A hushed silence can perhaps best describe the mood inside the Telangana police, 48 hours after Mohammed Nayeemuddin, a Maoist renegade-turned-extortionist, was gunned down in Shadnagar, 50 km from Hyderabad, on Monday.

“We acted on specific intel-based info which cannot be revealed,” is all that officers who were either directly or indirectly part of “Operation Nayeem” are willing to say.

Within hours of the killing, Nayeem’s two homes in Cyberabad, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, were raided and cash worth nearly Rs 2.5 crore and some 400 original and xerox copies of land documents of property running into thousands of acres were said to have been recovered. Women and children, who lived in those houses, were detained by the police.

The official position of Andhra Pradesh police for close to a decade had been that Nayeem had gone underground and his whereabouts were not known. But questions are being raised how, if they did not know of his whereabouts, they were able to raid his homes within minutes of the encounter.

It was united Andhra Pradesh’s worst kept secret that Nayeemuddin enjoyed state patronage. “He was allowed to operate as a virtual don,” said VS Krishna, civil rights activist, “settling private land and business disputes with undisguised use of violence, making a fortune for himself and his associates with the police benignly looking on and perhaps even taking a share of the gains.”

Police officers, who worked in Maoist-affected districts of united Andhra Pradesh, alleged senior officers had developed a symbiotic relationship with Nayeem. It did not matter to them that Nayeem had blood on his hands, they claimed – he was alleged to have been responsible for the killing of Indian Police Service officer KS Vyas, who was at the forefront of anti-Naxal operations in Andhra Pradesh.

Turning Nayeem’s hatred for his former comrades in the People’s War (as the Maoist outfit was called before 2004), to its advantage, the renegade was allegedly used to terrorise Maoist sympathisers and even leaders. Several letterhead fronts like Kakatiya Cobras, Green Tigers and Nallamalla Cobras took responsibility for specific hits. Targets were finished brutally, a violent method that came to be seen as a trademark of Nayeem.

Over a period of time, Nayeem branched out into settling civil disputes and extorting from the well-off. “Key officers working in specific departments of the police force also benefited from him,” said an officer who served in the Andhra police a decade ago. “He helped some of them procure land on the outskirts of Hyderabad using his men and methods.’’

Unanswered questions

Given this background, it is difficult to believe that he was “untraceable’’, say rights activists. How could he have run an empire, owning thousands of acres, worth nearly Rs 10,000 crore, without anyone in the political or police machinery getting a whiff of it? Which is why “Operation Nayeem” raises many questions, they say. Was it a genuine encounter on Monday morning? Who wanted him out of the way? Who ordered that he be finished off?

The Human Rights Forum has demanded that a probe that is independent of officers from Telangana and Andhra alone can establish whether or not the encounter was above board. “The police personnel who participated in the alleged encounter of Nayeemudin should be booked under relevant sections of IPC, including murder,’’ said Jeevan Kumar, President of the HRF.

“Nayeem died during an encounter with a gang involved with extortions,’’ says Mahbubnagar Superintendent of Police Rema Rajeswari. The police had received specific intelligence alert that Nayeemuddin was going to be at Millennium Township after which the plan to catch him was put in place, say other officials.

Extortion threats from Nayeem’s 50-strong armed gang is one of the many possible theories doing the rounds. Many businessmen and MLAs from Nayeem’s home district Nalgonda district in particular were said to have been targeted and complained to the Telangana chief minister. Bhongir MLA Shekar Reddy managed to persuade the chief minister last year to enhance his security, almost to the level of a minister, complete with a bullet-proof vehicle.

Political pressure may have made the police decide to get rid of the Frankenstein’s monster, whom some men in khaki are alleged to have encouraged.

At Nayeem's funeral in Nalgonda district, his mother Tahera Begum claimed to district reporters that the police had picked up Nayeem and three family members two days back, alleging that it was a cold-blooded murder.

The Gujarat angle

What adds another layer of controversy to the encounter is the Gujarat angle to Nayeem. He was believed to have been the last elusive link in the mystery that continues to shroud the notorious encounter killing of gangster Sohrabuddin, allegedly at the behest of then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah. (It led to Shah's arrest in 2010 and eventual acquittal and discharge).

Nayeem was widely believed to have invited Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi to Hyderabad in 2005 and was alleged to have then tipped off Gujarat police, through his friends in Andhra police, leading to their eventual abduction and killing by police. Though some Andhra policemen were questioned by the CBI in connection with the case, Nayeem’s role was not established.

Interestingly, the Gujarat police had earlier referred to Nayeemuddin as Kalimuddin in their investigation, claiming that he was on board a Hyderabad-Sangli bus with Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi when they were allegedly abducted by policemen from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. This was disputed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, who claimed that the third person on board the bus was not Kalimuddin but Tulsiram Prajapati, who in turn was also killed in a police encounter in December 2006.

Geeta Johri, the senior police officer who conducted the probe, claimed Nayeemuddin to have been a police informer and an accused in the 2003 murder of former Gujarat minister Haren Pandya, in her curative petition before the Supreme Court:

“Nayeemuddin of Hyderabad, who is one of the absconding accused in the Pandya case, is none else than Kalimuddin, a known People’s War Group leader-turned-police informer. Kalimuddin was an associate of Sohrabuddin. If the Gujarat Police had known that Kalimuddin and Nayeemuddin were the same person, we would have arrested him earlier.”

The Telangana police, on its part, is concentrating on labelling Nayeem as a mercenary and a criminal, whom the system has finally been able to eliminate, asking victims of his atrocities to lodge complaints against him.

A special investigation team has been formed because there are many cases against Nayeem in different districts. While no one is shedding tears for Nayeem, no one is blind to the police’s attempt to whitewash any links some of its officers had with him.