“Please write something good about Kondhwa,” says a resident of Konark Pooram residential complex, a locality in Pune. Her request is understandable, as Kondhwa has, after one-and-a-half years, is once in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
The name of Mohsin Chowdhury, Manisha Complex resident, has come up in the investigation into the German Bakery blast. While the police are officially not saying anything, media reports suggest that Chowdhury, an alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative, who has been absconding for over a year, could have been involved in the blast.
Commissioner of Police Satyapal Singh, too, has said that combing operations are under way in Kondhwa and a few people from the area have been questioned.
Over the years, Kondhwa, an upcoming suburb on the fringes of Pune city, has earned a bad name. It first shot to ill fame in June 2002, when fake stamps worth Rs. 7 crore were found in an apartment in the Abdul Karim Telgi fake stamp paper scam. Gangster Feroz Bengali and his gang, too, brought a bad name to the suburb by indulging in land grab and murder.
A local politician from the area says, “Dadagiri ka kaam yaha hota tha, lekin deshdrohi ka nahi [Gangsters used to be at work here, but not traitors].”
Kondhwa’s name first came up in relation to anti-national activity when the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested four IM operatives from Ashoka Mews complex here in October 2008. They used a rented flat as their control room to plan terror activities in other parts of India, while another flat in the opposite Kamaldeep Park was used to store weapons.
The four IM operatives arrested included Mohammad Mansoor Asgar Peerbhoy, a software engineer who was then working on a Rs.19 lakh annual pay package for a multi-national company. Minutes before 21 blasts that took place in Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008, several news agencies received an e-mail warning about the blasts. This e-mail was reportedly sent by Peerbhoy using an unsecured wireless network in Mumbai. He was arrested along with Akbar, Chowdhury’s brother.
According to the politician from Kondhwa, there are several reasons why it has emerged as a safe haven for illegal activities. Development in the area started around 1985 when Maniksheth Dugad purchased 18 acres of agricultural land in the area from farmers and let brokers proliferate construction. This construction was haphazard in the absence of any regulation.
Kondhwa came under the jurisdiction of the Pune Municipal Corporation only in 1997. Development by some Muslim builders attracted the Muslim population from Mumbai in the aftermath of the communal riots in 1992-93. Similarly, many Gujarati Muslims moved there after the 2002 Godhra riots.
“As Kondhwa is a new and an upcoming suburb, very few people have any background knowledge about people living around them,” says the politician. “Also, the police presence is poor. The construction is so haphazard that policemen themselves may lose their way in some alleys.”
Pune being a popular education and Information Technology centre nationally and internationally attracts a great deal of young population. As Kondhwa is an upcoming locality on the fringes of the city, the rentals here are affordable. The presence of a sizeable temporary population adds to the faceless character of Kondhwa, making it easier for activities, the kind which Peerbhoy and his associates indulged in, to pass off unnoticed.
Prominent Muslim personalities in Pune, however, feel that Kondhwa has been unfairly targeted and portrayed by the media.
P.A. Inamdar, resident of the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society that runs the Azam Campus with 29 educational institutes under it, says, “Peerbhoy and the other arrested with him were aberrations. In the German Bakery case, not a single person has been arrested from Kondhwa or any other area in Pune. People have only been questioned.”