Ex-cop Shantonu Sen tells the inside story

A file photo of the Golden Temple   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Sherlock Holmes may have been relegated to the confines of story books but his avtars keep surfacing from time to time. Among them is big-built Shantonu Sen, ex-Jt Director of CBI, a product of St Xavier’s, Jaipur and Maharaja College, who still has not lost the keenness of a sleuth. A scion of the famous Sen family, whose doyen was the legendary Dr H. C. Sen, Shantonu Sen, now in his 81st year, investigated many sensational cases, about which he talked at length at a meeting with me at India International Centre last week. Many of them are mentioned in his book “CBI Insider Speaks”. The foremost case was Operation Blue Star, of which he says: “The Golden Temple, Amritsar, was the scene of a bloody battle fought by 350 Infantry Brigade against Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, dismissed Major-General Sahbeg Singh and others. Between the afternoon of June 5, 1984 and June 10, 1984, the operation saw a large number of people killed, many arrested and big quantities of arms and ammunition recovered. Several officers and other ranks were killed and 1592 were captured in the Army operation. The Defence Ministry wanted all men to be prosecuted as terrorists. The CBI sources and subsequent investigations, however, told a different story. Not all were actually fighting the Army on this operation. Our (CBI) investigations convinced us that while many who fought as terrorists had been killed, only a small number out of the 1592 had actually confronted the Army. At the end of it all, we had our way that only 379 persons were actually terrorists and prosecuted them. The rest were freed from judicial custody. When Siddhartha Shankar Ray was the Governor of Punjab, cases against them were withdrawn and they were all set at liberty. But the bolt from the blue later struck two deadly blows-assassination of Indira Gandhi and General Vaidya”.

Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Neeraj Kumar, Former CP, Delhi releasing the book 'CBI Insider Speaks: Birlas to Sheila Dixit’ by Shantonu Sen (right) (Ex-JD CBI and OSD to LD Delhi).

Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Neeraj Kumar, Former CP, Delhi releasing the book 'CBI Insider Speaks: Birlas to Sheila Dixit’ by Shantonu Sen (right) (Ex-JD CBI and OSD to LD Delhi).  

The Hawala case is a story of calculated interference. Consider the facts: The Hawala diaries were chanced upon during a search and raid operation by the CBI, under Deputy Inspector General, CBI, OP Sharma, on May 3, 1991. DP Singh, DSP, in the CBI’s terrorist cell recovered the diaries from the house of one Jainender Jain in Saket. Jainender was an employee of Surender Jain, and the case under investigation was under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activity Act. On June 16, the CBI’s O P Sharma was trapped by the CBI receiving ₹10 lakhs, allegedly the last installment of bribe money for not arresting Surender Jain under TADA, which brooks no bail.

“The Hawala diaries, thereafter went underground, to resurface in March 1993, when SK Dutta, the CBI Director, directed that Joint Director (Anti-Corruption) – that is myself – to investigate the case. The instructions came with a note of caution that the investigations should not antagonise Surendra Jain and his associates, as they were the main prosecution witnesses. Why no investigation took place between May 3, 1991 and June 15, 1991 – almost a month and a half – when there was enough time to rip the case wide open is anyone’s guess. The Hawala diaries are dead and buried.”

Among the most fascinating cases of political interference,was the Syed Modi murder case in Lucknow, in the winter of 1988. The celebrated badminton player had been done to death and the friendship of his wife Ameeta Modi and Sanjay Singh was a matter of public knowledge. The CBI suspected, on the basis of sound evidence, involvement of Sanjay Singh, of the then Jan Morcha, and arrested him. The suspicions were further supported by revelations following the arrest of Akhilesh Singh.

Akhilesh Singh had actually organised the murder of Syed Modi. He had just broken up with the Congress and had joined Jan Morcha. Akhilesh named Sanjay Singh, as the man behind the crime. Despite opposition, Sanjay was arrested. Syed Modi was shot dead on July 23, 1988 just after he had left K. D. Babu Stadium in Lucknow, where he used to go for practice, by Amar Bahadur Singh and Bhagwati Singh, both associated with Akhilesh Singh. Then there were Ameeta Modi’s tell-tale diaries and love letters which provided material to investigate her and Akhilesh. V. P. Singh, ex-PM, was a close relative of Sanjay Singh. The Supreme Court acquitted Sanjay Singh and Ameeta Modi and later Akhilesh. Sanjay divorced his wife Garima, niece of V.P. Singh and married Ameeta. Amar Bahadur Singh and Bhawati Singh were killed when they came out of jail on parole. The question, says Sen, is why did Ameeta not divorce Syed Modi. The answer may be that she preferred to be a widow rather than a divorcee.

Shantonu Sen also helped to solve several other cases like the Birla textile case, the Urea scam during the Narsimha Rao Govt, the looting by terrorists of ₹7 crores from the Punjab National Bank branch in Ludhiana, the Krishnamurthy saga involving Harshad Mehta and the FERA Violation by an MP and his father during Rajiv Gandhi tenure. Sen later served as OSD to the Lt-Governor of Delhi, Tejinder Khanna and still advises clients in complex cases. He does not carry a gun now but did so when he was pursuing Gen Vaidya’s killers. There were two other times when he felt threatened – the Punjab National Bank robbery case and the bank looting incident in Bombay. Now Sen extends his expertise to panel discussions on crime to TV channels. More Watson than Holmes in appearance, his feedback on Arthur Conan Doyle, Perry Nason, Agatha Christie and Bengali detective stories stands him in good stead.

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 5:35:10 PM |

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