Bipul Kumar had a pistol pointed to his head and had no idea why. “The boy looked intoxicated, weak. I am a sportsman, I could have finished him off with a slap. I assumed it was a mugging,” he says.
Bipul tried snatching the pistol. But the youngster opened fire. “The bullet got lodged in the seat of the car,” he says, instinctively rubbing together the tips of the fingers in his left hand, which the bullet grazed. Bipul was shot twice more that evening of November 23 last year, in his abdomen and lower back.
Sitting at Tata Group’s Community Centre in Jamshedpur’s Kasidih, the 40-year-old recalls giving the bike-riding attackers a chase in his car before losing them in the traffic, and then driving himself to the Tata Main Hospital, where he would stay in the CCU for seven days.
On July 27, over eight months later, Bipul’s alleged attackers were finally arrested. When he was brought in to identify the gang, the area in-charge of Tata’s Urban Services Department asked the two of them he recognised the question he had been waiting to ask: “Bhai, why did you try to kill me?”
After Bipul was shot, at least 10 more people had been waylaid in Jamshedpur and similarly shot. Five of them had died in what appeared to be random attacks. Even in this town where a soaring crime rate co-exists with model development propelled by the Tatas, the attacks stood out.
When police tried to put together the answers, they were surprised at what they found — two gangs, one of them led by a constable, operating separately; one of them formed on caste lines; targeting people they “didn’t like”, in attacks that weren’t planned; to gain notoriety, hoping to use it for extortion.
Bipul was attacked as he came out of Jamshedpur’s United Club. The attacker — later identified as Manish Pandey — walked up to him to ask for directions to the Tata Main Hospital (TMH). He indicated it was behind him, without lowering the window glass. Manish appeared to walk away, but then returned. “This time I lowered the window. He put a gun to my head and said, ‘I asked you for directions to TMH, didn’t I?’,” says Bipul.
He would later recall seeing an individual sitting on a black Pulsar motorcycle hanging around at the back. This man has now been identified as constable Anjan Pandey.
When Bipul asked them last month why they had shot him, Anjan claimed that the former’s car had crashed into his bike a few days earlier near Tata Tinplate factory and that the mob that had gathered had supported the Tata official. “Apparently Anjan’s wife was with him and he felt humiliated,” says Bipul.
Bipul told them that they were mistaken as he rarely went to Tinplate. At this, Bipul recalls, Manish turned on Anjan and shouted: “It is this Anjan who made me do all this. He made me drink and convinced me to shoot.”
Police don’t doubt that. As per their investigations so far, the 30-year-old Anjan nursed a deep-seated grouse that people were conspiring against him and put together a four-member gang to vent his anger. This gang wasn’t too choosy about whom it attacked. Like Anjan and Manish, the other two — Mangal Tiwary and Kanhaiya Jha — are also Brahmins.
Police have only sketchy details about Mangal and Kanhaiya except that, at some point, all four lived in Subhash Nagar locality. Manish used to be Anjan’s tenant. Except Anjan, none of the others had any known criminal record before this.
Manish allegedly carried out most of the shootings, prodded on by the constable.
A police officer who did not want to be named says, “The feeling that he should be rewarded according to his position in the caste hierarchy was evident in the way Anjan formed the gang of Brahmins. They called themselves the Pandit gang; leaving behind big calling cards near their victims with ‘Pandit B.M.’ written on them.” It’s not clear what the ‘B.M.’ stood for.
In all, between November 23, 2013, and July 22 this year, Anjan and his gang are said to have committed at least nine crimes — eight cases of shooting and one of extortion. Three people died in the attacks. Six of the shootings targeted people in cars. Three of those targeted were managerial-level employees at the Tata Group, of whom two died.
“They targeted people in cars because those were people doing better than them in life. Also, murders of those people would get noticed,” says Superintendent of Police (City) Kartik S.
On December 15, ex-serviceman Lalit Kumar was shot at outside his house in Gadra village in Parsudih. “A lot of new houses are under construction at Gadra. They thought people with money live there and they could extort money from them,” says Kartik.
Brajesh Sahay, an AGM with Tata Motors, had just reached his house in Nitish area at 9 pm on February 22 when he was attacked. “The gang had been in the upper middle class locality determined to shoot someone that night. As Brajesh sat in the car, Manish walked up to him and shot him through the closed window,” says DSP Singh. Brajesh didn’t survive.
Ratnesh Raj, a manager at Tata Steel, was shot on the night of March 10 as he came to Ghorabandha to meet a friend. Ratnesh also succumbed to his injuries.
The third person who died allegedly in attacks by the Pandit gang was Lakhbinder Singh.
In some instances, the attacks came soon after the four alleged gang members had consumed alcohol. For example, the attack on Bipul. The gang had reportedly been drinking across the road from the United Club, waiting for someone to emerge.
Their February 27 attack on Dhiraj Kumar Sinha, who owns a fast food outlet near the Govindpur railway crossing, almost went wrong. “Anjan used to even cock the gun for Manish to carry out the shooting. When they attacked the owner of the fast food shop, the others in the gang felt like shooting him too. One of them cocked one of the pistols again and a bullet fell out,” says Kartik. The men were so drunk, he says, they made the bleeding man search for the bullet on his knees. After he retrieved it, he was shot again. Dhiraj, who survived, told police that the men kept asking him to recollect what he had done to merit the “punishment”.
Born and brought up in Munger, Anjan joined the police force in 1995. His elder brother is in the CRPF. Police say Anjan hid the pistol used in the attacks inside a music amplifier at his house in Subhash Nagar.
When the constable left home on the evening of July 26, hours before his arrest, his wife Mandvi Devi thought he was going to the Govindpur police station. “He used to go there every evening for tea. Later, a policeman came and took away my mobile phone,” she says. The two have a four-year-old daughter.
Asserting that Anjan couldn’t have been involved in murder, his family says the 30-year-old’s worst trait was his short temper. “That got him into trouble with superiors,” says mother Rajmani Devi.
However, she admits that Anjan was very conscious of belonging to a “superior” caste. He felt “belittled” in his career, Rajmani adds.
He also had a history of problems at work. “Once when he was given a rural posting, he refused to take it up,” says Kartik. Last year, Anjan was placed under suspension for declining certain tasks demanded of him.
According to police, Anjan has revealed during questioning that he is a fan of Telugu action movies dubbed in Hindi, particularly actor Ashutosh Rana, who features as a villain in many of them.
For a long time, police could not join the dots. Stories quoting unknown sources emerged of someone having ordered a hit on Bipul due to personal reasons. It began to be assumed that Brajesh Sahay and Ratnesh Raj were targeted due to their association with the Tata Group. Lalit’s elder brother was even looked at with suspicion by his own family as the two had had an altercation the previous day.
There was another factor adding to the confusion, one discovered much later: gangster Lullah, with famously just two fingers in his left hand, had re-started operations in Jamshedpur and followed the same pattern as the alleged Pandey gang.
Unlike Anjan’s alleged gang, Lullah also looted his victims, police say. However, many of them fell prey because he “disliked” them, just like Anjan. On December 23, 2013, Lullah allegedly shot at and injured the disabled Amit Agrawal, who was on a scooter, while Yashpal Singh was attacked in front of Tube Gate for riding his motorcycle in a way that Lullah didn’t like.
It was during the search for Lullah over four months beginning January this year that police stumbled on the parallel Pandey gang. They had been monitoring nearly one lakh calls when that name came up.
“We were surprised the suspect was a policeman. We had no clinchable evidence, so we had to wait for him to make a move,” says Kartik.
That came on July 22. Anjan allegedly called up Satish Prasad, a businessman, and demanded Rs 20 lakh from him. Police were listening.