Dec 1, 2008

India - The Gangster


Mumbai is enraged and the anger is intermixed with grief. More than the slaughter of hundreds of innocents, people are fuming about the government's failure to demonstrate that it meant business
Mumbai was ravaged by serial blasts in March 1993, killing a couple of hundred people, injuring many more and destroying properties worth a few thousand crores. At the time, it was considered the worst urban terrorist attack anywhere in the world. At the time, Mumbaikers hoped that the government would put in place a mechanism to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.

But November 26, 2008, has proved the paucity of that hope. Mumbaikars now know their government has done nothing at all to protect the country's financial capital. The terrorists, suspected Al Qaeda operatives, simply sailed into the city, off its busy coastline and struck with deadly force and audacity. A senior intelligence officer says, "Imagine if they had entered the BARC nuclear complex, which is also situated on the coast and captured it? The whole nation would have been held hostage. Coastal security is non-existent."

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) has sent a detailed dossier about the activities of one Mohammed Ali, who is the uncrowned king of the docks. A close aide of Karachi-based terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, Ali smuggles petrol, diesel, drugs, arms and other contraband with impunity. "If anyone wants to ship out anything or get in anything into the city, all he needs to do is strike a deal with Ali," confesses an exporter ruefully. There are strong indications that the D-gang actively collaborated with the terrorists in these attacks. And yet, the government is reluctant to move against Ali and his gang because he enjoys the patronage of a powerful politician, known to be a business partner of Dawood.

Any terror operation needs vast funds, via the hawala route. But the authorities are still to crack down on hawala operators. Recently, they picked up Hasan Ali, a racehorse owner in Pune.

A joint probe by the IB, enforcement directorate (ED) and directorate of revenue intelligence revealed that Hasan Ali had handled hawala transactions worth a whopping Rs 35,000 crore, much of it belonging to two Maharashtra politicians. His laptop revealed details of vast amounts stashed away in Swiss bank accounts.

Hasan Ali was called into the ED's office a couple of times for questioning, but mysteriously, he was subsequently allowed to leave. Now, he has simply vanished. As have his wife and brother-in-law. The authorities were reportedly asked to go slow on Hasan Ali. "I will not be surprised if Hasan Ali has been done away with. He is the man who knows too much," says a police officer.

Inspector Vijay Salaskar, who died fighting the terrorists, had closely investigated the entrenched links between a prominent gutka manufacturer and the Dawood gang. He had unearthed a mass of evidence about the manufacturer's visit to Dubai, where he met Hamid Antulay, a nephew of Dawood, and then went on a false Pakistani passport to Karachi where he met the don and his brother Anees. The purpose of the visit was to settle a business dispute with a rival.

Salaskar found out that the manufacturer was Dawood's partner in the gutka business, alongside a leading politician who dabbles in real estate development. Despite Salaskar's best efforts, he was never allowed even to summon the manufacturer for questioning. In stark contrast, diamond merchant and film producer Bharat Shah was interred for over a year all because he spoke for two minutes to Chhota Shakeel, a Dawood aide.

The details of Dawood's vast business transactions and the man fronting it are available with the Central government. But there is inaction. Is it any wonder the security agencies are deeply cynical about enforcing law and order and protecting the country? Is it any wonder the people are enraged? "We are worse than a banana republic," says an official.

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