360 degrees: The gangs of Mumbai

After Varadarajan Mudaliar’s chapter ended, Dawood Ibrahim’s rise began

With Chhota Rajan’s arrest, the reign of Mumbai’s infamous dons is almost over. The city has come a long way from gang war days.

Two theories have been floating around since the arrest of Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan in Bali, Indonesia. One is that the Mumbai don willingly surrendered due to his worsening health and threats from his former master Dawood. The other theory is that Rajan was to escape to Zimbabwe, but his aide Vicky Malhotra turned on him and leaked his passport details to Chhota Shakeel, who in turn leaked it to India’s intelligence agencies.

Rajan’s arrest comes at a time when there are few signs of underworld activity in Mumbai. The biggest name of all — Dawood Ibrahim — has been away for decades. A source from the Property Cell of the Mumbai crime branch said, “Dawood seems to be inactive, though he was booked by Delhi police in the IPL betting case.” Police inspector Ajay Sawant of the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) says, “We haven’t heard about Dawood in the past five years.”

However, a recently-retired deputy commissioner of police of Mumbai crime branch, who served for three decades in the police force, says, “Abhi bhi sab chal raha hai…lekin shanti se. (The gangs are still active, but are doing their work silently). Dawood’s gang members are still into drugs, construction business, hawala transactions (money laundering), betting rackets. But things are under control now.”

Another of the big gang leaders, Arun Gawli, is in jail. However, he has not lost influence, according to the former DCP. “Gawli is behind bars, but still if some construction work is to take place in Agripada, Gawli’s aides create hindrance. The work goes on silently, but if someone comes in their way they have the potential to retaliate,” he says. As for Rajan, he has had a few cases in recent years. According to former police inspector and chief investigating officer in 26/11 attacks, Ramesh Mahale, “The J Dey murder, the murder case involving Iqbal Kaskar’s bodyguard, and a few more cases are there against him from recent times.”

The most active gang at present is that of Ravi Pujari, a former Rajan gang member. Between 2010-2014 Pujari’s gang was involved in extortion and at least six firing cases. There are around 35 criminal cases against Pujari in Mumbai and the Mumbai police is in touch with Interpol to try and extradite him. Like Rajan, he is suspected to be in Australia.

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The roots: The beginning of the Mumbai’s gangland started somewhere between 1960 to 1970, with four mobsters — Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Yusuf Patel and Varadarajan Mudaliar — running illegal activities in Mumbai. While Mastan, Patel and Mudaliar were said to be only smugglers, Lala was said to be a notorious and violent don hailing from Afghanistan who ran the Pathan Gang with his sons.

According to former RAW officer Vappala Balachandran, in the 1980s there were fights between the Pathan Gang led by Karim Lala and Desi Gang led by Haji Mastan. Originally both Mastan and Lala were partners. “But the next generation started fighting over illegal business and their relations soured. Dawood, who was a petty criminal, joined Desi Gang. Arun Gawli was initially associated with the Dawood Gang. Chhota Rajan was also Dawood’s close confidante. But greed, jealousy and the idea of leading a gang makes all such followers revolt against their leaders and form their own gangs,” he said.

Rise of the dons: Former Mumbai commissioner of police (CP) (1982-1985), Julio Ribeiro (86) said, “Dawood was a muscle man during my tenure as CP. Chhota Rajan was not even heard of. Before I became CP, Dawood was arrested in a robbery case and during my time he was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail. Dawood appealed in a higher court and pending appeal got out on bail and became untraceable in 1983. Varadarajan Mudaliar had gained prominence by then and I had asked my subordinate Y.C. Pawar to handle him. The officer finished off his illegal activities.”

Former joint CP, Mr Pawar said, “Mudaliar was running businesses worth crores including smuggling, bootlegging through 40-odd taxis and stolen vehicles across Mumbai, gambling, passport racketing, sex trade involving women and over 100 eunuchs.”

After Mudaliar’s chapter ended, Dawood’s rise began. Dawood started with smuggling gold from foreign gangs. His father was a constable in the crime branch. Dawood had a business and the Pathan Gang had men. Back then Dawood did not have the muscle power so he used the services of the Pathan Gang.

In 1981, Dawood’s elder brother Sabir Ahmad was killed by the Pathan Gang. In retaliation Dawood wiped out the Pathan Gang, an act that saw a lot of bloodshed on both sides. This was the transformation of Dawood from being a petty thief in the 1970s to forming the D Gang. Infamous names in the underworld like Ramabhai Naik, Arun Gawli, Chhota Shakeel and Chhota Rajan were all part of the D Gang.

“Then there was a rift between Rama Naik, Arun Gawli and the rest of the D Gang over the real estate extortion business in Mumbai and the gang began to split,” said senior journalist from Saamna Prabhakar Pawar, who has written seven books on the Mumbai underworld. Rajan stuck with Dawood.

In 1986, late D.S. Soman, Mumbai CP (1985-1987) had made a special crime branch team to nab Dawood from his den in Musafirkhana, but Dawood’s moles in the police force tipped him off and he made a last-minute escape and landed in Dubai. Chhota Rajan took the reins of Mumbai operations from Dawood.

In 1988, Naik was killed in an encounter after Dawood tipped off the police. In July 1992, Gawli’s men killed Dawood’s brother-in-law Ibrahim in Nagpada. Two months later, in retaliation, Dawood’s men killed Gawli’s men who had killed Ibrahim in JJ Hospital. In the process, three policemen guarding Gawli’s men in the hospital were also killed. The death of the policemen ended the political support Dawood enjoyed.

A senior police officer who worked on the 1993 blast case, requesting anonymity said, “After killing three policemen, Dawood knew that he was no longer safe. He fled to Pakistan well before 1993.”

Rajan split from the D-gang and fled to Bangkok after 1993 where he formed his own gang. This led to a competition between Dawood and Rajan and they started eliminating each other’s men. Dawood also made two attempts to kill Rajan, but he survived. With Dawood and Rajan overseas, their space was taken over by Gawli who became the don of Mumbai in the 1990s. Gawli’s reign ended in 2012 when he and 11 of his men were convicted for the murder of Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar and sentenced to life.
Now it’s game over for Rajan. As for Dawood, the name remains. Mumbai has moved on.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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