Bombay was recovering from the wounds of communal violence when, once again, it was soaked in blood. The devil was preying upon the City of Dreams. The perpetrators of the December 1992 and January 1993 riots were, by and large, known to everyone, but the brain behind these serial blasts was still a mystery. The blasts raised questions over the security of Bombay and the competence of Indian intelligence agencies to pre-empt such strikes.
The Bombay Police began a rapid investigation and got its first clue within forty-eight hours of the blasts. Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Rakesh Maria was informed about an explosive laden scooter recovered at Dadar. The scooter led him to a flat at the Al Hussaini building near the Mahim police station.
It was locked up. The neighbours informed him that the flat was registered in the name of Mushtaque Memon, who was better known as Tiger, the smuggler. Tiger stayed in the flat with his extended family, which included his parents, brothers Yakub, Yusuf, Essa, Ayub and Suleiman, and their wives.
Everyone believed Tiger had links with Dawood Ibrahim. Maria broke into the flat and found a key that fit the scooter recovered from Dadar. More links were found. Neighbours told Maria that Tiger had not been seen since 11 March. He had fled the country with his family hours before the blasts, but many people associated with the conspiracy were still in India. A manhunt began. Maria formed a team of 162 officers of varied ranks to investigate the case. The team spread across seventy-nine towns and cities in India, and arrested 189 suspects, most of whom were poor people associated with Tiger or his henchmen for different reasons.
As the investigation progressed, a shocking truth was uncovered: the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), was behind the blasts. To execute the conspiracy, the ISI used the resources and manpower of Dawood Ibrahim, who had escaped from India six years earlier and was now operating from Dubai. Although there was no extradition treaty between India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the strengthening of diplomatic relations between the two countries worried Dawood. Meanwhile, the Bombay riots made the ISI’s job easier. It was reported that Dawood received messages from Muslims in Bombay to avenge the riots.
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He was informed about the Shiv Sena’s role and the police’s biased approach. The ISI offered Dawood a quid pro quo deal to ‘avenge’ the Bombay riots for his help in executing their plan. The ISI promised to provide a safe harbour for him, his family and cronies in Pakistan, from where he could run his gang fearlessly. The ISI wanted Dawood to use his network of corrupt police and customs officials, who helped him smuggle gold and silver into India, to traffic explosives and weapons into Bombay. A series of meetings was organized in Dubai, which were attended by ISI agents; Dawood’s brother, Anees Ibrahim; and Tiger Memon.
The Shiv Sainiks had burnt down Tiger Memon’s office in Mahim during the riots, and the blasts offered him an opportunity to avenge his personal loss. But what confused investigators was the fact that the bomb blast at Zaveri Bazaar took place just outside Tiger Memon’s beautiful glass building, which was shattered. Three days after the serial blasts, it became clear to the Bombay Police that Tiger Memon had executed the conspiracy. Although Tiger had escaped, the police apprehended the bomb-planters, who further revealed how the RDX and the weapons dispatched by the ISI landed at the Raigadh coast near Bombay with the help of customs and police officials.
Further investigation showed that the plan to rock Bombay had begun right after the January riots. While select people were sent to Pakistan, others were trained in nearby rural areas. Most were semi-literate and poor twenty and thirty-year-olds with a criminal record. Some were the sole breadwinners of their families. While covering the trial at the special court set up under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in the late ’90s and the early years of the twenty-first century, I interacted with a few of them. They were full of bitterness towards Tiger. One of the accused confessed, ‘People like us could be easily misled under the circumstances. The Bombay riots infuriated us and Tiger capitalized on our anger. At present, while he relaxes in Pakistan, our families have been destroyed. I don’t know if I will ever be able to lead a free life.’
This excerpt from Jitendra Dixit’s ‘Bombay After Ayodhya’ has been published with permission from Harper Collins India.