Mohit Shukla, a teenager living in Kanpur, did not return home from gym one evening in 1997. His family informed about his disappearance to police. The cops, as usual, did not take the case seriously and remained inactive. This despite the fact that several organised gangs had suddenly emerged in Uttar Pradesh and were kidnapping the rich for ransom. Mohit Shukla’s father was a businessman who manufactured chewing-tobacco and was a millionaire.
The police wanted to convince the aggrieved father that as his son was a teenager, had car and money, he must have gone somewhere for some adventure.
One day passed and there was no trace of Mohit. Another day passed and the police remained idle. On the third day the cops realised something was amiss.
An FIR was finally lodged and the police started making efforts to trace Mohit. Soon it became clear to the police that they were dealing with a case of abduction for ransom. As investigations progressed the name of Uttar Pradesh legislator cropped up as a suspect. That was the first time when Raja Bhaiyya’s name hit the headlines.
Even the police at that time were not aware about the power and clout Raja Bhaiyya had. Police had thought he was just like any other legislator and questioning him would be an easy affair. The circle officer who was handling the case left for Kunda with a few constables. As soon as his vehicle neared Raja Bhaiyya’s mansion, the circle officer froze on seeing a private army. No less than 50 armed men were sprawling or hanging around in the lawns of Raja Bhaiyya’s mansion. He took to heels without losing a second. The circle officer considered that he was fortunate as he and his men were in plainclothes and in a car and not a jeep. They escaped from Kunda unnoticed.
Raja Bhaiyya remained elusive. The press became active but what the journalists wrote was based more on hearsay. For example his pond with his pet alligators, his hatred for noise so strong that cars in his mansion were not driven but pushed.
Police strongly suspected the role of Raja Bhaiyya but could not take any substantial action against him. Mohit returned home a few days later and the case was more or less forgotten. Nothing changed much except that Raja Bhaiyya had a new nickname – Kunda ka Gunda and his standing as a Thakur leader had increased. Earlier, he would contest elections as an independent candidate; now parties wanting the vote of Thakurs were ready to patronise him.
In the meantime, Kalyan Singh replaced Mayawati as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. But soon Mayawati withdrew her support to Kalyan Singh’s government and left it tottering. Kalyan Singh’s government would have fallen but Raja Bhaiyya was one of those who rescued it. Once it survived Raja Bhaiyya’s clout increased all the more.
Mayawati became the chief minister of the state for the third time in May, 2002 and wanted to punish Raja Bhaiyya. She wanted him behind bars. Mayawati wanted every charge, however seemingly true or fictitious, against Raja Bhaiyya investigated.
But by that time, Raja Bhaiyya’s stature and notoriety had grown manifold. Police officers who were known for their bravery excused themselves when asked to take charge of Kunda police station. No police officer had the guts to investigate any case against ‘Kunda ka Gunda’.
It was then that police inspector Ram Shiromani Pandey, a daring police officer, entered into the picture. The scene that was going to unfold has been the basic storyline of several Hindi movies – from Zanjeer to Singham.
Pandey was known as an encounter specialist and had been nicknamed Danda Pandey in police and media parlance of Kanpur. He had a very strong network of informers and had caught or killed several criminals. That he was an efficient police officer can be gauged from the fact that whenever an international cricket matches were held in Kanpur, Danda Pandey would be given the responsibility of security of both teams.
I knew Danda Pandey quite closely because I was then a crime reporter. He would often describe me his ‘encounters’. One day, after he had finished narrating an encounter, he suddenly said, ‘I will take you to an encounter one day. The press says all encounters are stage-managed. I will show how I have to risk my life.’ I could only chuckle.
He was true to his words. One night he called me up suddenly and asked me to meet him at his police station immediately as he wanted to share an important piece of information. I noticed much activity at the police station when I reached there.
Danda Pandey saw me and asked, ‘Have you had your dinner?’
‘Have it quickly. We are going to leave very soon,’ he said.
‘Leave? Leave for where?’
‘For an encounter,’ he said as if it was a matter of fact.
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Like all encounter specialists, Danda Pandey was also accused to stage-managing an encounter. An inquiry was ordered against him and he was posted loop line. Loop line in the police parlance means being given an unimportant post.
With police officers refusing to go to Kunda, Danda Pandey realised he had an opportunity that could turn the tide in his favour. He was fearless and proposed to his seniors that he be sent to Kunda. The proposal was accepted. It was going to be Kunda ka Gunda versus Danda Pandey.
Like a reel-life hero, Danda Pandey, with Mayawati’s backing, barged into Raja Bhaiyya’s bastion and arrested him, his father and brother. They were charged under Prevention of Terrorism Act and sent to jail. He became a hero.
But the real life did not end like reel-life for Danda Pandey. Mulayam Singh Yadav replaced Mayawati as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Now Danda Pandey was at the receiving end. Mulayam Singh Yadav wanted to get all charges against Raja Bhaiyya dropped. But the court refused and ordered that Raja Bhaiyya be tried outside Uttar Pradesh, in Jabalpur. Danda Pandey alleged that he and his family members were being harassed by the state government. Nobody listened to him.
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I met Danda Pandey in a train while I was returning from Kolkata to Kanpur in April, 2006. I was on the upper berth when I was woken up by a heated argument. I looked down and saw Danda Pandey engaged in an argument with another man in police uniform. I was unable to make out why the two policemen were arguing and again went to sleep.
I got down after some time and found myself sitting in front of Danda Pandey.
‘Do you recognise me?’ I asked.
He shook his head.
I introduced myself and he was able to recall me. On hearing that I was based in Bhopal, Danda Pandey said, ‘I will be testifying against Raja Bhaiyya in Jabalpur High Court very soon. Do cover it for your newspaper,’ he said.
‘I will,’ I said.
When we got down at Kanpur railway station, I noticed that Danda Pandey was surrounded by four police constables, all armed with AK-47 rifles. I had never seen a police officer getting so much security cover. Even the top police officer of a district has on only one constable armed with AK-47 rifle as shadow. I understood how much threat he was facing
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In January, 2007, I received a phone call from a former colleague who said, ‘Danda Pandey is dead.’ I was in Bhopal then. I asked him the details.
Danda Pandey was posted at the site of Ardh Mumbh mela in Allahabad. He was returning home in his official jeep when he met with an accident and died. The constables accompanying him suffered only minor injuries.
Here is what was carried in the Indian Express - http://www.indianexpress.com/news/night-before-hc-says-yes-to-his-plea-for-cbi-probe-up-cop-dies/21077/0.