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The Rediff Special/Jake Khan

Gawli tops in murders, Chhota Rajan in moolah

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Bombay's underworld is going places. It has rapidly expanded its bases from Dongri in central Bombay to Dubai, Karachi and Kuala Lumpur in a span of less than a decade. Besides domestic markets, it has also begun doing brisk business abroad.

The turf war among the major gangs is not limited to the city alone, it is being fought now at the national and even international level, the prize remaining the same, though: hold over the cash-rich megapolis.

Nevertheless, Bombay too is being reduced to a war-ravaged city. The city police have registered an unprecedented 63 shootouts, including 52 killings, in barely six months. Of these, 32 killings were the direct fallout of gangland killings that are fast becoming a part of city life, as compared to mere 18 killings in the same period last year.

According to Deputy Commissioner of Police, detection, K L Prasad, the Malaysia-based gangster, Chhota Rajan, and Karachi-based gangster Chhota Shakeel have both notched 8 killings so far, while the London-based Ashwin Naik and Bahrain-based Budesh have killed three each. However, it is the Bombay-based, gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli, who has executed the largest number, 11.

Rajan's victims include Salim Kurla, builder Mohammed Jindran, businessman Manish Lala, exporter Shaikh Shabbir, while Shakeel's hits include Haji Mukhtar, Raees Ahmed, Shaikh Javed and politician Ratan Mhatre. Budesh is accused of killing hotel steward Keith Rodrigues and builder Natwarlal Desai, while Naik's victims include videographer Lalit Shah and electrical contractor, Eknath Khanvilkar.

Arun Gawli's targets include builder Manish Shah, matka operator Vasant Shah, travel agent Salim Passport, and Shiv Sena leader Kedari Redekar. By virtue of having a localised network of lieutenants, Gawli definitely has an advantage over his rivals, feel the police. Despite 'Daddy' Gawli being under detention in the Amravati central prison, he has managed to control the reins of his fiefdom in the city, thanks to his boys who are handling the show.

The barometer to gauge any gangster's clout in the city is by looking at the killing graph and the extortion complaints. Apart from executing the maximum number of murders, the Gawli gang is also accused of making the largest number of extortion demands on the city.

Confirms DCP, zone-II, Param Bir Singh, "We are in the know of the Gawli gang's increasing boldness, and are definitely bracing ourselves to meet the challenge." DCP Singh's men had gunned down a notorious extortionist, Khalil Parkar recently.

A senior Bombay police officer estimates the annual turnover that accrues through extortion demands made by gangsters at a whopping Rs 20 billion. The gangster with the most clout grabs the lion's share. "The underworld is like a stock market. With each hit or casualty their stock rises or plummets," quips one detective.

The senior officer, however, refused to proffer any guesstimate on the gangsters' share of the spoils. But underworld sources aver that Chhota Rajan is the king of the pack, with a share of over Rs 6 billion, while the Dawood Ibrahim syndicate which includes Chhota Shakeel and Abu Salem earns Rs 5 billion. The rest of the moolah is divided among Gawli, Ashwin Naik, Budesh and others.

An erstwhile black-marketeer of cinema tickets at the Sahakar cinema at Amar Mahal, northeast Bombay, Rajan hit the big time after his association with Ibrahim, who himself was the son of a constable at the Bombay crime branch, Ibrahim Hasan Kaskar. Growing up on the streets of Bombay, Dawood mastered the ropes of the twilight world. His father's police service helped him cultivate contacts in the department.

Rajan broke away from Ibrahim after the Bombay blasts of March 12, 1993. He is said to currently live on a ship off the Kuala Lumpur coast in Malaysia, Ibrahim is said to have retired from playing an active role in crime and settled down in Karachi.

In the meantime, local youth like Amar Naik, a vegetable vendor, and Gawli, a mill worker from central Bombay began their struggle to maintain their stronghold in predominantly lower middleclass Hindu areas like Byculla, Lalbaug and Parel.

In fact, the hostility between the two sides reminds the city police of cricket matches between India and Pakistan. In the early nineties, they both grew with the Sena's tacit support, which touted them as the Hindu answer to Muslim gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim. Later, Gawli's political ambitions led him to part ways with the Sena. Gawli styled himself as adhyaksh (president) of the Akhil Bharatiya Sena in late 1996.

After Naik fell to police bullets in June 1996, his brother Ashwin, who graduated in engineering in London, donned the mantle of leadership. By now the city seemed too small to accommodate the gangs and their warfare. Ibrahim's clan including his brothers and lieutenants preferred the sanctuaries provided by the Middle-East and Pakistan, though he has also spread his base to Kathmandu in Nepal, Colombo in Sri Lanka and most recently to Singapore.

The Singapore base is handled by a woman, known as 'Aapa', while the Colombo base is maintained by Laxman. Mirza Dilshad Beg, a former minister in the Nepal government, handled the Kathmandu end of Ibrahim's operations until his killing last month at the hands of Chotta Rajan's men. Rajan's vizier, Guru Satam, has established a base at Hong Kong. Ashwin Naik keeps shuttling between Canada and Bombay, while Budesh calls the shots from Bahrain.

Given the gangsters' activities abroad, blood soon began spilling on foreign soil as well. In 1995, Rajan's men gunned down Ibrahim hit-man Sunil Sawant in Dubai. Soon after. Ibrahim retaliated by finishing off Naresh Jukkar, Manish Raggad and Diwakar Churi in Nepal.

Chhota Shakeel made an aborted bid on Satam at the Hotel Peninsula in Singapore late last year. While Satam had a close shave, Rajan managed to finish Mirza in Kathmandu.

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