The man who rode vehicle of death with Mumbai terrorists (Lead, Superseding earlier story)

December 30th, 2008 - 3:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Dec 30 (IANS) A bullet is still embedded in his arm and the ambush that killed Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar is yet to fade into mere memory. But Naik Arun Jadhav, who survived Nov 26 to tell the tale of terror, has found the strength to “carry forward the torch” handed to him by his superiors.There were seven policemen that night in the vehicle, including Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar, when it was caught in an ambush outside Cama Hospital on the fateful night of Nov 26. Only Jadhav survived to tell the full story.

With five bullet injuries, Jadhav, who works in the Anti-Extortion Wing and was Salaskar’s aide, sent the crucial wireless message about the movements of the terrorists that enabled the capture of Muhammad Amir Ajmal alias Kasab.

Now back home in his village Waduj in Maharashtra’s Satara district, Jadhav is happy to be alive. But the regrets remain - he could not save either his boss Salaskar or the other two officers.

“I could not lift my gun because of injuries on the right hand; and I had given away my pistol to a police officer a while earlier,” Jadhav told IANS, adding that he could have killed both the terrorists if he had the pistol in his right hand.

But he thinks in retrospect that it was good as Kasab is alive for interrogation.

With 20 years of police service behind him including 12 years of fighting underworld goons and after a close encounter with deadly terrorists, Jadhav wants to dedicate his second innings to his mentor Salaskar’s memory.

“He was a lion-hearted man - demon for the goons and angel for his colleagues; he would always call me ‘bhau’ (brother) and say if I am encounter specialist, you are encounter master,” Jadhav said as he broke down.

“I will live to carry forward the torch he has handed down to me,” added the police officer, who hopes to be back at work in a month.

Giving details of what happened that night - the beginning of Mumbai’s 60 hours of terror that killed more than 170 people - Jadhav said: “As Kamte sahib and Salaskar sir, joined by Karkare sahib near Cama hospital, decided to enter the building to help out Sadanand Date sahib (additional commissioner of police) and his staff battling terrorists inside the hospital, Salaskar sir told me to stay back but I insisted on going with him.”

The three officers and Jadhav had reached the spot separately about 45 minutes after the terrorists fired indiscriminately at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). The officers were thinking of the best way to enter Cama hospital to join Sadanand Date. (Cama hospital is a five-minute walk from CST.)

Just then, an injured constable came out of the hospital premises and told them that Date and all six personnel accompanying him were grievously hurt and that the terrorists were lurking somewhere on the fifth floor of the hospital.

A terrorist hurled a hand grenade from the fifth floor and Kamte instantly responded with a burst of fire from his AK-47.

This perhaps prompted the terrorists (Kasab and Ismail) to flee from the hospital building, Jadhav surmises.

“As we (the three officers, a driver, two wireless operators and Jadhav) were moving towards the hospital’s front gate, we got a wireless message that two terrorists were hiding behind bushes near a red coloured car on the way we were taking,” Jadhav recalled.

“Kamte sahib told Salaskar sir, who had taken the steering a while earlier, to proceed slowly. An exchange of fire started within moments…”

Even as one of the terrorists (Kasab) received bullet injuries on both his hands, the other one, hiding some distance away (Ismail) opened fire on the police vehicle, injuring all its occupants.

“I was alive and fully in my senses though three bullets had pierced my right elbow and two had scratched my left shoulder,” Jadhav said, adding that he thought all others too might be alive.

“But they were all dead,” he recalled with a lump in his throat.

Jadhav lay still, feigning death amid the corpses of the driver and two wireless operators as the terrorists dragged out the bodies of Kamte and Salaskar from the front seats and of Karkare from the one behind and threw them on the road.

“They wanted to drag us out too but could not open the third door of the Qualis as it had got locked from inside. Thinking that all four of us were dead, they drove the vehicle with our ‘bodies’ stacked behind them and stopped near Vidhan Bhavan as a punctured tyre loosened out, baring the disc,” Jadhav said.

He was able to bear the acute pain of the five bullet injuries and lie motionless without a whimper for about 15 minutes that the terrorists zigzagged through south Mumbai.

During those 15 minutes, Jadhav had another close call - the cell-phone of one of the dead policemen rang and the terrorist sitting next to the driver’s seat opened fire behind him without looking back.

“I quickly ducked behind the seat and saved myself.”

(Shyam Pandharipande can be contacted at shyam.p@ians.in)

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