Biting the bullet

Print edition : April 10, 2020
A book of explosive revelations by the former Mumbai police chief Rakesh Maria.

Former Mumbai Commissioner of Police (C.P.) Rakesh Maria is perhaps the most well-known of the city’s “super cops”. When he retired in January 2017, it was hard to imagine a Mumbai police force without him. In his tenure of 36 years, Maria had been part of almost every major investigation in Mumbai involving the underworld; terror attacks; rape cases, notably the Shakti Mills rape case; and murder cases, including the Sheena Bora murder.

This February, Rakesh Maria made a sensational comeback with the release of his memoirs, titled Let me say it now. The book, which chronicles his life as an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, has stirred a hornet’s nest with its explosive revelations on high-profile cases, including the ongoing Sheena Bora murder case. It will be interesting to see whether these revelations have an impact on the trial.

A few months before he was to retire, Maria was “promoted” as Director General of Police (DGP), Home Guards. The transfer made headlines as he had just begun investigating the Sheena Bora murder case in which the power couple, the media mogul Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea, had been arrested.

In his tell-all page-turner, Maria explains how and where it all happened. He alludes to two officers as being behind his transfer and to the scuttling of an investigation that should have started much earlier. When the book was released, it sent the State administration into a tizzy as one of the officers, Deven Bharti, is the current Maharashtra Police Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief and the other, Ahmed Javed, is a former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Bharti responded to Maria’s allegations in the book saying that they were a marketing strategy to attract publicity. He also said that Maria belonged to a film family and knew the art of creating drama. Javed, who replaced Maria as C.P. and whom the latter calls “a Mukerjea-friendly C.P.” in the book, said his comments were in “poor taste” and “bereft of truth”.

The other controversial chapter is Maria’s investigation of Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist nabbed in the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. Maria was the first to interrogate Kasab, who was responsible for the attack on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the killing of three top police officers, Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte. He says in the book that he found a “chink in his armour”. “If all had gone well, he [Kasab] would have been dead with a red string tied around his wrist like a Hindu,” he writes. Maria explains that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) wanted the world to believe that the Mumbai terror attacks were “Hindu terror” unleashed on its own people. Questions are now being raised by opposition parties on why he withheld this angle during the investigation.

Maria’s story could be the chronicle of crime in the maximum city over the last three decades. Using the analogy of a film opening, Maria begins his narrative with his controversial removal as C.P. but quickly shifts to the traditional format of an autobiography by describing his childhood as a “Bandra boy”, his family background, and his determination at a very young age to become a policeman.

Those who have interacted with Maria know him as tough and ruthless. The charming personal anecdotes provide a glimpse into his softer and humorous side, particularly his experiences as a young married man posted in the districts.

Maria’s language is simple, even somewhat colloquial, but his accounts of the several cases he cracked are gripping and absorbing. While in office, Maria rarely opened up to the media even during the 26/11 attacks. Hence, his version of events in this book could be considered documentation of what really happened during some of the worst cases of communal violence and terror attacks in Mumbai. In every chapter, he acknowledges all the policemen who helped him.

Maria’s tenure began in the early 1990s at a time when crime in Mumbai (then Bombay), especially gangland warfare, was at its worst. The first important case he worked on was pursuing the notorious don Varadarajan Mudaliar. Maria’s pursuit eventually led to Mudaliar fleeing Mumbai, never to return.

Bombay riots

Maria was a junior officer when Mumbai was in the grip of communal violence following the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. Interestingly, while he is a loyal policeman, Maria is also candid about the police and their failures. The Mumbai Police were accused of bias and were held culpable for much of the violence during the riots in December 1992 and January 1993.

In the chapter on the riots titled “God disposes”, Maria writes: “When everything else was failing, the police were the only ones left holding the baby. Restoring discipline was a priority for which we had to be harsh; assuaging victims’ grief also became our job where we had to shed our harshness…. The riots raged on till mid-January. Thereafter, the situation improved slowly, but not before taking its toll on the police force which came under severe criticism for failing to control the situation, being biased and siding with the Hindus.”

The riots led to the serial blasts in 1993. Maria was back on the streets, trying to keep a restive city under control. He says that his beloved city was under attack and that the police were doing all they could to help people. When he was chosen to lead the investigation, he was among the most junior IPS officers in the State. He writes: “History bears testimony, and time and again it had been proven, how easy it is to brand a policeman a failure and make a scapegoat out of him…. An opportunity not just to prove myself, but to serve my commissioner, my force and my nation. Which Bombay officer worth his salt would have said no?”

Maria was singularly responsible for cracking the blast case which had been masterminded by some of the most dangerous underworld dons in the country.

The case and investigation is well-documented in books and films. Yet, Maria’s version manages to plug so many holes and corroborate several aspects of the story, such as the abandoned Maruti car stashed with a cache of arms that led the police to a flat owned by Tiger Memon in the Al Hussaini building. A scooter key found in the flat led them to one of the vehicles used to plant the bombs. In a later chapter, Maria writes about the funeral of Yakub Memon, who was hanged for being a main perpetrator of the blasts, but does not comment on the execution.

There are chapters devoted to the killing of Dilip Khatau, a mill owner; the rise of the Indian Mujahideen; the 2003 Mumbai serial blasts; chasing the erstwhile IPL chief Lalit Modi; and a few incidents involving film personalities from Bollywood.

The 26/11 attacks

Of course, Maria dedicates several chapters to the worst terror incident Mumbai has witnessed. As a senior police officer, the C.P., Hasan Gafoor, placed Maria in the control room, while Maria himself believes he should have been fighting at the front. Maria’s sorrow and regret at losing three top police officers in the attack comes through in several chapters. He even addresses the charges against him by Vinita Kamte, the wife of slain officer Ashok Kamte, who accused Maria of mismanaging the shootout.

Referring to the ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death, he says: “What the Mumbai police and its Control Room had handled that night was many times more, in terms of horror, gravity and sorrow. It was pure distilled terror.” When Maria circles back to the most important investigation of his career, that of breaking a hardened, indoctrinated jehadi, he regains his threatening police demeanour. He provides every detail of the interrogation, including Kasab’s capitulation and reverence to him. The final chapters deal with the horrific Sheena Bora case, where Indrani Mukerjea, along with an accomplice, reportedly strangled her own daughter. Unfortunately for Maria, as he began the interrogation, he was not only taken off the case but also transferred to a soft post. He reproduces ad verbatim in the book his dialogue with the Chief Minister and his justification of the sequence of events.

While Maria writes briefly about the media and the condition of the police force, he does not touch the subject of political control over the force. As an officer who did not toe the line, this is an unusual distancing but perhaps a wise one. While he was in service, there was hearsay about Maria’s methods of interrogation to extract information from the accused. He does not directly address this but says there are different forms of third degree.

Rakesh Maria’s role and personality were such that characters in films have been modelled on him. A web series on his career is reportedly in the making. Using the same film analogy, Maria ends the book, saying: “(An imaginary voice asks) And just one confirmation, please. If you take rebirth, would you want to be back in khaki, as a Mumbai cop? That’s final? (Maria says) Yes, sir, back at your service. And the packed audience of Mumbaikars trail out of the subconscious theatre to pour out into the streets of the City of Dreams.”

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