Home Book Review THE TALE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY HEIST

THE TALE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY HEIST

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BOOK REVIEW
THE SCAM THAT SHOOK A NATION: THE NAGARWALA SCANDAL; PRAKASH PATRA, RASHEED KIDWAI; HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS; 2024;Rs399; PP263.
BY ARVINDAR SINGH
Does the name Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala ring a bell? Or the name Ved Prakash Malhotra? Or DK Kashyap? To people of a certain generation they certainly would. On 24 May 1971, a heist of monumental proportions took place at the State Bank of India Parliament Street, New Delhi.
At 11.45 AM the phone of Ved Prakash Malhotra Chief Cashier at this branch of the Bank rang and Malhotra was told that PN Haksar Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was on the line to tell him that Rs 60 Lakhs (approximately Rs 107 crores value in today`s money according to the authors) was required for the Bangladesh liberation struggle. Malhotra demurred, after which Haksar put Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the line and she told Malhotra that the money for Bangladesh had to be delivered to a courier near the Free Church on Parliament Street, and he would be given a receipt for the money at the Prime Minister`s house. Malhotra did so and when he went for a receipt he was told that no such conversation had taken place.
Malhotra rushed to inform the Police who after a chase to various places nabbed the culprit Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala, a former army captain at the Parsi Dharamshala the same evening and recovered the swindled cash. In his confession Nagarwala claimed he had mimicked the voice of Haksar and Indira Gandhi. In police custody he mimicked voices and performed some magic tricks also. Three days later Nagarwala was convicted by the lower court, that is on 27 May 1971, for two years Rigorous Imprisonment on the basis of his confessional statement at a speedy trial unprecedented in judicial history.
Nagarwala later appealed against the verdict but died in prison while under treatment for a heart ailment.
DK Kashyap earlier died in a road accident. Thus two crucial persons connected with the case passed away within a year of the episode.
The Janata government formed in 1977 appointed a commission headed by a former supreme court judge P. Jaganmohan Reddy to enquire into the affair. Various persons appeared before it including a Jail inmate called Shastri who was with Nagarwala in prison. He told the enquiry that Nagarwala had told him that ultimately the money had to be given to the younger son of the Prime Minister Sanjay Gandhi, and this had to be done by another intermediary who did not show up. To another co-prisoner Rajendra Singh he (Nagarwala) said the plan was entirely his own. Also rumoured at the time was that Sanjay Gandhi was to leave for Mauritius on the night of 24 May 1971 but this was never proved. Nagarwala also told Malhotra that he was to be on an air force plane from Palam airport but this angle was never followed up by the police.
The then Prime Minister Morarji Desai also appeared before the Reddy commission and alleged that the money did not belong to the bank and had been kept there at Indira Gandhi`s behest and thus a massive amount was withdrawn with such ease by the head cashier on a mere telephone call. He told the Prime Minister over the phone “Mataji, I will do the needful!” The mystery was never solved and remains one of the biggest scams in independent India.
The book is written in the style of a thriller and holds the reader as the shocking details of the case are revealed even 53 years after it actually happened. Of the authors Prakash Patra is a Delhi based journalist and has had experience of working with the print media for more than forty years. Rasheed Kidwai is a former Associate Editor of The Telegraph and has written a number of books including a biography of Sonia Gandhi. It can be said that this book is an extremely attention-grabbing piece of work.