November 28, 2002
0815 IST


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How a chemistry postgraduate turned into a gangster

Jake Khan in Mumbai

Seven years ago, a tall and hefty postgraduate degree holder in Organic Chemistry joined the Chhota Rajan gang.

Within a few months, the quiet and efficient man from Varanasi had endeared himself to the underworld don so much that he was made a top lieutenant.

Not surprising, if you consider that the police did not even know about his existence till a few years back.

On Sunday the blue eyed boy must have realised that the don's faith had gone sour as he was kicked, beaten and strangled to death by 13 henchmen.

His fault: An apparent parting of ways with the powerful gangster.

The sensational killing of Om Prakash Singh inside the Nashik Central Jail, while exposing the gory underbelly of the police-underworld nexus, with nine more jail officials being suspended on Wednesday, has also turned the spotlight on the life of the one-time confidant of Rajan.

The story of Singh's meteoric rise to the top echelons of the Mumbai underworld can rival the countless plots dished out by Bollywood.

Hailing from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Singh belonged to a family of academicians.

Singh's initiation into crime was by compulsion than by choice, an officer of the crime intelligence unit of the Mumbai police told

Equipped with his master's degree from Mumbai University, Singh was employed as a Quality Controller Officer at the Mazgaon Docks.

A tragedy led to his first brush with the world of crime.

Once when his brother Dr Arun Singh -- who was a professor at Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala College at Ghatkopar -- and a local corporator Lal Singh Chauhan were in a family get together at Pant Nagar, three sharpshooters of the Ashwin Naik gang stormed into the party and shot Chauhan, seriously injuring him.

An idealist, Dr Singh vowed to punish the assailants and agreed to testify against the shooters.

Naik then ordered a hit on Dr Singh. In the summer of 1990, when Dr Singh was leaving college, seven men shot him 41 times. He died on the spot.

O P Singh made a statement to the police that Ashwin Naik's henchmen killed his brother.

Soon enough, Naik's men were stalking Singh. A panicky Singh sold off his house at Pant Nagar in Ghatkopar, quit his job and shifted to Vasai in the suburbs of Mumbai.

But Naik's men followed him there too.

During one of his frequent drinking sprees in a bar, he came in contact with some Chhota Rajan gangsters, where he spilled out his story to them.

Rajan was desperately looking for a brainy and an educated strategist, who could carry out his operations with the minimum of fuss.

Singh fitted the bill perfectly and was inducted without much ado. Though he started out with small robberies, he was "fully absorbed" when he and his accomplices gunned down a security guard during an abduction attempt.

His crime graph soared with a number of cases being registered against him in Goregaon, Pydhonie, Khar and Malabar Hill.

His meticulous planning and research impressed Rajan immensely and Singh graduated to being his man Friday.

Singh also built several police and political contacts for Rajan, who was based in Malaysia then. Rajan then invited him to Kuala Lumpur and elevated Singh to the level of his adviser and planner.

So well covered were Singh's tracks that till 1997 the Mumbai police had no clue about his existence. Much later, when the police turned on the heat on some arrested Rajan gangsters that they were confronted with an unknown name 'O P'. By the time they began the hunt, the bird had flown the coop and shifted to Bangkok.

He remained elusive both to the cops and his rivals.

Singh hogged the headlines when he bumped off the Nepali minister and top Dawood Ibrahim aide, Mirza Dilshad Beg, at Kathmandu in 1998.

He again went back into the shadows, till he reappeared after the bid on Chhota Rajan's life on September 15, 2000 by Chhota Shakeel's men.

Singh took charge of the gang and coordinated with Rajan's lawyers and the Thai media.

It is said that Singh was also instrumental in Rajan's escape from the Samitivej Hospital on November 24.

Later in an interview to the Bangkok Post, Singh had boasted, "We will retaliate soon and finish off Dawood in four month's time."

According to the Delhi police, who nabbed him in January this year, Singh was also accused of extortion in Surat and other Indian cities and was responsible for spreading the Chhota Rajan network to the northern and western regions of India.

His gruesome killing, apart from throwing light on the murky dealings of the underworld, has also turned the spotlight on the underbelly of the police.

Inspector General of Police (Prisons) U D Rajwade, while suspending the jail officials and instituting a probe, had admitted to the possible connivance of the jail staff in the killing.

The Nashik Road police have registered a case of murder and conspiracy under section 304 IPC against Rajan aides D K Rao, Sarfira Nepali, Bala Parab and 10 others for the killing.

Sources told that on November 23, Rajan, using his clout with the jail officials, got his hit team of 13 men led by Rao shifted to the Nashik Central prison.

The hit team reached Nashik on Saturday night.

According to Rajwade, at the time of incident [1430 hours on Sunday], the jail inmates were playing cricket and officials busy with security duties, when Singh left the jail superintendent's office and went to the bathroom.

After 15 minutes, Singh's friend Thapa found him unconscious and alerted the police, Rajwade said. The top cop, however, conceded ignorance on what transpired during the 15 minutes.

But Singh's wife, Meenakshi, seems very clear on what transpired during those fifteen minutes.

She claimed that Singh was clubbed on his head, and when he collapsed on the ground was kicked by the 13 men and forced to lie on his stomach. Then one of the assailants climbed on his back and strangulated him.

Quoting from the autopsy report, she said that Singh had deep wounds on his head and knees, while his collarbone was fractured. She added that the cause of death, according to the report, was asphyxia.

She also alleged that Rajan had twice called up the jail officials asking for confirmation of Singh's death.

Rajwade, though, stoutly denied this. "But Singh who was even otherwise suffering from various illnesses including hypertension could have succumbed to his illness. When we found him he was alive but when we rushed him to the hospital he was declared dead," he said in apparent defence of his maligned men.

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