Nirbhay Gujjar may have retired to Himalayas
Vijay Upadhyay / Etawah / Bhind
The Pioneer, Delhi
For 30 years, he ruled Chambal with an iron hand, but now it seems that weakened by age and constantly dogged by the police, Nirbhay Gujjar, the last edifice of the old stock of bandits from India's very own Wild West, may have "retired" to the Himalayas.
Reports filtering in from the Chambal ravines of Etawah district in Uttar Pradesh and adjoining Bhind in Madhya Pradesh indicate that this feared bandit of Chambal has finally given up his vocation, following the rising waters of the river and the depleting strength of his gang due to regular encounters by the police in the two states.
According to the villagers of Etawah, Bhind, Kalpi, and Jalaun districts, Nirbhay has not been seen in these parts for a while now and his regular contacts in the villages are no longer active. The gang has gone untraceable on the electronic surveillance net of the police.
Sources here also claimed that after his gambit of surrendering before UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav failed, this veteran bandit escaped across the border to Nepal in the guise of a Hindu sage, to live the rest of his life away from the eyes of the police, handing over the gang's leadership to his right hand man Mangli Kevat.
However, Etawah's Senior Superintendent of Police Daljit Chowdhary firmly refutes claims of Nirbhay's escape to Nepal. Talking to The Pioneer, Mr Chowdhary said the erstwhile 70-member strong Nirbhay gang is in its last throes, reduced to a paltry 10-12 bandits, only equipped with battered semi-automatics and one assault rifle, making the gang highly vulnerable in the frequent shootouts the police conducts.
On the question of Nirbhay's alleged escape, Mr Chowdhary, who has shot down 40 notorious bandits in only 11 months of his tenure, including one Nirbhay gang member in the Chief Minister's hometown, said the police is constantly tracking the gang's whereabouts. The group has been traced moving through Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh and Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, adjoining Etawah, although they are "not reachable" in the ravines, having slipped out of electronic surveillance.
Mr Chowdhary said Nirbhay faces 200 criminal cases in UP and MP and has a price of Rs 2.5 lakh on his head; it would not be so easy for him to escape and it is Mr Chowdhary's personal belief that Nirbhay will not live to surrender but that he shall be shot down, the time for which has arrived.
The police in Bhind too harbours such sentiments for this bandit. According to Mr RA Chowbey, Additional Superintendent of Police, Bhind, resources had never been a constraint in the operations mounted by the Madhya Pradesh police against Nirbhay. In fact, last April, then Superintendent of Police Shapoo had attacked the Nirbhay gang with only 10 men.
According to Mr Chowbey, though the dacoit narrowly escaped in this encounter, his adopted son Shyam Jatav was wounded and lost nerve soon enough. He surrendered before the Etawah police in July along with Nirbhay's "wife" Neelam, fearing he would be shot if he entered Madhya Pradesh again.
Since then, according to Mr Chowbey, the Nirbhay gang has refrained from venturing into Bhind and in the past one year there has been no visible activity by the Nirbhay gang in Madhya Pradesh. Still, he said, the Bhind police was cooperating with the police of Etawah and Jalaun districts and maintaining a noose over the gang, which, he believed, is hiding in the ravines of Jalaun district. Mr Chowbey said he was certain Nirbhay had not escaped to Nepal as the gang's locations is being constantly monitored.
However, if sources in Chambal are to be believed, Nirbhay's gang may still be active but the man himself may not be lurking in the forests, waiting for a police bullet to end his twisted career. Instead, they say, he has taken the easy way out by retiring to the mountains, tucked away from law's view.