Men who dared to look tiger in the eye

"Every morning I leave home, I tell my wife this might be the last time she sees me alive," Chhagan Bhujbal told me sometime around 1996, five years after he rebelled against Bal Thackeray and quit the Shiv Sena.

His exit had been a big blow to Thackeray.

Bhujbal had gone missing from his room in the MLAs' hostel after Thackeray got wind of his 'defection' to the Congress and ordered 'action' against him.

Bhujbal did not expect to be pardoned for the "betrayal". He always sat with his back to the wall even inside closed and guarded rooms, so that he could see his attackers coming, and was always guarded by the best-trained cops.

Bhujbal had been immediately absorbed into the government as a cabinet minister to justify the high level of protection offered to him. But when the Congress lost the 1995 elections, as did Bhujbal his Mazgaon seat in Mumbai, and the Sena-BJP alliance came to power, he knew he had become a marked man.

Barely a couple of years into Sena-BJP rule, Bhujbal unearthed the Sena's alleged involvement in the murder of Ramesh Kini, a middle-class resident of a housing society, who had refused to give up his right to his apartment to a Sena member's nephew.

That scam dealt a second blow to the Sena and within weeks, Bhujbal was under attack at his bungalow in a highly secure residential zone for ministers opposite Mantralaya, which he narrowly escaped by hiding in one of the back rooms.

"I thought my time had come," Bhujbal told this reporter that evening. "But the maker is greater than the killer!"

It is undeniable the organisation Thackeray built up had a strong underbelly of ingrained violence. When Shridhar Khopkar, a Sena corporator in Thane, was found to have cross-voted in favour of the Congress in the 1989 mayoral election, he was murdered brutally, his body was dismembered, and a Sena member was arrested under the erstwhile TADA.


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