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The Rediff Special/Jake Khan
New ganglord rises in Bombay
In a development that can change the complexion of Bombay's underworld, an NRI ganglord has emerged to stake his claim as capo of the mafiosi. He is out not only to grab a lion's share in the cash-rich underbelly of the City of Gold, but also to upstage his already established rivals in India's answer to Palermo. The upcoming gangster's origins are shrouded in mystery, and even his associates know him only as Ali Baba Budesh.
Till last year, Bombayites were familiar with names like Dawood Ibrahim, Arun Gawli, Chhota Rajan and Ashwin Naik who -- sometimes in league with each other and most often against -- divided the city's riches among themselves. However, with the murder of builder Natwarlal Desai at Nariman Point on August 18 last year, for which Budesh owned up responsibility from his Bahraini hideout in a television interview, it looks like Bombay's ongoing turf war will get more intense.
It is an altogether different story that the police arrested Bombay's only resident ganlord, Arun Gawli, in connection with the Desai murder, which some police officers admitted was "owing to political expediency". Some businessmen who were reluctant to pay hafta (extortion money) to Budesh's collection teams, paid up with alacrity after the Desai killing.
Since the gangster's extortion demands were met quietly by the financial czars of Bombay, no other killing was reported after Desai for quite some time. However, Budesh's name was mentioned again, when a chief steward of the Copper Chimney restaurant at Saki Naka in the north-west suburbs was shot dead in April.
Apparently, two unidentified men had been to the eatery at 1730 hours when it was not yet open for clientele, and insisted on service. When told that dinner will be served only after 1900 hours, the duo took offence. As the altercation between them and the restaurant staff turned nasty, chief steward Keith Rodrigues asked them to leave the premises. The duo left, but returned after 15 minutes and emptied their guns into the 23-year old Rodrigues.
Police investigations revealed that Budesh had demanded Rs 5 million from the restaurant's owner, Satish Bansal. The latter had reportedly been dodging Budesh's call for months. The gangster finally sent his henchmen to put the fear of God into Bansal's heart.
On learning that Bansal had gone to Surat, the henchmen deliberately quarreled with the restaurant staff. After leaving the restaurant, they called Budesh in Bahrain who told them to eliminate any restaurant staffer. Since Rodrigues had turned them away, he became the target. Rodrigues was killed as a warning to Bansal, the police have concluded.
Even as the police speculated about Budesh's growing clout, he began making forays into Bollywood. He made threatening calls to three top film producers, Raakesh Roshan, Mukesh Bhatt and Boney Kapoor. Budesh demanded ek khokha (Rs 10 million) from each of them. The producers promptly approached the police and were granted security.
Born of an Indian mother and Arab father, Budesh is currently based in Bahrain. Not much is known about his background, even though he fled to the Middle-East only in the late eighties. Before that he had cut his teeth in Bombay's underworld as a petty pickpocket and a street ruffian. The police in Vikhroli, a north-eastern suburb of the city, had registered a case of assault against him.
While living in the slums near the shrine of Pankheshah Baba at Vikhroli, Budesh came into contact with Dawood Ibrahim's men who, while on the run from the police, sought shelter in the labyrinthine slums of the Vikhroli Parksite area. Budesh's initial assistance to these fugitives paid off in an expected way, when he went to Dubai and met India's most wanted fugitive, Dawood Ibrahim.
Ibrahim's association, it is said, helped him learn the ropes in the world of crime. But Budesh fell out with his mentor and went on to lead the latter's foes against him. Ibrahim's rivals became Budesh's friends, including Vasai-Virar's dreaded goon, Subhash Singh Thakur, who is currently lodged in New Delhi's Tihar Central Prison. Another former Ibrahim aide, Dilawar Khan, became Budesh's Man Friday. The gangster's new alliances have succeeded in causing major upsets to Ibrahim's declining empire.
Ibrahim's errant brother Anees Ibrahim's detention at Bahrain airport in 1996 is attributed to a tip-off from Budesh -- Dawood spent over Rs 5 million for his brother's release. Similarly, Abu Salem's month-long incarceration at the UAE's Al-Rafa detention centre following the Gulshan Kumar killing last year, was said to be Budesh's handiwork.
Not content with this, Budesh continued squealing on other expatriate gangsters based in Dubai, including Chhota Shakeel, Noora Ibrahim and others, forcing them to flee the UAE. Currently, the entire Dawood Ibrahim clan is learnt to live in Karachi, thanks to Budesh's vengeful streak.
Budesh may have fallen out with his mentor, but his money-spinning games follow Dawood's modus operandi, reveals a deputy inspector general of police in Bombay. Budesh's targets are builders, diamond merchants and film people. His demands from builders include an annual 'fee' or a few flats in their projects. From diamond merchants, he seeks deposits in numbered accounts in Swiss banks. However, film folk remain the biggest contributors to Budesh's coffers, as they were in Ibrahim's heyday.
He has just claimed responsibility for this week's incident in Dahisar, a western suburb, when some gangsters, on being challenged by the police, hurled a hand grenade at the posse. In the explosion two policemen and three gangsters were killed. The police, however, dismiss his claim.
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