Ground Zero - In-depth reportage from The Hindu

From a revolutionary to a renegade

On the morning of August 8, it took four bullets to silence the voice that had terrorised many in the newly created Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for two decades. Had the bullets fired by the Telangana police missed their mark, some of the worst-kept secrets about the criminal-police-politician nexus in the two States would have tumbled out. Nayeemuddin, the renegade Naxalite who had gained notoriety as an extortionist and who had amassed properties by terrorising people, was shot dead in an ‘encounter’ on the fringes of Shadnagar town, 50 km away from Hyderabad.

The 45-year-old’s secrets now lie buried with him in an unmarked grave on the Syed Shah Jamalul Bahar Rahamtullah Alahi Dargah premises. The graves of his father Khaja Naseeruddin, and younger brother Alimuddin, flank his grave in the predominantly lower middle class locality of Bhongir town in Nalgonda district, less than 50 km from Telangana’s capital, Hyderabad.

Nayeem’s journey from Bhongir to an imposing double-storeyed bungalow in upscale Alkapuri on the western fringes of Hyderabad bears testimony to the violent journey he had embarked upon and his meteoric rise, till death ‘in an exchange of fire’ with the police halted him in his tracks.

Scores of people thronged his house late on August 9 night to have a glimpse of his body. When Nayeem spoke over the mobile phone, policemen listened, businessmen bowed and politicians obliged. Their absence at his funeral did not go unnoticed. The man feared in Telangana lay in a glass casket — his head wrapped around in white cotton cloth, clean-shaven and hair dyed pinkish-red before he was laid to rest. A month later, the grave is barely distinguishable — the slightly raised mound has been levelled following rains.

The making of a Naxalite

Located on the fringes of Hyderabad, Bhongir is a typical semi-urban centre in Telangana. Nayeem’s father, who was a driver with the electricity department, had died just as Nayeem was about to graduate. As a youngster who grew up in this locality off the iconic Bhongir Fort atop the hill, and the historic dargah a few yards away, he was known for acts of aggression. Soon he acquired the reputation of a bully in the local government school. He exercised regularly and the parallel bars, commonly available to most schools, were his favourite ‘apparatus’ to build muscles. Nayeem could not tolerate the idea of anybody excelling over him. “On learning that a youngster performed better exercises than him on the parallel bars, he damaged it,” Dayakar, Nayeem’s senior in school, recalls.

That was not all. The deep well attached to the dargah close to his house was the swimming pool for the boys of the area — which was strictly off bounds for the rest whenever Nayeem practised here. He would shock his friends by hiding snakes in boxes and bags.

From a revolutionary to a renegade

Nayeem’s first two years at the local S.L.N.S. Degree College were quite unremarkable. But towards the third year, he started gravitating to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). His first steps towards Naxalism were not that smooth. Police records reveal that he was caught in a case of conspiring to attack Bhongir police station in 1991. He was the chief organiser in Bhongir for the Radical Students Union, a wing of the People’s War Group (PWG).

Switching sides in jail

After his release from prison on bail, Nayeem won the confidence of the top leaders of PWG and became a member of the “Alair squad” (the name referred to the area in which the squad operates). Senior IPS officer K.S. Vyas, founder of the elite anti-Naxalite commando force Greyhounds, became their prime target. On the evening of January 27, 1993, four Naxalites in tracksuits entered the Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium in Hyderabad and gunned down Vyas while he was jogging on the track.

A fortnight later, Nayeem was arrested and lodged in the city’s Musheerabad jail. With the then top Naxal leader Sakhamuri Appa Rao already in the same prison, it would appear that Nayeem was to get his lessons on waging war against the state. However, the police tried to lure the youngster to joining them, holding out promises such as dropping his name from the murder case and monetary help to start a new life. “To their surprise, the young Naxalite rejected their offer and vowed to meet them in the field, a suggestion that he was intent on eliminating the police,” recalls a retired police officer.

The police had to wait another four years to win him over. The opportunity presented itself when, as per the PWG’s direction, Nayeem requested his elder sister to attend on Hussain Bee, the ailing wife of fellow Naxalite Eedanna, in a hospital. One day, Nayeem’s sister complained that Eedanna misbehaved with her. This was enough for Nayeem to swear vengeance. He summoned his younger brother Alimuddin to kill Eedanna. Eedanna’s headless body was found at an open place in Padmarao Nagar, close to the prison where Nayeem was lodged. The police then nudged Nayeem to get information on the ultras from Naxalite sympathiser and revolutionary singer Belli Lalitha, whom he wanted to marry.

Some reports suggest Lalitha gave him a critical input about a leader’s presence, which Nayeem promptly passed on to the police. But not much came of it. By then, Lalitha had committed herself to Naxalism, and she threatened to complain to the party about Nayeem switching loyalties. She disappeared on May 26, 1999 — her body was found a few days later, severed in 17 parts. The Naxalites retaliated by murdering Alimuddin.

The two murders orchestrated by Nayeem from prison sent signals that challenges to left-wing extremism were emerging just when it was at its peak in Telangana in the late 1990s. Freed, Nayeem was briefed, trained and provided with logistics to target Naxalites.

From a revolutionary to a renegade

The dargah near Nayeemuddin’s house in Bhongir, Nalgonda District.

In November 2000, Nayeem and three of his associates hacked to death A.P. Civil Liberties Committee leader T. Purushotham in Hyderabad. They were arrested and sent to prison. That was the last time Nayeem saw a lock-up. Once out on bail, he unleashed terror targeting civil liberties activists and Naxalites.

He began recruiting his own men for secret operations. Intelligence officials recount the instances when Nayeem’s inputs had led to the capture of Naxalites. Nayeem’s role in the killings of Patlolla Goverdhan Reddy of Revolutionary Patriotic Tigers, a self-styled gangster accused of murdering Telugu Desam MLA Paritala Ravindra, and of mafia don Aziz Reddy earned him the reputation of a ruthless killer.

With Nayeem in the good books of top police officers, the murder of surrendered top Naxalite leader Konapuri Sambasivudu and his brother Ramulu couldn’t be stopped even as both of them sought protection, citing threats from Nayeem.

Informally, policemen contend that Nayeem knew crucial details about the killing of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya on March 26, 2003, and gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh on November 26, 2005 — the case involving the latter saw current Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah spend some time behind the bars. But The Hindu could not verify that Nayeem had a hand in trapping Sohrabuddin.

The extortionist’s modus operandi

The real estate boom of the early 2000s sent land prices skyrocketing and drew Nayeem’s attention. His modus operandi was simple and involved identifying vulnerable property owners, those not connected to politicians or policemen. Lalu Dharavath was one such victim. In 2011, Nayeem’s associates grabbed 26 acres in Patcharlaboddu village that was in possession of Dharavath’s family for over six decades claiming that they had bought it from the original landowners. It was only after Nayeem’s death that Dharavath could muster courage to approach the police, lodging a complaint in Bhongir on August 25.

In other instances, a stranger would approach the landowner to see if he was interested in selling his land. Irrespective of the answer, the stranger would drop hints about ‘Bhai Saab’s’ interest in the property. If the answer was no, Nayeem would call the landowner, the voice chilling in its intent. “Anna [brother], hope you don’t want any one of your loved family members to die just for the land. Go to the Chief Minister and complain. You cannot do anything,” Nayeem was heard telling businessman Ganpaa Nagendra of Bhongir on the morning of April 30. The call was made to extort Rs.2 crore. The scared businessman settled the matter by paying Rs.50 lakh.

Investing muscle power and firearms on disputed properties, Nayeem turned the real estate boom in Hyderabad to his advantage around the time Gachibowli, where top IT companies have campuses now, emerged as an alternative to the HITEC City in Madhapur. His associates would identify open lands in that area and take illegal possession of them.

From a revolutionary to a renegade



A similar case involved K.C. Reddy of Bhagyalata Real Estate who had entered into an agreement with a Mumbai-based company to develop 200 acres in Nalgonda district in 2013. The venture was picking up with buyers purchasing plots when an unidentified man approached Reddy saying Nayeem wanted to meet him. They took him to an undisclosed location where Nayeem sat with his henchmen. All of them were carrying firearms. After ascertaining that Reddy was sharing profits of the venture with the Mumbai-based company in the ratio of 60:40, Nayeem told him that he wanted half of Reddy’s share of 40 per cent profits. “I had no alternative but to agree,” Reddy said speaking to the media two weeks ago after some men, believed to be Nayeem’s associates, ransacked his office in Hyderabad.

Another ploy was to look for huge tracts of lands sold to groups such as housing societies. Even when the land ownership had changed twice or thrice, they would go to the original landowners mentioned in the revenue records and make them sign agreements of sale in the names of Nayeem’s associates. Carrying the sale deeds executed by ‘original landowners’, they would occupy the land and sell the same again to realtors. Interestingly, Nayeem ensured he was legally correct, by getting all documents relating to sale and purchase of properties registered.

Over 400 documents of different plots of land were found in his house at Alkapuri during searches by police following his killing, most of them around Gachibowli and Outer Ring Road where the market value is over Rs.1 crore per acre. No one knows the exact value of the properties he secured. Even put modestly, he sat on an empire worth several hundred crores, say police officers.

Time up for the gangster

By 2014, complaints about his activities reached Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Businessmen had started complaining about his extortion activities. Pyla Shekhar Reddy, Bhongir MLA of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi, also apprised the Chief Minister of the need to check the gangster. All this while Nayeem was ‘freely but secretly’ going about his business on the city outskirts.

The gangster sought a list of businessmen in the area. There were unconfirmed reports of Nayeem’s call to a builder who had close connections with the ruling party. That, the police say, was the last straw. Orders followed from top to a few handpicked officers of the Counter Intelligence and Special Intelligence Branch ‘not to tolerate the fellow anymore’. Specific tasks were given to officers to keep tabs on his movements, his henchmen and activities.

The surveillance paid off when sometime in July the Dichpally police of Nizamabad district, 160 km north of Hyderabad, received a complaint from a politician named P. Gangaram that persons claiming to be associates of ‘Bhai Saab’ were demanding money. As they tracked the calls, the police party managed to reach Shadnagar town in the early hours of August 8.

As they tracked the calls, the police managed to reach Shadnagar town in the early hours of August 8 and they lay in wait on the side of Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway passing through Shadnagar’s outskirts, looking out for the suspects. Around 8 a.m., a diamond-white Ford Endeavour (AP 28 DR 5859) was spotted passing by, heading towards Millennium Township.

The police party started tailing the car. They had barely driven 200 yards when the vehicle, in which Nayeem was seated, opened fire. The police returned the fire using AK-47s, Sten guns and pistols. A couple of minutes into the exchange, a person clad in jeans and T-shirt jumped out with a firearm in hand. Spraying bullets at the police, he ran for cover behind a concrete base of an electric transformer. The police surrounded the transformer from different directions and the exchange of fire continued for a few minutes. When it ended, an AK-47 with 11 live rounds was found lying next to Nayeem’s body. The First Information Report (crime number 109/2016) issued by Shadnagar police after the encounter, and seen by the reporter, read as follows: a case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of Indian Penal Code and Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code had been registered in connection with the exchange of fire resulting in Nayeem’s death.

Four bullets fired from police guns hit the gangster. Two hit his chest, one near the navel, and the fourth his throat. All the four bullets exited through Nayeem, bringing the curtain down on the gangster.

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