Pune: Manish Nagori is keeping a wary eye on the investigation into rationalist Narendra Dabholkar’s assassination.
Nagori was accused of being involved in the murder of Dabholhar (below)
With the needle of suspicion now resting on the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha and its sadhaks, Dr Virendra Tawde and Sarang Akolkar, the suspected arms dealer, who was arrested by the Pune police’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in 2014 for allegedly providing the firearm used in the shooting, says he was framed in the case and detained by the police for over a year.
Claiming that he was just a "small-time criminal" prior to his detainment in the Dabholkar case, he says investigators framed him in three other murder cases to keep him in police custody and continued to question him in the Dabholkar case. While he was discharged in the three other cases, he is still an accused in the police records in the Dabholkar killing.
‘Made a scapegoat’
Nagori says he was picked up by the Mumbra police in Thane, where he then stayed with his girlfriend, around 8.30 am on August 20, 2013 — the day of the killing — in an extortion case. Dabholkar was gunned down just an hour before. The Mumbai Police also seized a 7.65-mm calibre firearm from him.
"Later, the Pune police’s ATS team took me in their custody, and began grilling me in the Dabholkar case. I was in their custody for 14 days," he recalls. He says the Pune police then booked him for an unsolved murder of a Pune University watchman in 2012, but continued to question him in the Dabholkar case. "In January 2014, they finally arrested me in the Dabholkar case."
The police charged him with providing the firearm used in the killing and claimed that his pistol that was in police custody was the same as the one used in the shooting. "I repeatedly asked them how it had been possible for me to travel so quickly from Pune to Mumbai if I had provided my pistol for the killing. But, they abused and thrashed me, and even threatened me with more beatings and another case if I revealed the torture in court during the custody hearing," he alleges.
To counter his question, the police allegedly claimed that he took a private chartered flight from Pune to Mumbai on the day of the killing.
According to the police, his pistol matched the calibre of the weapon mentioned in the ballistics report.
But a senior police officer revealed that Nagori was implicated in the case by the police under pressure to crack the killing.
"Our jobs were on the line. We told our seniors that he was not involved in the case, but they went ahead and submitted his pistol to forensic science laboratories in Hyderabad and Kalina."
The reports, he claimed, were fudged to favour the police. "In the meantime, we had begun to close in on Virendra Tawde, but by then the CBI took over the case."
Then Commissioner of Pune Police Gulabrao Pol said he didn’t recall Nagori’s detainment and refused to comment on the issue.
Admitting that he has a "criminal mind", Nagori clarifies that he has never taken any blood money or been involved with any killing. "I didn’t know a thing about Dabholkar."
He says his ordeal took a toll on the family. "When my father found out that I had handed over to the Pune police from the Thane jail, he rushed to Pune, but met with an accident on the way. He succumbed to the injuries later. The police also tortured my wife when she was pregnant and even planned to implicate her in the murder."
Nagori’s lawyer moved court for bail when the police failed to file a chargesheet in the case even 90 days after taking him into custody. He secure bail on February 13, 2015. "So what if the police were under pressure to crack the case? Why was I made a scapegoat?" he asks.
Nagori says he has launched another business — in real estate now — but it hasn’t been fruitful because no one wants to be associated with a crime accused. "I provided the Pune police information on arms supplies in other cases. But I still live with the criminal tag."
Nagori (28) allegedly entered the world of crime in 2010. He moved with his family from their hometown, Jodhpur, to Ichalkarangi in Kolhapur, and set up a garments trade. He later set up a mobile phone shop, following which he came in contact with history-sheeter Navneet Sharma. Nagori allegedly soon formed his own gang, and began procuring and selling arms. Till 2015, 28 cases were registered against him, including the Dabholkar killing.
Egg in the face
In 2014, Manish Nagori had told the court that then ATS chief Rakesh Maria had offered him Rs 25 lakh to make a false confession and take the blame for Dabholkar’s killing. He alleged that the ATS had torturing him to coerce the confession.