The alleged mastermind of fake arms licence racket Manish Bhardwaj alias Kale is very fond of flaunting guns and shooting bullets but avoids going alone anywhere in the dark. His friends and neighbours in Gurgaon village recall that the 35-year-old Bhardwaj would never go home alone after playing Lord Hanuman in the annual Ramleela held in the village.
“He played Lord Hanuman for five to six years but once the show was over we had to send a couple of boys to escort him home. He never takes a lift and even keeps the bathroom door ajar while taking a bath,” said a villager who knows him closely.
Even he was surprised after hearing of the recovery of a huge cache of arms and ammunition at his residence. However, his role in the fake arms licence racket did not come as shock to him.
More than 10 illegal weapons and 15,000 cartridges were recovered at the Bhardwaj’s residence. His stock started rising a decade ago after he cut his teeth into the car financing business. Even then he would dabble in faking documents to dupe car finance firms, companies and buyers.
His interest soon veered to the business of faking arms licences and selling illegal weapons after his multiple visits to Kadarpur shooting range. He sensed the urge to procure arms, ammunition and licences among shooters and those from the affluent section in Gurgaon and across NCR.
Neighbours said Bhardwaj was extremely fond of playing cricket and also used to throw and invite bets during local matches. He liked big cars. “He bought fire crackers worth lakhs every Diwali and used to burst them with gusto as he was full of cash,” an acquaintance said. He owned a Swift, an Ertiga and a flashy, sky-blue Audi.
Having made good in the fake weapons and licencing trade, he had lately been nurturing political ambitions and wanted his wife to contest the upcoming Gurgaon municipal elections. Bhardwaj is also very religious in nature and often visited the Prakashpuri temple near Rajendra park and Shani temple at Kapila van at Kosi near Mathura.
A student of Marumal public school in Gurgaon, he quit studies after class 12. He had married against the wishes of his family but later they gave in to his wish. “He is not very amiable and was brusque to the extent of being arrogant,” a neighbourhood local said.
Sumit Kuhar, DCP, crime, Gurgaon police said Bhardwaj had acquaintances among the lower-rung police officers in the licensing branch and used these connections to further his illegal trade. “He found that getting original licences made was a difficult job, so he used his skills and connections to create a fake licence racket. He even got replicas of imported weapons and sold them as originals to unsuspecting people,” Kuhar said.
Neighbours and former acquaintances said that once his illegal business flourished and he started making money, Bhardwaj used to intimidate them and only interacted with a handful of people. “People kept away from him as he had a habit of picking up quarrels. He used to carry large guns and often was seen carrying four to five pistols in his hand. Everyone preferred to avoid him,” another neighbour recalled.
Anil Yadav, ACP, Sadar, and in charge of the special investigation team (SIT) probing the case said they are looking into every aspect of the racket and will go deep into how Manish was able to influence a section of the police. “He took advantage of the fact that he had a sports shooter’s license which allows one to procure multiple weapons and bullets. Every licence and weapon he owned or sold will be scrutinised,” he said.
While the neighbours and acquaintances didn’t speak well of Bhardwaj, they said his father, Umashankar, who ran a ration shop, was an amiable and honest man who never wished or caused harm to others. Both the father and son are very fond of dogs and Umashankar even made a habit of feeding street dogs daily. Manish had an affinity for foreign breeds and was especially fond of his Labrador.
“The father and son are not on good terms now,” a neighbour said.
A police officer said there are indications that Bhardwaj also had a rapport with gangsters and despite his fear of the dark, he survived the tribulations in jail without so much as a flinch. “ His networking skills are also likely to help him survive the rigours in Bhondsi jail,” he added.