rajan had fallen in love in the 1970s when the latter was still earning his stripes in the underworld.

Rajan feared that Dey’s story would lead to a family feud. After Dey’s death, some gang members informed a few senior Mumbai Police officials that Rajan tried to convince Dey to not write the story but he didn’t listen. And that’s when he decided to call a hit. This was one of the first credible leads that the police had received after Dey’s death. Why didn’t the police pursue it to get to the bottom of the truth? Clearly, Dey’s killing is the result of a diabolical conspiracy and the case warrants an urgent intervention by the higher courts.

 

The smear campaign against Vora went to the extent of accusing her of being an extortionist. The papers reported (of course, basing it on police sources) that she was in the business of mediating in property disputes between builders and charged a hefty sum for negotiating a deal. Nobody asked that in a city like Mumbai, where gangsters and politicians are involved in every property dispute, who would pay money to a female reporter for reaching settlements? Nobody asked what resources or authority did a female reporter have to strike deals between two rival builders? Nobody asked the police for the evidence before publishing such claims. In the final chargesheet, the police have not mentioned a word on any such mediation activities. But the objective has already been achieved. In public view, Vora has already been condemned as a corrupt and unscrupulous reporter.

People close to Vora told TEHELKA that she often struggled to pay her son’s boarding fees on time. She used to reside with her ailing grandparents in a two-bedroom flat in Ghatkopar. The journalists didn’t even bother to verify her property details to determine whether the police claims had a kernel of truth. The Ghatkopar flat where she stays is owned by her grandfather. The only property she had was a car whose EMI she had not paid for a couple of months before she was arrested.

But instead of rigorously examining the facts, the media turned Vora into a vamp. Several rumours were concocted to show that she was a woman of easy virtue. The fact that she was a single mother reporting in the male-dominated beat of crime and underworld was used against her. Among many speculative theories, a rumour was also spread that Vora had an extra-marital affair with Dey and even got pregnant, and when he refused to marry her, she decided to get him bumped off.

“The fact that she was doing very well in the world of crime reporting and used to more often than not score over other crime reporters in getting good and exclusive stories became a source of heartburn for many. The police cashed in on this jealousy of other reporters to malign her,” a senior editor told TEHELKA.

The police also claimed that there was professional rivalry between Dey and Vora and that was her motive to get him killed. In support of this theory, the police cited two stories done by Dey and Vora. On 19 May 2011, Dey wrote an article stating that Dawood had left Pakistan. Six days later, Vora wrote a story claiming that Dawood was hiding in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. As ludicrous as it might sound, the police have used these two news reports to argue that since the two reporters wrote stories contradicting each other, there was rivalry between them.

To support this theory, the police have recorded the statement of a crime journalist who has claimed that in May 2010 (a year before the murder), Vora had sent Dey an SMS that roughly translated as, “Do you think that you are very smart?” But the police don’t have the actual text of the SMS. The journalist has claimed that Dey had shown him this SMS at the time. But while Dey was alive, he never told anyone that Vora and he were rivals or for that matter Vora had ever threatened him.

In fact, Zaidi, under whom Vora was working, was Dey’s mentor and friend. If Vora had ever misbehaved with Dey, it is logical to assume that Dey would have complained to Zaidi about his reporter’s misbehaviour. “Dey and I were in regular touch. I even wrote a commendation for his book Zero Dial. But he never told me about any such incident,” Zaidi told TEHELKA.

TEHELKA sent a detailed questionnaire to JCP Himanshu Roy, who first asked this reporter to email him the list of questions but later chose to not respond.

LIKE THE Aarushi Talwar murder saga, the police launched a smear campaign against both the victim and the accused in the Dey case as well. Before Vora, it was Dey whose reputation was besmirched by a combination of crime reporters and Crime Branch officials.

While reporting on Dey’s murder, most of the leading media organisations, in their bid to get the latest and an exclusive, came out with different theories connecting Dey with the underworld. No substantive evidence or concrete reason was offered for these wild theories.

It beggars belief that Dey would call Rajan to London and the latter, who has been a fugitive since 1986, would readily agree

“If reports in leading newspapers and television news channels quoting unnamed police officers were to be believed, Dey was many things but a journalist,” says Mid-Day Executive Editor Sachin Kalbag. “He was a conduit for underworld don Chhota Shakeel; he regularly travelled abroad to meet underworld dons; he was ‘close’ to underworld don Chhota Rajan; he was to go to the Philippines to give away the location of Chhota Rajan to Chhota Shakeel; he met another don, Iqbal Mirchi, in London during a personal visit, etc. A combination of malicious leaks by the cops and irresponsible reporting by a section of the press demonised Dey to an extent that everything got deluded.”

All these reports were based on two nuggets of information. One, a month-and-a-half before his murder, Dey had made a week-long trip to Europe, and two, he was scheduled to make a trip to the Philippines on 19 June (Dey was killed on 11 June). Both these were among a trove of information (which included official emails) that the Mid-Day management had provided to the police hoping that their cooperation would help in nabbing the real culprits.

But the unnamed Crime Branch officials twisted this information to make it appear as a proof of Dey’s imaginary underworld activities.

“We believe that there is some relevance to this foreign trip. It was the first time Dey had travelled to the UK. It does seem a little odd, particularly because it was not an official trip,” JCP (Crime) Himanshu Roy was quoted as saying in a newspaper.

But behind the comfort of anonymity, the quotes from Crime Branch officials turned even more vicious. Sample this: “Our probe indicates that Dey might have met Iqbal Memon alias Mirchi (a suspected drug lord) in London during his visit in April,” said a newspaper report.

“Chhota Rajan thought that Dey had provided some information about him to Dawood’s aide Memon and ordered his killing,” an anonymous IPS officer was quoted in a second report. Another newspaper headline screamed, “Dey had unscheduled meetings in London.”

Newspapers also reported that Dey had not informed anybody in his family about his “mysterious trip” to London. Some even reported that Dey had made many such secretive trips to London in the past. The media also reported that Dey was scheduled to fly secretly to the Philippines to pass on information to his underworld connections but was killed before that could happen.

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