The unarmed cop who took on 26/11 attackers

Rajvardhan, a daring police officer who fought the terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel on 26/11, discusses the terror attacks and its aftermath with‘s Vaihayasi Pande Daniel in an exclusive interview.

Mumbai police officer Rajvardhan (left) reads Indian history, non-fiction, spiritualism, philosophy, in his frustratingly-limited free time. William Dalrymple. Alex Rutherford. Larry Collins-Dominique Lapierre. Whatever he can lay his hands on.

Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram, with its Mumbai setting, streets away from his home, was an interesting read. It reminded him of his college days in Delhi and hanging out at similar, mildly-grubby ‘joints’.

Late one evening, five years ago, when he heard there had been a curious round of firing in south Mumbai, at the Leopold Cafe, Colaba, the first thing that came to his mind was Shantaram. And the possibility that a new chapter of a gangland fight was unfolding at the (then) 121-year-old, buzzed, boisterous cafe.

He rushed to the Colaba police station from his home, and then across the road to Leopold without a gun. His job, then, as deputy commissioner of police at the Special Branch 2, did not require him to carry a gun on his person. He usually kept a revolver in his briefcase.

He reached Leopold probably 20 minutes after three Pakistani terrorists left the cafe’s premises to walk up to the back entrance of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, a few seconds from the Gateway of India.

On their trail, now much more puzzled over these mysterious gunmen, the gutsy Rajvardhan followed, headed up the shadowy lane that ran next to the cafe, past the tailor shop, the medical store, the Bagdadi restaurant, to the hotel.

Only when he entered the Taj — saw the endless spent AK-47 cartridges littering the polished marble floor, the spreading pools of blood and the appalling number of bodies slumped about — did an odd chill start to scuttle up his spine.

No, this was not out of Shantaram. This was a terrorist attack.

For the next 24 hours, or so, after he grabbed a revolver from injured Inspector Dhole, Rajvardhan — who has seen action, and perhaps more bodies in the worst Naxalite belt of Maharashtra, at Gadchiroli — fought a battle, shoulder to shoulder, with his Indian Police Service batch-mate, Vishwas Nangre Patil (then deputy commissioner of police, Mumbai, Zone 1) against a band of terrorists.

He deftly dodged near death, but was injured.

Patil, Rajvardhan and a small band of about 10 policemen/Taj security personnel, one of whom died, courageously made the best of a dreadful situation, holding the fort, steadfastly engaging heavily-armed terrorists with minimum weapons, preventing them, largely, from continuing their killing spree, till reinforcements arrived.‘s Vaihayasi Pande Daniel‘s exclusive three-part interview with the daring police officer:

You knew it was a terrorist attack when you reached the Taj. Did you not see the cartridges at Leopold?

There were cartridges. But I did not see them.

When I entered the Taj I saw them. I saw the dog (the Labrador belonging to Taj security) and I saw that if there is anyone there, they are dead.

Then I realised it is something bigger.

Apart from that, what also made me realise it was something bigger was because if it were gang wars, or somebody was shooting like this, they would have left by now.

Why was that someone not leaving? But going up and up (deeper into) the Taj.

So it meant they had not come here to leave easily.

At that moment, what did you think it was?

I thought it was a terror attack.

But there are all kinds of terror attacks…

To be very frank with you, till the next day I did not know they were Pakistanis.

Mr (Vishwas Nangre) Patil is in charge of that area so he was supposed to be there. I had gone just like that.

He was slightly shaken up at that time, anyone would be. (When he saw me at the Taj) he asked me: Please help me out. I said okay, but I don’t have a pistol or anything with me.

So I borrowed a revolver and I went inside. We tried to secure all the cutouts (exits or possible contact points in police operation parlance) of the ground floor. I thought it would be a bigger embarrassment if they shot many (more) people upstairs and come down and quietly walk away.

At least we should secure all the exits so they should not be able to run away, after what they were done. I blocked all the entrances and the elevators so they become non-functional.

When did you knew they were Pakistani terrorists?

I could not hear them speak. I came to know from my boss (the next day). I had to inform him, because I was injured, and he was my boss. So I asked him: Any idea who they were?

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