'We are responsible for the attacks on Milind Vaidya'

Print edition : March 27, 1999

Shakeel Ahmad Babu, better known as Chhota Shakeel, is at the centre of the gang war that is being fought in Mumbai along communal lines. A key aide of the Dubai-based underworld leader Dawood Ibrahim, Shakeel has been accused of masterminding the two attempts on the life of Shiv Sena politician and former Mumbai Mayor Milind Vaidya, who was charged by the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry of playing a key role in the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. In this telephonic interview to Praveen Swami, Shakeel accepted responsibility for the attacks, which he said had been forced on him by his arch-enemy Rajendra Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan, who too was a key aide of Dawood Ibrahim at one time. Contacted at a cellphone number in Dubai, one of a frequently changing series of contact numbers, Shakeel discussed the murder attempts as well as allegations of his involvement in the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 and the reasons for his falling out with Chhota Rajan. Excerpts:

Do you accept responsibility for the attempts on the life of Milind Vaidya?

Absolutely. I have no hesitation in saying that we are responsible for the attacks on Milind Vaidya. This war was started by Chhota Rajan when he began killing people accused of having played a role in the Mumbai serial blasts. When I say accused, it is important. They have only been accused of a crime. They have not been found guilty. In fact, they are innocent. No one, neither the courts nor the Government nor anyone else for that matter, has given Chhota Rajan the right to kill these innocent people. Chhota Rajan has forced us to retaliate. We have been left with no option.

Some people say that this is not the real reason for the attempts on Vaidya, because you did not make any claim of responsibility after the first attempt on his life.

This is simply not true. We made it clear a long time ago that we would have to respond to what Chhota Rajan was doing. Eight months ago, after he murdered Mohammad Jindran (a serial blasts accused), we retaliated by killing a Shiv Sena worker. I had hoped that this would be the end of the matter. But Chhota Rajan wants to get the support of Hindus by pretending to be a defender of his community. He wants cheap popularity. No one has given him the right to kill innocent people. He does so for his own interests. So we have no option but to retaliate. If he continues to kill the serial blasts accused, we will respond by killing more Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party workers. Even some very big businessmen are in our sight (nazrein). I know that they too are innocent people, but this has been forced upon us.

You criticise Chhota Rajan, saying that he is killing innocent people, but surely you are doing the same thing. How do you justify that?

As I just explained to you, this whole situation has been forced upon us. Look, after the Babri Masjid was "martyred", or broken, as you might say in your language, some Muslims responded by carrying out the serial blasts in Mumbai. They were infuriated because their religious sentiments were hurt. Jiske dil mein mazhab ki aag nahin jalti woh insaan hi nahin hai (someone who does not have the fire of religion burning in his heart is not human at all). But anyway, whatever happened happened. If you hurt someone's religious sentiments, there will be a retaliation. So, after the Babri Masjid was martyred, the serial blasts took place. That was the end of the matter, and everybody accepted it. But now, by killing innocent people, Chhota Rajan has started the whole battle again.

It is alleged that you and Dawood Ibrahim played an important role in the Mumbai serial blasts. What do you have to say about this?

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission Report has gone into this, and so has the trial court. Altogether there are 180 accused. The written statements in the case weigh 55 kg. Everything is before the people. If you read the statements, it will be clear to you as to who was involved in the blasts and who was not. The judges who have heard the case know the truth. It will come out in the open.

If you are actually innocent and were not involved in the serial blasts, why don't you surrender and face trial?

The Government knows what our involvement in the blasts really was. Dawood (Ibrahim) bhai has given an interview about this, and the lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, who is now a Minister, himself knows the truth. The Government should show us the way to present our defence. It is very easy to point fingers at people and accuse them of all kinds of things. But it is not so easy to face the truth.

What is the root cause of the war between you and Chhota Rajan?

Chhota Rajan says that he split with us because of the serial blasts. But why did he stay with us for a year after they took place? Why did he not leave two or three days after the blasts? After all, the names of all the accused, including ours, were in the newspapers by then. Why did he not give statements disassociating himself from us then? The truth is that he became selfish. Jis thali se kha raha tha, usi mein chhed bana raha tha. Woh apne aap ko white collar dikhana chah raha tha, lekin uske white collar se daag nahin mita sakta hai (He was making holes in the plate he was eating from. He wanted to portray himself as a white collar person, but he cannot wipe off the stains from his white collar).

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