Patience and persistence helped Sunil Jain's friends in his quest to send gangster Abu Salem behind bars. Sunil's older brother, builder Pradip Jain, was murdered in his bungalow in Juhu on March 7, 1995. Two decades later, on February 25, a special court hearing the case sentenced Salem to life under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. Two of his accomplices―Mehndi Hassan and builder Virendra Jhamb―were also convicted.
Sunil, the youngest of the five Jain brothers, narrated the events leading to the murder: “The two shooters forced their way into the bungalow and entered the ground floor office-cum-meeting room. One of them shouted 'Pradip kaun hai?' (Who is Pradip?). When my brother identified himself, they pumped 12 to 13 bullets into his chest. I was shot in my right hand and I rushed to Cooper Hospital with my brother on my shoulders. I fainted when the doctors said he was dead.”
The Jains' problems began when Salem ordered them to sell a large plot―1 lakh-square-feet―in Andheri for Rs4 crore, when it had a market value of Rs25 crore. As the Jains refused to budge, Salem sent his men―Riyaz Siddiqui, Shaukatali Jamal Mistry, Bharat Ragani and Robert Fernandes―to threaten them.
“Salem used to call us frequently and he was abusive,” said Sunil. “Once, he wanted me to listen in when he was telling his men [to kill] a Coelho at Janki Kutir. Salem asked me how far our bungalow was from Janki Kutir. When I told him it was five minutes away, he asked me if I had heard a dhamaka (explosion). 'I have just shot a man called Coelho. Ab tak police ke kutte daud rahe honge (the police dogs must be running by now)', he told me.”
Sunil was Salem's primary target, but one day, when he was away, Pradip answered the phone. “Salem immediately started abusing him,” said Sunil. “My brother told him that he shouldn't use such language. 'Who are you to teach me? I will shoot you and then you will learn. Nobody has dared to talk to me like this' Salem yelled at him. He called again 13 days after the murder and my slain brother's wife answered. Salem started laughing. 'Ab kaisa lag raha hai, maza aa gaya' (How does it feel, having fun)? he asked.”
After the murder, a case was registered with the Dadabhai Naoroji Nagar police station. Six men―Ragani, Fernandes, Mistry, Subedarsingh Yadav, Subhas Bind and Shekhar Kadam―were arrested. The court, however, let off these men for lack of evidence. Sunil said shoddy police investigation had led to their acquittal.
The judgment was challenged in the Supreme Court, which sentenced shooters Bind and Kadam to life and Subedarsingh Yadav to two years in jail. Salem, however, was at large and had gained more power.
Facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Sunil often thought of backing out. “Salem had informers all over and had [friends] in the Mumbai Police,” said Sunil. The Jains, however, saw a ray of hope when Salem was extradited from Lisbon in November 2005. “I am indebted to then Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad chief K.P. Raghuvanshi, who wanted me to continue as the prime witness after Salem's extradition,” he said. “I also got a call from then Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil, who told me I should not back out as the country had done so much to get Salem back. Sohail Buddha, the officer who arrested the shooters and recovered the weapons, and then police commissioner R.S. Sharma, also ensured the case moved forward.”
Sunil said he felt vulnerable when his security was withdrawn. The Mumbai Police even slapped a bill of Rs47 lakh on him as protection fee. “[Assistant Commissioner Sunil] Deshmukh, however, stood by us,” he said.
Deshmukh spearheaded the Maharashtra ATS investigation after Salem's extradition. A team of cops, headed by Deshmukh, handled fresh investigations, while another team took care of court matters. Both teams reported to assistant commissioner Kishen Shengal.
Deshmukh said it was the arrest of Naeem Khan, a Salem aide, from Dubai in 2005 that clinched the case. Khan courted arrest and became an approver. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said Khan was a star witness in the case. “Khan negotiated between Salem, us and the don's men,” said Sunil. “He appeared reasonable, assuring us that he would find a middle-ground. He feared Allah and had a religious tinge to his character.”
Khan's change of heart might have landed Salem in jail, but Sunil wants the gangster to be hanged. India's extradition treaty with Portugal, however, doesn't allow that to happen. But he can find peace in the fact that his brother finally got justice.
Interview/ Sunil Jain, brother of slain builder Pradip Jain
They offered me Rs100 crore to keep my mouth shut
Was it only Salem who called?
Riyaz Siddiqui and Shaukatali Jamal Mistry started it. We met them in 1994 and showed them the documents which said the property was ours. They took us to solicitor Bharat Ragani. When we showed him the documents, he said they were photocopies and demanded originals. There were some shady characters around and we thought we should not return with the originals.
Salem called again. He told us he was sending another person (Naeem Khan) to look into the matter. Khan asked us: “Why don't you give some money to Salem?” I said we have done no wrong and we did not want any links with Salem, as he was a wanted criminal.
Why did you not file a complaint with the police?
We filed several complaints. But I guess they, too, were helpless.
How many times did Salem call?
Seven or eight calls, I guess.
Why do you think the accused were freed?
The weapons were not sent for chemical analysis. This was despite the accused confessing to having shot my brother. Just because the chemical analysis wasn't done, should the shooters be released?
After Salem was extradited, the authorities wanted you to become a prime witness again. Did you face pressure?
Yes, I did. I used to get several calls from unknown numbers from South Africa and elsewhere. They offered me Rs100 crore to keep my mouth shut. They said: “We will take you to America, you settle down there.”
Your phone was under surveillance for a while.
Our landline was kept under surveillance. One day I got a call from Salem. The telephone exchange people had told me to press a particular button twice if somebody from Salem's side called. I tried doing that. Salem immediately shouted: “You are trying to tap my phone. Nothing would come of it.” Sure enough, when I went to the telephone exchange I found there were no records of any call.
As a witness, you almost turned hostile once.
When the first two shooters were arrested, I was called to identify them. Salem called and told my brother Ashok that he wanted me to back out or I would be killed. Ashok had cancer, and told me that Pradip was gone, he was going to die soon, and he did not want another brother to die. At the next court session, Salem's lawyer told me that all I should say was “mujhe kuch nahi bolna hai (I have nothing to say)".
But you stuck to your stand.
Yes, I did. And when the police said they would arrest me for tampering with evidence, I made a clean breast of it.
Did Salem threaten you thereafter?
Yes, he did. He said that because I gave evidence which led to the arrest of his men, I should pay him to help secure their release.
Are you happy with the sentence?
No. A cruel criminal like Salem should have been hanged. Salem has wronged this city. Who knows how many murders and extortions he has done, and how many were killed in the bomb blast.