Fifteen months after he rained death on Mumbai in 1993, gangster Dawood Ibrahim was ready to surrender and even spoke thrice to the then CBI DIG Neeraj Kumar but for some reason, the agency didn’t take him up on his offer.
“I spoke to a jittery Dawood three times in June 1994… He seemed to be toying with the idea of surrendering but had one worry — his rival gangs could finish him off if he returned to India. I told him his safety would be the responsibility of the CBI,” Kumar, who is working on a book, told HT.
After giving him the go-ahead to talk to the gangster, his seniors abruptly told him to put an end to the phone calls. After all these years, Kumar is still not clear if the government of the day, led by PV Narasimha Rao, had anything to do with the order.
Kumar, who retired as the Delhi Police commissioner in July 2013, was leading the CBI probe into the 13 blasts that rocked India’s financial capital on March 12, 1993, leaving 257 people dead and more than 700 injured.
Noted jurist Ram Jethmalani had also said that after the blasts, India’s most wanted fugitive had called him up and said he was ready to give himself up but wanted assurances that the Mumbai Police would not torture him and would keep him under house arrest. The government didn’t agree to a conditional surrender.
As CBI’s lead officer, Kumar spoke thrice to the case’s prime accused Dawood Ibrahim, whose crime syndicate came to be known as D-Company.
It was Manish Lala, the underworld don’s trusted aide whom he relied on for legal matters, who arranged Kumar’s phone conversations with Dawood. “Lala didn’t have a degree in law but had great legal acumen. I met Lala in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail,” Kumar said. Facing the CBI heat, Lala had surrendered but in another case. He was lodged in the Arthur Road jail.
Kumar’s simple gesture of offering a chair to Lala won him his confidence.
“Lala told me that it was the first time he had been offered a chair in a police premises. Lala also revealed that Dawood wanted to surrender to prove his innocence,” Kumar, who was with the CBI from 1993 to 2002, said.
Considered an expert on the underworld, Kumar is writing about the top 10 investigations of his 37-year-long career with the Indian Police Service.
His conversations with Dawood will be in the chapter Dialogue with the Don. The yet-to-be-titled book will be published by Penguin later this year.
“According to Lala, Dawood tried to speak to some of the top cops in Mumbai but his overture remained unanswered, therefore if I had a word with Dawood, he might come back to surrender,” Kumar said. “Lala was hopeful. I spoke to my bosses about the situation who gave me the go-ahead.”
Kumar remembers every detail of the first phone call. It was in early June 1994. Lala had to speak to a number of Dawood lieutenants before reaching the gangster.
“After a long opening, he told Dawood: ‘I have a sahib from the CBI sitting with me who I believe is very fair in his approach. You can tell him what you have been saying to me’,” Kumar said of the conversation that took place in the jail.
Dawood was edgy and said he had no role in the blasts, Kumar said. The claim flew in the face of mountain of evidence against the gangster.
The Mumbai Police and the CBI have said Dawood and his right-hand man Tiger Memon hit Mumbai to avenge the killings of Muslims in the riots that broke out after the demolition of Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. The two men and their families then fled to Pakistan.
“Dawood was worried that his rivals may kill him if he would come back. I played along and told him that the CBI would take care of his safety if he were to return but before we could actually talk terms of surrender, my bosses in the CBI told me to back off,” Kumar said.
The order from seniors, who the former policeman refused to identify, put an end to the phone calls. The two never talked again.
“Dawood tried to get in touch with me but since I didn’t have the mandate to talk to him, I refrained from talking to him,” Kumar said.
Four years later, Lala was gunned down in the streets of Mumbai allegedly by the rival Chhota Rajan gang.