“There’s hope. I was reading the FBI’s opinions on museum thefts. According to them, criminals who steal high-value artworks tend to be better thieves than businessmen. They don’t understand that the true art in a heist isn’t stealing, it’s selling. So, hopefully, we will be able to catch the thieves when they try to sell.”

“Yes, Sir. Also, thanks to the media attention on the case, every potential buyer will know that these are stolen artefacts,” a team member said encouragingly.

“Exactly! The people who can pay that kind of money aren’t interested in owning something they could never sell and could possibly go to jail for possessing,” the Commissioner added, his eyes shining with hope.

“Yes, Sir, the thieves will have a tough time selling the artefacts now,” the team member agreed.

“Good!” the Commissioner rubbed his hands together.

“Again, I repeat, a cool and composed mind will be more productive. I’ll bear the entire pressure of this case. So, you all please proceed without any pressure. But, remember, this is not just a routine case. It’s a matter of our pride. We have to get these heritage items back at any cost.”

After this pep talk to boost the morale of the investigating officers, the Commissioner sat and reviewed the Mir Chowk PS staff ’s work, where the FIR for the theft had been lodged. By this time the task force members had come back and reported to the Commissioner. They were bursting to give their input.

“Sir, the thief climbed down a rope, right? This is how the rowdy sheeter Shaukat works. I am sure he committed this theft. I know him inside out. He is brazen enough to try such a high-profile burglary,” Inspector Chenna said, waving his forefinger confidently.

“Does Shaukat work as a part of a gang? This robbery couldn’t have been committed by a single person,” the Commissioner said. He deliberately tried to find out if Shaukat worked as a part of a ring, trying to ascertain whether Chenna’s premise was correct.

Chenna’s face fell. He hadn’t realised that this robbery was probably too big to have been handled by a single person. “H...he used to be a lone operator before. Maybe he has joined a gang now. I’ll try to find out,” he stammered a bit uncertainly.

“Does he have masonry experience?” the Commissioner probed further.

“Sir, I don’t think so, but I’ll enquire. Maybe somebody else in his gang has masonry experience,” Chenna said, embarrassed, wishing he had done some more research before opening his mouth.

“Yes, find out if he has a partner, or has joined some gang. Also, check the video footage of the thief climbing down the rope. See if you can identify him,” Anjani Kumar instructed.

“If the thief has masonry experience, I would say that Mir Mohammad may be our man. He works as a mason, but he has been involved in a burglary as well. However, he is a heavy-set man and I don’t think he would be able to climb ropes,” Constable Krishna contributed eagerly, not to be outdone by Chenna.

“Good, you guys are thinking in the right direction,” the Commissioner smiled encouragingly and continued, “as per the footage that I have seen, the thief is lean, young and agile. The arrows found at the crime scene indicate that he has masonry experience. But, whether he operated alone, I’m not sure. I’m forming a team to check out the CCTV footage from all the nearby areas for the entry and exit points of the criminals. If he has a partner, we will find out. In the meantime, as I said, keep your eyes and ears open.”

While the Commissioner was in the team meeting, many reporters called his PA asking for updates on the case. The PA, in turn, called Anjani Kumar, who checked the news quickly and saw that the theft was breaking news, both locally and nationally. Just two days ago, on September 1, 2018, the Nizam’s
precious gold tiffin box, a gold cup and saucer, estimated at over 50 crores together, had been on display in their majestic setting. On September 3, the artefacts were gone. News of the theft had spread like wildfire. Local television channels, like Sakshi TV and ETV Telugu, broadcast the footage of the front of the museum, with police personnel bustling around busily. One sub-inspector gave a short soundbite confirming the story of the theft.

The story headlined national newspapers and online publications, like Hindustan Times, Firstpost, India Today, Deccan Chronicle, and The Economic Times, over the next few weeks.

Some of the members of the task force and the clues team had stayed back at the museum after the Commissioner had left, and he wanted all the latest updates. He called to ask if all the members were available now. When the response was in the affirmative, the Commissioner decided to hold another meeting with all the members of the task force and clues team.

The rumblings in his stomach reminded the Commissioner that he had forgotten to have lunch. He drank another glass of water to ease the discomfort and asked the constable guarding his office to invite the members of the two teams into his office immediately. He also asked the constable to bring in some more chairs to the office so that the team could sit comfortably. As he waited for the team to arrive, he called Haleem, his PA, to dictate a press release, assuring the public that the police were on the case and the investigation was underway, although it was too early to have any more updates. By the time he wrapped this up, the team had gathered outside his office. He called them inside. They came in and saluted him, as was the custom.

Once everyone had settled down, Anjani Kumar started the meeting by reiterating their importance to this case. “As you know, you are the best of all my officers. The time has come for you to prove your mettle again. This is an important case and pressure will build up from all quarters. The government’s top brass, politicians, the administrative machinery, media, both print and electronic, the general public and the museum authorities will all monitor the progress of this case. But, ignore all the hullabaloo and just focus on the work at hand. Remember, we might get negative press and receive a lot of flak if we can’t solve this case quickly. Don’t let any of these events distract or dishearten you. If we focus and do our jobs sincerely, we will ultimately win. We must ensure nothing is overlooked in investigating this case. All possible angles should be investigated with utmost sincerity.”

The task force team agreed enthusiastically. “We will do our best, Sir,” they chorused. The Commissioner felt reassured by their response.

“This is a major challenge for the Commissionerate and it’s my responsibility to bring the artefacts back to the museum. I will form several teams for this purpose as soon as I complete this meeting. You will need to monitor their investigation to ensure an absolutely foolproof investigation. I assure you that all the necessary logistical support for this case will be taken care of immediately. Spare no expense. I’ll personally ensure that we get the necessary monetary support. Utilise all the resources that you need in the Commissionerate. No need for prior approval. I don’t want any delay due to red tape and paperwork. Raise any requirement and I will immediately sanction it. I’ll also release some advance money and distribute it among you to meet any expenses during the investigation. I’ll give you complete operational freedom but ensure results as soon as possible.”

Excerpted with permission from The Hyderabad Heist: The Untold Story of India’s Biggest Museum Theft, Sharmishtha Shenoy, Rupa Publications.