The Rediff Interview/ Vijay Salaskar
'In a shootout, no one has time for niceties.
You kill or get killed.'
Assistant Police Inspector Vijay Salaskar, the fabled encounter expert of the Bombay police, is back in news. For killing underworld don turned politician Arun Gawli's most ruthless sharpshooter, Bandya, who was allegedly the city's top extortionist. An M Com from Bombay University, Salaskar joined the force as a sub inspector. Pritish Nandy encountered the man who rose to fame/notoriety for rubbing out Amar Naik, Sada Pawle, Vijay Tandel and, last month, Bandya from the annals of the underworld:
Why did you join the police force?
Even as a young boy, I was very attracted by the idea of working for the enforcement of law and order.
Who was the first criminal you caught?
It was a hit-and-run case. A car accident. The chap had knocked down someone and instead of reporting it, he ran away. Someone managed to get the number of the vehicle and gave it to me. I traced it from the RTO and found the person who was driving the car. It was quite a simple case to solve.
Which was your first shootout?
It was in 1983. There was this chap called Raju Shahabuddin. He was basically a rapist, who also attempted to commit several murders. The shootout took place in Malad. One day I got the information that he was coming to Malad. We tracked him down quietly but he smelt the police was after him. So the moment we encountered him, he started shooting. In retaliation, we also fired. That was my first experience in getting shot at.
How did you acquire this reputation as a sharpshooter, an encounter specialist?
Frankly, I do not see myself in any such role. But people see me as that. The media sees me as that. Gradually perhaps I am coming to accept myself in the role. Though I must confess, I do not like such a reputation. It unnecessarily creates a bad impression, particularly among human rights activists. They feel I am a trigger-happy policeman. Famous for killing others. I do not enjoy having such a reputation, sir. I just do my job.
Why are you carrying two cell phones? Is one a hot line for informers?
Yes, you could say that. Informants contact me all the time. If I am busy with one phone, they can reach me on the other. This kind of information cannot wait.
Why do so many informers reach out to you? Is it because they get some kind of a reward? Or is it because your name is well known by now?
I think it is because they believe in me. They believe I will not relay the information to others, that I will not disclose their names. Reliability is very important. If people rely on me, they will tell me things that they will not tell others easily. That is the way we can anticipate crime, contain it.
Do you also believe that popular cinema has made an impact on crime in the city?
Yes, I do. I think crime is increasing because of many reasons. Films are one of them.
Why has crime become so romantic in our time?
You are referring, I think, to the film Satya. It has created a new sympathy for the underworld. If you see the Gawli gang, you will find that many among them marry each other in Dagdi Chawl. They have countless love affairs there. People, in fact, describe Dagdi Chawl as Prem Nagar. They fall in love with each other out there very easily. Women there have affection for and are attracted to criminals.
But why? Why is the criminal becoming such a colourful figure?
Can you blame these people? He wears so many gold chains around his neck, has ample money, cars, social recognition. People come to him for settling their disputes. One crore (10 million) here. Two crores there. Three crores somewhere else. You can see it with your own eyes, how these chaps wield so much power, so much importance.
Is it because traditional ways of seeking justice are failing or getting compromised? The courts take too long. The cops get bribed. The common man has nowhere to go.
That's right. That's why people go to them. Otherwise, why should they? Mostly they deal with civil matters because the police have no jurisdiction to get involved in civil crimes. If someone is cheated of Rs 500,000 today, where can he go? The courts will take years. So people find it simpler to go to criminals to recover their money. It is out of desperation more than anything else.
But the criminal extorts a huge fee for the service?
He does. But at least some money is recovered. The man feels that he has got something back. If you recovery even Rs 200,000 out of the Rs 500,000 (cheated from you), even that is something. It is better than losing the entire money. And the more important thing is that the money comes back immediately. You do not have to wait for years. If you go to court, what is the guarantee that even after 10 or 15 years you will get your money back?
From your experience, what kind of people are getting attracted to crime?
Young people. Anonymous people. People you cannot trace back.
Where do they come from? UP, Bihar, the interiors of Maharashtra?
Most of them are from Bombay itself.
Young, unemployed Maharashtrian boys?
But why are they getting so attracted by crime? The absence of jobs?
After the Datta Samant strike, many mills closed down, many workers lost their jobs, their livelihood and went back to their roots. But their children refused to leave Bombay. They had become too used to it. They did not want to go back to the village and start life afresh in an unfamiliar environment. So they stayed back. But because they could not find proper employment, they slowly drifted into crime.
Which is the most powerful group in the criminal underworld today?
All of them are equally powerfully. Dawood, Chhota Rajan. Gawli. But Gawli is the most organised among them. He has to stay here in Bombay and, therefore, has no choice. The others live in Karachi and Malaysia and do not have to worry about their own safety. He lives here. He has to be better organised just to stay alive and in business. That is why he is putting so much effort into building his political empire. Every month he spends at least Rs 40 lakh (4 million) on his Akhil Bharatiya Sena.
Do you feel your life is constantly under threat?
Yes, but what can I do? On a job like this, what protection can anyone give you? In any case, we do not ask for more protection. What we ask for is recognition. We may get monetary rewards every time we catch a criminal or confiscate their weapons. But that is not what we risk our lives for. We risk our lives for recognition, for official acclaim. And we do not get enough of that, sir.
In other states, policemen of our rank are promoted when they capture or kill the most wanted criminals. I have captured and killed the biggest among them. I have risked my life many, many times. My family lives under the constant shadow of fear. On my job, I get a lot of support from my superiors but that is not the same as official recognition, promotions.
How does it feel to kill a man, looking him in the eye?
In a shootout, no one has time for such niceties. Either you kill or you get killed. I am plain lucky to still be alive. In this job, you know, we take one day at a time. Who can predict what tomorrow will bring?
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