26 Sting Operation
'Welcome, welcome, Singhania. Come and have some sweets. Today is one of the greatest days of my life. Second only to the day I became Chief Minister.'
'I know, Netaji. I just heard the news on the radio. '
'Yes. Jagannath Rai has been formally charged with the murders of Pradeep Dubey, Lakhan Thakur and Navneet Brar and with the abduction of Gopal Mani Tripathi's son. We couldn't pin the Rukhsana Afsar suicide on him, but it doesn't matter. With Tripurari Sharan turning approver, we have enough to hang Jagannath. Now all the party MLAs who joined him are in hot water. I am demanding two crores from each of them before I agree to take them back. They have to pay a price for their foolishness.'
'So your Chief Minister's chair is safe till the next elections.'
'Why only till the next elections? Haven't you seen the opinion poll in the Daily News? My decision to get rid of all tainted ministers has boosted my approval ratings to 67 per cent. High Command has now given me a totally free hand. I think another term is a sure shot.'
'Jagannath Rai's downfall has been very swift indeed.'
'That bastard thought he was being very clever, getting all his dirty work done by Mukhtar. But these twopenny gangsters can never beat us professional politicians. The idiot believed that just because he was Home Minister he was above the law. He didn't have a clue that I had been having his phone tapped for the last three years. And people can be so indiscreet on the phone.'
'Is that why you never discuss business with me on the phone?'
'One can never be too careful, Singhania. Though no one would dare tap the Chief Minister's phone. (Laughs.)
'So was it you who sent the tapes to Advani?'
'Who else, Singhania? Use a snake to kill a snake. Advani promptly published the tapes, finishing Jagannath's political career and eliminating the biggest threat to my post. It's a pity Mukhtar wasn't allowed to kill Vicky Rai. That would have been the icing on the cake. Why did Shabnam Saxena do something so idiotic?'
'I have no time for Shabnam Saxena. My biggest headache is Ashok Rajput.'
'Ashok Rajput? That fellow who murdered Vicky Rai? What's your connection to him?'
'He is the son of Vinay Rajput, who was my father's masseuse. You know we are originally from Rajasthan. I grew up with Kishore and Ashok in Jaisalmer. When Kishore died, I helped Ashok get that job in the Tribal Welfare Department.'
'Is it true, this story about him wanting to marry his brother's widow?'
'Yes, Netaji. Gulabo was always a bit weird. It was at her urging that Ashok decided to kill Vicky Rai.'
'Aha! So Rajput has already confessed his crime to you.'
'Yes, he has. He told me this was his second attempt. About six years ago he managed to enter the farmhouse with a gun, but his nerve failed him at the last minute. This time round he decided to take advantage of that tribal Eketi. I actually saw Ashok at the party, dressed in a snazzy blue suit. I found it strange that he had been invited to Number Six, but even I couldn't have guessed that he had gained entry to kill Vicky Rai. Now, since 24 March he has been holed up at my Meerut guesthouse. He thought he had got away with murder when the police arrested Eketi, but that Arun Advani is too clever. How he ferrets out information is simply amazing.'
'What are you going to do about Rajput?'
'I have been advising him to go to the police and make a clean breast of it. But he is still hoping for a miracle and has asked me to give you a message.'
'What is that?'
'Ashok Rajput is willing to give you this stunning shivling (sound of unwrapping), if you can somehow save him from the gallows.'
'Arrey, isn't this the shivling that the tribal was trying to steal on the night of the murder?'
(Laughs.) 'No, Netaji. Ashok Rajput had a replica made by a sculptor in Jaisalmer and planted it in the temple in Vicky Rai's garden. What you are seeing is the genuine article, which he stole from Swami Haridas in Allahabad.'
'Wah! What a magnificent piece. So smooth, and what are all these strange letters on it?'
'According to Onge legend, these were engraved by the first man. Chief Minister Sahib, this shivling is the rarest and most ancient antique in the country. It's priceless.'
'I want it, Singhania, and in return I will try to save your friend. Because I know he is innocent.'
'And on what basis are you saying this, Netaji?'
'On the basis of what Delhi Police Commissioner K. D. Sahay told me in confidence. KD and I are old friends. You see, the police discovered another spent.32 bore cartridge in the garden of Vicky 's farmhouse.'
'But Rajput fired only once.'
'Exactly. So there was another person who fired a bullet at Vicky Rai that night.'
'It makes sense… I thought I heard another gunshot immediately after the first one, but others said it was a cracker burst.'
'It was this second gunshot that actually killed Vicky Rai. The bullet passed cleanly through his body and landed in the garden.'
'But then the police should have found another gun!'
'That is where the problem lies! KD says the police sealed the premises immediately after the first gunshot. So the murderer couldn't have managed to escape. Then they went over the farmhouse with a toothcomb. They frisked each and every person present at Number Six. Checked every vehicle that was parked inside and on the road. But they did not discover any other gun, apart from the six recovered from the six suspects. So they went for the only option available to them. They pinned the murder on Eketi, and suppressed all evidence of the second bullet and the seventh gun.'
'Oh my God! Then who is the real killer?'
'Singhania, you have wealth, but you don't have brains. Now I will tell you who really killed Vicky Rai.'
'It was Jagannath's daughter, Ritu.'
'Ritu Rai? But how? And how do you know this?'
'This was revealed to me by my new best friend, Tripurari Sharan. But before I tell you his theory, I have to tell you a little story. I have a man who occasionally works for me called Chhotu Lochan.'
'Oh, that notorious gangster?'
'What can I do? Politics demands both money and muscle. Even Chief Ministers have to keep some pet dogs. Just as Jagannath had Mukhtar, I have Lochan. I have used him for a few operations. '
'Go on, this is getting interesting.'
'Lochan told me that on 20 January he kidnapped a child from Noida, the seven-year-old son of an industrialist who owns four factories. Ransom was set at seventy-five lakhs. The father delivered the money on 26 January, Republic Day. It was put in a black attach'e case and left inside a dustbin in an alley behind the Goenka School in Mehrauli. Lochan's man Brijesh was to collect it, but Brijesh's mobile phone was stolen by Munna Mobile. So when Lochan relayed the pick-up location, Munna heard it and made off with the briefcase.'
'Don't tell me! That two-bit mobile-phone thief got away with seventy-five lakhs?'
'Yes. It was with all that money that he befriended Ritu Rai, started a love affair.'
'Then what happened?'
'What always happens. Lochan tracked down Munna Mobile eventually. The tentacles of these people extend everywhere. So he sent in three of his goons, who beat Munna up badly, even broke his fingers, and took back the briefcase.'
'How sad! That is what I don't like about gangsters. The way they resort to violence. I abhor violence. '
'Anyway, the twist in the tale is that Munna never told Ritu about the briefcase, but Ritu told her family about wanting to marry Munna. Both Vicky and Jagannath were completely opposed to it. Tripurari says there were daily show-downs between brother and sister. So when she discovered what had been done to Munna, she thought that Vicky Rai had sent in the goons to teach Munna a lesson, and flew into a rage. Ritu is adept at handling guns. Did you know she is the State air-pistol champion? So on the night of the party, she, too, was in the hall with a gun. It was she who got the fuse taken out of the mains switchboard at a pre-determined time. As soon as the lights went out, she shot her brother with a.32-bore pistol and then hid the murder weapon in some private nook of the house, which the police have not been able to figure out till now.'
'Amazing! So Ritu has got off scot-free?'
'Hasn't she suffered enough, being Jagannath's daughter? Now she is marrying Munna, who, in turn, is getting a hero's role in some film. So it looks like there will be one happy ending at least.'
'Then what should I tell Ashok Rajput?'
'Tell him to stay put while I work out a strategy. And thank him for the shivling. It will have pride of place in this house from today.'
'It is supposed to be the ultimate good-luck charm.'
'I can feel the positive vibrations already. Through the blessings of Lord Shiva, I will now remain Chief Minister for the rest of my life.'
'Now, if you have time, Netaji, can I discuss the Badaun Cement Plant with you?'
'I have time to discuss even the textile mill project. The whole State is yours, Singhania. Now that Jagannath is out of the way, we will enjoy the fruits together.' (Laughter.)