Authors: Vikas Swarup
is a member of the Indian Foreign Service. His bestselling
Q & A
, has been translated into thirty-four
languages, and is being made into a film under the title
Also by Vikas Swarup
Q & A
For more information on Vikas Swarup and his books, visit his
website at www.vikasswarup.net
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The Hamilton Case
by Michelle de Kretser, published by
Chatto & Windus, used by permission of The Random House Group Ltd.
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'Murder, like all art, generates interpretation
and resists explanation.'
Michelle de Kretser,
The Hamilton Case
Arun Advani's column, 25 March
SIX GUNS AND A MURDER
Not all deaths are equal. There's a caste system even in
murder. The stabbing of an impoverished rickshawpuller
is nothing more than a statistic, buried in the inside
pages of the newspaper. But the murder of a celebrity
instantly becomes headline news. Because the rich and
famous rarely get murdered. They lead five-star lives and,
unless they overdose on cocaine or meet with a freak
accident, generally die a five-star death at a nice grey age,
having augmented both lineage and lucre.
That is why the murder of Vivek 'Vicky' Rai, the thirtytwo-
year-old owner of the Rai Group of Industries and son of
the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been dominating the
news for the past two days.
In my long and chequered career as an investigative
journalist I have carried out many exposés, from corruption in
high places to pesticides in cola bottles. My revelations have
brought down governments and closed down multinationals. In
the process, I have seen human greed, malice and depravity at
very close quarters. But nothing has revolted me more than the
saga of Vicky Rai. He was the poster boy for sleaze in this
country. For over a decade I tracked his life and crimes, like a
moth drawn irresistibly to the flame. It was a morbid fascination,
akin to watching a horror film. You know something
terrible is going to transpire, and so you sit transfixed, holding
your breath, waiting for the inevitable to happen. I received dire
warnings and death threats. Attempts were made to get me fired
from this paper. I survived. Vicky Rai didn't.
By now the facts of his murder are as well known as the
latest twists in the soap operas on TV. He was shot dead last
Sunday at 12.05 a.m. by an unknown assailant at his farmhouse
in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of Delhi. According to the forensic
report, he died of a single lacerating wound to his heart made
by a bullet fired at point-blank range. The bullet pierced his
chest, passed cleanly through his heart, exited from his back
and became lodged in the wooden bar. Death is believed to
have been instantaneous.
Vicky Rai had enemies, for sure. There were many who
hated his arrogance, his playboy lifestyle, his utter contempt for
the law. He built an industrial empire from scratch. And no one
can build an industrial empire in India without cutting corners.
Readers of this column will recall my reports detailing how
Vicky Rai engaged in insider trading at the stock market,
defrauded investors of their dividends, bribed officials and
cheated on his corporate tax. Still, he didn't get caught, always
managing to exploit some loophole or other to stay out of reach
of the law.
It was an art he had perfected at a very young age. He was
only seventeen the first time he was hauled up in court. A friend
of his father had given him a swanky new BMW, the five series,
on his birthday. He took it out for a spin with three of his
buddies. They had a noisy and boisterous celebration at a hip
pub. While driving back at three a.m. through thick fog, Vicky
Rai mowed down six homeless vagrants who were sleeping on
a pavement. He was stopped at a police checkpoint and found
to be completely sozzled. A case of rash and negligent driving
was lodged against him. But by the time the case came to trial,
all family members of the deceased had been purchased. No
witnesses could recall seeing a BMW that night. All they could
remember was a truck, with Gujarat licence plates. Vicky Rai
received a lecture from the judge on the dangers of drinkdriving
and a full acquittal.
Three years later, he was in court again charged with hunting
and killing two black bucks in a wildlife sanctuary in
Rajasthan. He professed he didn't know they were a protected
species. He thought it funny that a country that could not
protect brides from being burnt for dowry and young girls from
being picked up for prostitution should prosecute people for
killing deer. But the law is the law. So he was arrested and had
to stay in jail for two weeks before he managed to obtain bail.
We all know what happened next. The only eye witness,
Kishore – the forest ranger who was driving the open jeep –
died six months later in mysterious circumstances. The case
dragged on for a couple of years but ended, predictably, in
Vicky Rai's acquittal.
Given these antecedents, it was surely only a matter of time
before he graduated to open murder. It happened seven years
ago, on a hot summer night, at Mango, the trendy restaurant on
the Delhi–Jaipur highway, where he was throwing a big bash to
celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday. The party began at nine p.m.
and carried on well past midnight. A live band was belting out
the latest hits, imported liquor was flowing and Vicky Rai's
guests – an assortment of senior government officials,
socialites, current and former girlfriends, a few people from the
film industry and a couple of sports celebrities – were having a
good time. Vicky had a drink too many. At around two a.m. he
staggered to the bar and asked for another shot of tequila from
the bartender, a pretty young woman dressed in a white T-shirt
and denim jeans. She was Ruby Gill, a doctoral student at Delhi
University who worked part-time at Mango to support her
'I'm sorry, I can't give you another drink, Sir. The bar is
now closed,' she told him.
'I know, sweetie.' He flashed his best smile. 'But I want
just one last drink and then we can all go home.'
'I am sorry, Sir. The bar is closed. We have to follow regulations,'
she said, rather firmly this time.
'F**k your regulations,' Vicky snarled at her. 'Don't you
know who I am?'
'No, Sir, and I don't care. The rules are the same for everyone.
You will not get another drink.'
Vicky Rai flew into a rage. 'You bloody bitch!' he
screamed and whipped out a revolver from his suit pocket.
'This will teach you a lesson!' He fired at her twice, shooting
her in the face and the neck, in the presence of at least fifty
guests. Ruby Gill dropped dead and Mango descended into
bedlam. A friend of Vicky's reportedly grabbed his arm, led
him out to his Mercedes and drove him away from the restaurant.
Fifteen days later, Vicky Rai was arrested in Lucknow,
brought before a magistrate, and managed yet again to obtain
A murder over the mere refusal of a drink shook the
conscience of the nation. The combination of Vicky Rai's
notoriety and Ruby Gill's beauty ensured that the case stayed in
the headlines for weeks to come. Then summer passed into
autumn, and we moved on to new stories. When the case finally
came to trial, the ballistics report said that the two bullets had
been fired from two different guns. The murder weapon had
inexplicably 'disappeared' from the police strong-room where
it was being stored. Six witnesses, who claimed they had seen
Vicky Rai pull the gun, retracted their statements. After a trial
lasting five years, Vicky Rai received a full acquittal just over a
month ago, on 15 February. To celebrate the verdict he threw a
party at his Mehrauli farmhouse. And that is where he met his
Some will call this poetic justice. But the police call it an
IPC Section 302 crime – culpable homicide amounting to
murder – and have launched a nationwide search for the killer.
The Police Commissioner is personally supervising the investigation,
spurred, no doubt, by anxiety that the promised sinecure
of the Lieutenant Governorship of Delhi (reported six weeks
ago in this column) will vanish into thin air should he fail to
crack this case.
His diligence has yielded good results. My sources tell me
that six suspects are being held on suspicion of murdering
Vicky Rai. Apparently Sub-Inspector Vijay Yadav was on
traffic-control duty at the farmhouse when the killing occurred.
He immediately sealed off the premises and ordered the frisking
of each and every one of the three-hundred-odd guests,
waiters, gate-crashers and hangers-on there at the time. The
place was practically bristling with weaponry. During the
search, six individuals were discovered to have guns in their
possession, and were detained. I am sure they must have
protested. After all, simply carrying a gun is not an offence,
provided you have an arms licence. But when you take a gun to
a party at which the host gets shot, you automatically become
The suspects are a motley lot, a curious mélange of the bad,
the beautiful and the ugly. There is Mohan Kumar, the former
Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, whose reputation for
corruption and womanizing is unparalleled in the annals of the
Indian Administrative Service. The second is a dim-witted
American who claims to be a Hollywood producer. Spicing up
the mix is the well-known actress Shabnam Saxena, with
whom Vicky Rai was infatuated, if the gossip in the film
magazines is to be believed. There is even a jet-black, five-footnothing
tribal from some dusty village in Jharkhand who is
being interrogated at arm's length for fear that he might be one
of the dreaded Naxalites who infest that state. Suspect number
five is an unemployed graduate named Munna with a lucrative
sideline as a mobile-phone thief. And completing the line-up is
Mr Jagannath Rai himself, the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Vicky Rai's dad. Could a father stoop any lower?
The six guns recovered are equally assorted. There is a
British Webley & Scott, an Austrian Glock, a German Walther
PPK, an Italian Beretta, a Chinese Black Star pistol and a
locally made improvised revolver known as a
. The police
appear to be convinced that the murder weapon is one of these
six and are awaiting the ballistics report to match bullet to gun
and pinpoint the culprit.
Barkha Das interviewed me yesterday on her TV show.
'You devoted much of your career to exposing the misdeeds of
Vicky Rai and castigating him in your column. What do you
plan to do now that he is dead?' she asked me.
'Find his killer,' I replied.
'What for?' she wanted to know. 'Aren't you happy Vicky
Rai is dead?'
'No,' I said, 'because my crusade was never against Vicky
Rai. It was against the system which permits the rich and
powerful to believe that they are above the law. Vicky Rai was
only a visible symptom of the malaise that has infected our
society. If justice is really blind, then Vicky Rai's killer deserves
to be brought to account just as much as Vicky Rai did.'
And I say this again to my readers. I am going to track
down Vicky Rai's murderer. A true investigative journalist
cannot be swayed by his personal prejudices. He must follow
the cold logic of reason till the very end, no matter where and
who it leads to. He must remain an impartial professional seeking
only the bare truth.
Murder may be messy, but truth is messier. Tying up loose
ends will be difficult, I know. The life histories of all six
suspects will need to be combed. Motives will have to be
established. Evidence will need to be collated. And only then
will we discover the real culprit.
Which of these six will it be? The bureaucrat or the bimbo?
The foreigner or the tribal? The big fish or the small fry?
All I can tell my readers at this point in time is – watch this