x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Underworld resurfacing in Mumbai after years

Mobile video footage showing a police officer dancing with gangsters at a party points to links between law enforcers and criminals.

MUMBAI // A video shows a police officer rubbing shoulders with a group of gangsters. Swilling alcoholic beverages, the men sing and dance to the tune of thumping Bollywood beats. The officer in this mobile phone footage, filmed anonymously at a Christmas Eve party in a posh club in a Mumbai suburb, and broadcast last week across Indian news channels, is Prakash Wani, the assistant commissioner of police. He is seen carousing with DK Rao, an alleged henchman of Chhota Rajan, a mafia don.

Four other policemen, not seen in the video, were reportedly also present at the club. They claim the video is doctored, but other evidence - photographs and statements of people present at the party - imply a connection between Mumbai police and underworld dons. The federal government ordered the suspension of the five policemen, but the leaked video has intensified scrutiny over clandestine links between law enforcers and lawbreakers in the city.

"There has always been an unholy nexus between gangsters and cops - otherwise gangsters would never have flourished," said YP Singh, the former joint commissioner of Mumbai police. "In this case, a senior police officer is seen dancing with a dreaded gangster in a very intense friendship and camaraderie, instead of apprehending him. There can be nothing more reprehensible for the police force." This controversy has embarrassed Mumbai police, already facing criticism for its poor handling of the 2008 terrorist assault on the city. The government's anti-corruption bureau is conducting an investigation into the purchase of 110 faulty bulletproof jackets in 2002.

A number of policemen are believed to have died during the Mumbai attacks because of faulty bullet proof vests. The most prominent among them was Hemant Karkare, the chief of Mumbai's antiterrorist squad, who received three bullet injuries on his chest, which raised questions about the efficacy of the bullet proof vest he wore. In the 1990s, when the underworld was most active in Mumbai, the federal government set up an "encounter squad", an unofficial group in the police force responsible for the elimination of criminal gangs. The squad soon came to be identified by "encounters", a euphemism for a situation in which a gangster is cornered and shot dead by the police. Its encounters with criminals were instrumental in curbing the activities of the organisations of notorious gangsters such as Ibrahim, Rajan, Ashwin Naik and Ejaz Lakdala.

Officers, who shot to fame with their kills, inspiring the plots of a number of Bollywood films, were accused of being in cahoots with the criminals they were charged with eliminating. Daya Nayak, an encounter specialist in the Mumbai police known for killing more than 84 suspected members of the underworld, is currently under suspension for alleged links with the "D-company" gang operated by Mr Ibrahim, who is thought to be hiding in Karachi. In January 2006, India's anti-corruption bureau raided his home and booked him for having assets grossly disproportionate to his income. He has yet to face trial.

Among Mumbai police personnel, Pradeep Sharma has the highest number of encounters to his credit - a total of 112, according to the police department. At the peak of his career, he reportedly once told an international news agency: "Encounters are an addiction for me. I feel bored on Sundays." But he was dismissed in 2008 after being suspected of amassing three billion rupees (Dh241.2 million) in illegal wealth because of his links with Mr Rajan and Mr Ibrahim. He was reinstated in May last year after no evidence was found.

While the encounter killings of the 1990s were known to have severely crippled the Mumbai underworld, a spate of recent criminal activities indicates the underworld is resurfacing in the city after years of dormancy. One of the most active gangs is that of Chhota Shakeel, a notorious don. Recently, four of his alleged hitmen were arrested as they set out to kill two lawyers representing Mr Shakeel's business rivals.

In May last year, it was reported that Bharat Nepali, one of Mr Shakeel's most trusted lieutenants, split with him to form his own gang, which has been recruiting hitmen from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, according to the police. K Rao, the gangster at the centre of the latest video controversy, is said to be one of the main recruiters of the Rajan gang. The Christmas Eve party, law enforcement investigators said, was thrown for a similar purpose of recruitment of hitmen.

"Rao's role till today is centred around recruiting young blood to carry out Rajan's activities," an anonymous investigator told The Indian Express, a national daily. "The party may have been for networking purposes." achopra@thenational.ae @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae