MUMBAI: Former high-profile "encounter specialist" Pradeep Sharma on Friday joined the Shiv Sena, ending his 35-year-long police career. He is tipped to contest the assembly elections from Nala Sopara constituency in Palghar district.
Once featured on the cover of 'Time' magazine for gunning down over 150 dreaded criminals and terrorists, he had resigned from the Maharashtra Police in mid-July. At the time, he was the chief of the Thane Anti-Extortion Cell (AEC).
Once dreaded by the underworld and idolised by the masses as an "encounter Specialist", Sharma along with other prominent "encounter specialists" of the 1990s like Vijay Salaskar, Praful Bhosale, Arun Borude, Aslam Momin, Raju Pillai, Ravindra Angre and Daya Nayak helped "clear up the city of organized crime activities".
Many of these "gun-masters" were trained by then DGP Arvind Inamdar, sported sophisticated weapons, and frequently grabbed headlines for "encounter killings" of one or the other criminal from various gangs which used to operate in Mumbai, and occasionally even terrorists.
Many movies were inspired by their gangland exploits. At one point, as with many of his other "encounter specialist" colleagues, Sharma got embroiled in the custodial death of terror suspect Khwaja Yunus in 2003, and was transferred to Amravati.
In 2008, he was dismissed for allegedly harbouring links with the very same mafia he was battling, and arrested two years later for an alleged staged "encounter".
Undeterred, Sharma fought his dismissal before the Bombay High Court and Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, was acquitted and reinstated in the police force in 2016.
At his new posting as Thane AEC chief, two years ago, he shot to national prominence in September 2017 by arresting absconder mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar's younger brother, Iqbal, and blew the lid off a major extortion racket targeting builders and other wealthy persons in Mumbai and Thane.
Born in Uttar Pradesh and raised in Dhule (Maharahstra), the 59-year-old AEC chief was scheduled to retire from Maharashtra Police in May 2020.