Dhirendra Brahmachari calls crackdown on gun factory in Jammu ‘political vendetta’

first_imgDhirendr BrahmachariIt was one move by Farooq Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, which could have been guaranteed to stir up a hornet’s nest in and out of Parliament. Abdullah’s police cracked down on two gun factories at the Gandhinagar industrial estate in Jammu, hauling in barrels, butts and,Dhirendr BrahmachariIt was one move by Farooq Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, which could have been guaranteed to stir up a hornet’s nest in and out of Parliament. Abdullah’s police cracked down on two gun factories at the Gandhinagar industrial estate in Jammu, hauling in barrels, butts and complete firing and locking mechanisms, all imported from Spain and sufficient to make 615 Spanish sporting guns by the application of the proverbial screwdriver.The bigger of the two factories, Shiva Gun Factory, is owned by Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, the ‘flying yogi’ who is regarded by many as being connected with the Gandhi household. Components enough to make 500 guns were recovered from his premises, whereas those for another 115 guns were found in the factory of the neighbouring Khairuddin and Company.It was before a packed court-room that the Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir, V. Khalid, read out his order, granting interim anticipatory bail to Brahmachari but asking him to furnish a surety of Rs 2 lakh, two personal bonds of the same amount, and stipulating that he would not move out of Delhi, his home town, and would make himself available to the police in Jammu and Kashmir whenever required.Earlier, Dharam Chand, a partner of Brahmachari, Laxman Chaudhary, the manager and Brahmachari’s nephew, and Yogendra Jha, the store-keeper, had been arrested and a warrant had been issued against Brahmachari.Imported components: Bizarre dramaThe charges: violation of as many as nine provisions of the Indian Arm’s Act.Wide Notice: The case was naturally lapped up by the media. The extent of the alleged crime was overshadowed by the weight of the personality in question the – dhoti-clad swami hovering for nearly a decade now in the twilight zone between politics and business.advertisementFuelling the fire of curiosity was the rumour of Brahmachari having lately fallen out of favour with 1 Safdarjung Road, a rumour made potent by the abrupt discontinuation of his television programmes, Yogabhyas, early this year.For Farooq, it was a clever plan to catch Mrs Gandhi on the wrong foot because her connection with Brahmachari is so well publicised that the flak going towards him is bound to hit her as well.Brahmachari is of course a deft manipulator, having worked his way upward from the anonymity of a rustic background in north Bihar to the glittering company of successive prime ministers of India, extensive media attention, and acknowledged VIP status.But the fiasco in Jammu also puts to test his capacity to outwit his detractors and to be able to play once more his ace – the Mrs Gandhi card.Obvious Overtones: Though the charges are serious, the political overtones of the episode could not have been more obvious. On November 19, a bare 12 hours after the first search had been made at the premises of the Shiva Gun Factory, Farooq himself accompanied the police team that seized the gun barrels and rounded up the three men.Next day, the chief minister was in New Delhi discussing with opposition MP’s the Brahmachari affair. On November 21, when non-Congress(I) members staged a walk-out from the Lok Sabha demanding a statement from the Union Government, Farooq was seated in the VIP enclosure, observing the discomfiture of the treasury bench.During his stay in the capital, Farooq called on Brahmachari in his Vishwayatan Yogashram on Ashok Road, ostensibly to “inform him of the charges being brought against him”.Police at the Shiva Gun Factory: Sudden crackdownIt hardly assuaged Brahmachari’s feelings, greatly roused by such unaccustomed incursions by the state into his business affairs. At a press conference called immediately after the tete-a-tete with his tormentor, the swami quoted a Sanskrit sloka which meant that a king was “like a prostitute, favouring you now and punishing you when it does not suit him”. He maintained that he had done everything in accordance with law, and the case was a plain concoction by the overzealous chief minister, “a blackmail and a political stunt”.The blackmail theory was Brahmachari’s legal defence, to which O.P. Sharma, his thick-jowled, assertive lawyer added the glib motive that Farooq, by applying pressure on Brahmachari, had in fact wanted him to act as intermediary and improve Farooq’s relations with Mrs Gandhi.Still no statement in his defence was forthcoming from any recognised leader of the Congress(I), thus confirming the view (INDIA TODAY, August 15) that his stock with the prime minister’s house had plummeted.In the application for anticipatory bail, Brahmachari’s counsel noted: “in a most irresponsible manner a false case has been concocted against the petitioner (Brahmachari) which stands registered under the fir No 364 of 1983 in the Police Station. Gandhi Nagar, Jammu. The copy of this FIR would show that it starts with vague allegations to the effect that on 18th November, 1983 there was a report at 4:30 p.m. that a sufficient quantity of barrels and guns with identification marks of a foreign country and an equal number of spares had been stored in Shed No. 6 of the factory and as such ex-facie offence U/S 3/25 of the Indian Arms Act seems to have been committed.”advertisementThe petition added: “There are public documents duly executed by the government authorities which are evidence to the fact that the firm M/s Shiva Gun Factory have been carrying on the manufacturing business with a clear conscience and without any criminal intention. There is no violation of any law, licence or notification, neither the same is indicated in the five days’ investigation by the police.”In Jammu Brahmachar owns three huge estates, including the fortress-like Aparna Ashram at Mantlai on the southern slope of the Shivaliks in Udhampur district and the gun factory, which went onstream in 1980 within months of Mrs Gandhi’s return to power, has since been looked upon with awe and curiosity.The combination of yoga and the firearms is of course a teasing puzzle. But still more confounding is the steep rise in its fortunes. After just three years in business, Shiva Gun Factory is already the second largest among the state’s 25 gun makers, and the largest of the 23 huddled in one block of sheds at Gandhinagar industrial estate.Shed No. 9 of the Shiva Gun Factory: Thriving businessIt is licensed to make 3,000 single and double-barrel guns in a year, but most of the neighbouring factories, though in existence for decades, could not get licence limits enhanced beyond 600-800.However, Brahmachari was licensed by the Union Home Ministry – when Giani Zail Singh was the home minister – to manufacture the guns under Form Nine of the Indian Arms Act. There are two other kinds of licence possible in the small arms trade, under Forms Eleven and Twelve, by which the licencees can repair and “keep and sell” the guns respectively.A Form Nine licence-holder can of course sell the guns he has made, but has no right to trade in guns of a different make, or those which have just been assembled by him through a factory process not covered by the scope of the word ‘manufacture’.Simple Operation: In 1981 and 1982, when Brahmachari’s factory made and sold 3,000 guns worth an estimated Rs 37.5 lakh each year the process he employed was similar to the general practice in the small arms trade: rolling mild steel into a barrel shape, threading and boring holes through it, machining the body and the trigger, sawing the butt into shape, varnishing it, and putting the components together.The product was a fully indigenous Indian gun. Says Charan Pal Singh, secretary-general of the All India Arms Dealers’ Association: “To my knowledge, no Indian gun-maker uses foreign parts or components. The fact that Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari was using or, as the police say, assembling imported components is a revelation to me.”advertisementWith a single-barrel gun made in Brahmachari’s factory priced at around Rs 800 (double-barrel: Rs 1,700), it was considered cheap by Indian standards. Guns made- at Monghyr district in Bihar, the Mecca of the Indian small arms industry, now sell at Rs 1,500 and upwards for single-barrel, depending on finishing and workmanship.Brahmachari sold his guns through registered dealers, and even the police in Jammu affirmed they had no evidence of the guns finding their way into the hands of Sikh extremists.Lawyer Sharma: Rebutting the chargesForeign Connection: However, in a move bearing the hall-mark of Brahmachari’s business genius, he entered into an agreement early this year with Carrero Y. Astellara, the Spanish makers of guns and other firearms, for what he described as “components of guns” but what a police official in Jammu described as “complete guns in a knocked-down condition”.S. Balbir Singh, chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Small-scale Gun Manufacturers’ Association, who owns the nearby Friends Gun Factory, trotted out the relevant figures. According to Singh, an imported Spanish single-barrels gun would sell in India for a price varying between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500 depending on quality. Since the barrel and the body, as seen after the seizure, distinctly carry the ‘Made in Spain’ markings, Brahmachari’s guns could be sold as authentic Spanish guns.The cost of components, with duty and freight paid – as Singh estimated it – would be about Rs 600 per single-barrel gun, whereas that of a double-barrel gun would be Rs 2,500. With a Spanish double-barrel gun costing Rs 15,000 in India, Brahmachari could easily earn a profit.The disputed consignment would have fetched him Rs 14.5 lakhs, by trading in the 500 foreign guns bought lock, stock and barrel.However, when Shiva Gun Factory was allotted importers’ code number B 8211595 on February 21 this year, it was on an application that it would import parts of arms including gun barrels and blanks; components of 12-bore shot-guns; metal joining machinery and tools; and explosive items. Brahmachari’s plea is that, being an actual user (that is, a licensed industrial undertaking), he is free to import the necessary components under open general licence (OGL).Differences: The basic difference between an Indian gun and a European gun is in the metal. Whereas the barrel of an Indian gun is made of mild steel, prone to bursting whenever there is an obstruction in the path of the bullet, the European gunsmiths use alloy steel of a higher grade, more ductile and malleable, which would ‘bulge’ rather than burst in the event of a firing jam.Gun-dealers holding licence under Form Twelve of the Indian Arms Act often ask, and get, fancy price for English, Czechoslovak and Spanish sporting guns.Talking to the press, Brahmachari asserted that he had decided to import foreign components to “improve the quality of the product”. He repeated the argument that, as actual user, a term defined in the Union Government’s Import-Export policy manual as an industrial undertaking duly licensed to manufacture any goods, he was fully entitled to import the components.He produced the customs documents as well as the importer’s code number, allotted to him by the chief controller of imports and exports, to prove his bona fides as a legal importer.However, the prosecution counsel, while challenging Brahmachari’s petition for anticipatory bail, said:what Brahmachari was claiming to be components of guns were really complete guns in broken-down condition;he is licensed to store fire-arms and their components in Shed No. 9, but he stored them in Shed No. 6 which, though belonging to Shiva Gun Factory, is not mentioned in the 1983 licence;he brought the “guns” to Jammu & Kashmir without securing a ‘no objection certificate’ from either the home secretary of the state or the commissioner of police of Delhi, the place where the consignment arrived. This, the counsel added, amounted to “clandestine” movement of arms and was punishable under Section 26 of the Indian Arms Act, the maximum punishment for which was imprisonment for seven years.The legality of the import and use of the components will naturally be decided by the court. But the news of Brahmachari’s Spanish connection could not have leaked out had it not irked the labour force, 101 of whom (out of 131) had been employed on casual basis and had been asked to leave last month because, as Laxman Chaudhary said, “the licence quota for the year had been fulfilled”.As a matter of fact, some of the workers told police that their future was uncertain because the owners would from now on require only a minimal work-force for just joining the parts together. Farooq said the police stormed into the factory only after they were “tipped off” about the Spanish guns by the workers.However, the move against Brahmachari could not have been purely accidental; indulgence is perhaps the right word that sums up the relationship till recently between Brahmachari on one hand and the late Sheikh Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah on the other. Even Farooq admitted, though on an obvious note of injured innocence: “He (Brahmachari) has been kind to me all his life. He knew my father. I did not know that he’d take advantage of this and use this facility for virtual gun-running.”Friendly Exchanges: The friendship is obvious from the fact that Farooq, on assuming chief ministership of Jammu & Kashmir, made use of the Swami’s six-seater Cessna aircraft a number of times: between October 1982 and April 1983, the aircraft’s log-book shows at least eight entries of the chief minister’s name.However, more significant is the fact that the National Conference Government had continuously overlooked the manner in which Brahmachari and the various societies floated by him had acquired immovable property in Jammu & Kashmir.Under the Permanent Resident’s Certificate Act of Jammu & Kashmir, read with the Transfer of Property Act valid in the state, no transfer of land is possible in favour of someone who is not a permanent resident of Jammu & Kashmir unless it is with express permission of the state Cabinet. However, at Mantlai, altogether 628 kanals and 14 marlas (roughly 79 acres) of land has been allowed to be transferred to Aparna Ashram, of which Brahmachari is the director, from 71 small plot-owners.The Jammu & Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1978, says that any such transfer without permission of the revenue minister is void. This act was amended in 1981 and the restriction was removed to the extent of transfer up to four kanals.Religious Offerings: However, 37 of the 71 plots transferred to Aparna Ashram measured more than four kanals. As many as 52 transfers were effected after 1975, so that the National Conference Government cannot take the plea that the earlier Congress regime had ordered all the transfers.Revenue Minister Pyare Lai Handoo says the transfers were executed in the guise of religious offering, or sankalp. He agreed that sankalp had no legal sanctity. In fact, his department is currently raking up land records. “We must take action on ascertaining the facts,” he said on behalf of the Government after 12 year of inaction. The first transfer at Mantlai was effected in 1971.The Aparna Ashram at Mantlai is a sort of yogic Xanadu complete with a 15-acre airstrip, control tower, two hangars, a swimming pool, central road as spacious as Delhi’s Janpath, orchard, lawns and a building-cum-hostel complex with a close-circuit colour television network, which is fully air-conditioned, marble-floored and designed like a tree with rows of rooms resting on suspended cantilevers. All this was built on land whose tenure was, at best, uncertain.Said Bhim Singh, MLA from Chenani in Udhampur district: “The Central Government allowed Brahmachari to build his palace knowing well that the airstrip was only seven miles from a sensitive radar unit and less than 15 miles from the headquarters of the entire Northern Command. The state Government ignored the illegality of the land transfers. Brahmachari certainly knows magic.”In 1978, when the late Sheikh was the chief minister, the state Government issued a gazetted notification allowing “a transfer of immovable property situated at Katra and the villages contiguous to it in favour of Vishwayatan Yogashram, a society registered under the Societies’ Registration Act, 1860”. Brahmachari is the director of Vishwayatan Yogashram too.Thus, the transfer of 177 kanals of land to the Yogashram was legalised at Katra, an important centre along the pilgrim trail to the shrine of Vaishno Devi. The Katra ashram too is now equipped with an air-strip, two-way radio communication equipment and control tower.The third unit of the swami’s yoga establishments in Jammu is currently coming up at Gandhinagar, the upper class residential suburb of Jammu city, only two miles from the airport. In the Gandhinagar area, construction of only two floors, or up to 35 feet, is allowed; but Aparna Ashram is building a six-storey 90-feet structure without permission from the Jammu Municipal Council.A recommendation to that effect by Ved Bajaj, president of the council, to demolish the building has not been acted upon. The municipal records also say that the land does not belong to Aparna Ashram but to Sohan Singh, a taxi-driver of Jammu, though the signboard of Aparna Ashram is consipicuously displayed at the building.Deft Manoeuvres: However, none of his other enterprises could grow faster than his arms business. Brahmachari secured the licence to manufacture guns, again, by a series of deft manipulations: firstly, by picking up a mechanic, Dharam Chand, whose own petty repairing licence had lapsed on non-use 30 years ago; then by offering him finances and getting his licence upgraded to initially a licence for making one gun at a time (1977), and then for making 3,000 guns (1980).If the state Government had not abruptly gone and thrown a spanner in the works, the Spanish deal would have given him a clear headstart in the market for superior guns by paying moderate customs duty on imported components.And his field of activity would invariably have been Jammu & Kashmir, a state which he has frequented since early ’50s and where he feels secure. During the Janata period, he shifted to Mantlai and possibly would not have come back to Delhi if Mrs Gandhi had not returned.Says Farooq: “Look at his Delhi Ashram which, with its cheap partition walls, frayed upholstery and ramshackle structure, looks like a transit camp. And look at his places in Jammu, solidly built, massive and secure.” Apparently, the swami always kept in mind the contingency of the fluctuating fortunes of his patrons in Delhi, and regarded Jammu & Kashmir as a haven of continuity, where the ruling people would always remain on the right side of Mrs Gandhi and her minions.The police entered the premises of Shiva Gun Factory shattering the unusual swami’s fond dreams.last_img

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