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|November 11, 1998||
No party untouched by Sharma, say cops
George Iype in New Delhi
With the unearthing of the rackets operated by Romesh Sharma, alleged front man for fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim, in the capital, skeletons hidden in the cupboards of the high and mighty have begun to tumble out.
The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Delhi police Crime Branch, which are probing Sharma's links with politicians and bureaucrats, say his revelations have triggered panic in the establishment.
CBI records say top politicians in the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party, and Rashtriya Janata Dal had close links with Sharma who kept them in good humour with money and beautiful women.
"But now no politician dares to reveal that he enjoyed Sharma's hospitality and gifts," said a Crime Branch official.
Sharma's reputation of a lavish lifestyle -- 19 cars, a huge bungalow fitted with 30 air-conditioners, good food, an unending supply of liquor, and girls -- lured the powerful and the influential to his net.
Thus, his guest lists included ministers, bureaucrats, members of Parliament, senior policemen, business representatives, and even some well-known journalists.
"But the decision to arrest Sharma was purely political, especially with the assembly election round the corner," the police officer told Rediff On The NeT.
According to CBI sources, successive governments in the past 18 years knew of Sharma's operations, his connections with the underworld, and the security ramifications they involved. But the Union home ministry took it easy because of Sharma's contacts with leading politicians.
His political contacts are alleged to have included two former prime ministers -- Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao -- a number of senior Congress politicians, many Delhi BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Sushma Swaraj, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, and RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.
A senior CBI official, who has been tracking Dawood Ibrahim and his Indian operations, disclosed that the agency had planned to arrest Sharma in 1994. But the home ministry, then headed by S B Chavan, scuttled the move.
He said the BJP government suddenly decided to pounce on Sharma because it thought the Congress would be hurt badly on the eve of the assembly election. "True, Congress politicians were well-connected with Sharma. But his rackets encompassed all political parties," he told Rediff On The NeT.
A rags-to-riches story
For the boy born in Ugrasenpur village of Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad district, it was a nearly thirty-year, rags-to-riches story that involved money-laundering, killings, the flesh trade, and political lobbying.
In the early 1970s, Sharma came to Delhi in search of a living. For a while, he eked out an existence in Sadar Bazaar. But he learnt the tricks of his various trades and the art of survival in Bombay, from the late Vardaraja Mudaliar, one of the city's underworld figures of the time.
After Mudaliar's death, CBI records say, Sharma became a Dawood hitman. The Dubai-based gangster groomed Sharma to be his chief of operations in New Delhi.
In Delhi, Sharma begun to deal in millions for senior politicians, keeping a percentage of every transaction for himself. But his main business was dabbling in the city's thriving property trade. He literally grabbed posh bungalows and farmhouses across the capital.
According to CBI records, Sharma was a front man for an export firm linked with a former finance minister. He also worked for a former agriculture minister.
Last, but not the least, Sharma and some top business groups subtly altered several crucial government decisions.
The CBI and the Delhi police are now investigating how Sharma and V Balasubramaniam, a Delhi-based manager, influenced key policy decisions -- particularly in the ministries of finance and petroleum -- by getting hold of strategic documents in advance.
CBI officers revealed that Balasubramaniam will be arrested soon for his links with Sharma and Dawood's operations in India. Balasubramaniam is alleged to have received the Union Budget every year even before the finance minister presented it in Parliament.
Sharma wanted to be an MP
The police say it was the Congress which gave Sharma unlimited access to the corridors of power in Delhi.
Ironically, he got an entry into the political circuit when Maneka Gandhi, now Union social welfare minister, appointed him a general secretary of the Sanjay Vichar Manch in the early 1980s.
Sharma's political ambition was to become a member of the Rajya Sabha. In 1987, the Congress appointed him a general secretary of its Kisan Cell.
Some years later, Sharma formed his own party -- the All-India Bharatiya Congress Party, a mix of the Congress and the BJP -- and staged many protest dharnas (sit-ins) in Delhi over the city's innumerable problems like water shortage and power breakdown.
In 1990, Subodh Kant Sahay, minister of state for home in the V P Singh government, gave Sharma Y-category security citing a threat to his life from various quarters.
Earlier this year, Laloo Yadav almost offered Sharma a ticket to the Rajya Sabha.
Interestingly, the office of the Desabhakta Society, formed by the anti-corruption crusader and former chief election commissioner T N Seshan was operating from W-157, Greater Kailash II, owned by Sharma. Seshan shifted his office after the police arrested Sharma last month.
Congress MP Sushil Kumar Shinde refutes the charges that his party and the governments run by it harboured the Dawood associate.
"There are many criminals and wheeler-dealers like Sharma who claim proximity to the Congress. But we have never deliberately cultivated people like him," Shinde told Rediff On The NeT.
The CBI and the Crime Branch have implicated Sharma in 13 different cases involving extortion, cheating, kidnapping, possession of illegal arms, and even Wildlife Act violations.
Sensing the implications of the cases, Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani has called him a "threat to national security" and ordered a thorough investigation.
To prevent him from tampering with evidence or threatening witnesses, Sharma has been detained under the stringent National Security Act.
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