The seeds of mutual distrust in the minds of gangsters Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan were sown at least six months before the 1993 serial blasts rocked Mumbai and claimed over 300 lives. It started from the time, when on 12 September 1992, Dawood’s men gunned down rival Arun Gawli’s shooter Shailesh Haldankar in a daredevil attack at the city’s JJ Hospital where he was admitted, say sources within the Mumbai police. Two policemen too were killed in the attack. Until 1992, Chhota Rajan was the aide of Dawood, and is known to have parted ways with the don after the 1993 serial blasts.
“Arun Gawli murdered Dawood’s brother-in-law Ismail Parkar. To avenge the death, Dawood decided to bump off the killers. He initially gave Chhota Rajan the job to kill Gawli’s men. But because of our security measures around JJ Hospital where Haldankar was admitted, Chhota Rajan failed to complete the task. After that, Chhota Shakeel started badmouthing Chhota Rajan to Dawood. Chhota Shakeel told Dawood that Chhota Rajan would never execute the task as he was sympathetic towards ‘them’. It was then that Chhota Shakeel’s man Savtya volunteered to do the job. He made a daredevil attempt and was successful in killing Gawli’s men. This did not go down well with Chhota Rajan who sensed that things were not all right for him,” said Suresh Walishetty, a retired assistant commissioner of police and a decorated officer who served in Mumbai’s Crime Branch for 15 years when gang wars in the city were at their peak.
Another senior police officer said it was likely that Chhota Rajan started approaching the Indian authorities way back in 1992 to seek safe passage out of Dubai from where the Dawood gang was operating. Thereafter, the rivalry between them is a story everyone knows about.
In 1992 itself, when Chhota Rajan was away in Dubai, the Mumbai police picked up Nani (Sujata Nikalje), his wife, for interrogation. This upset him enough to call the investigating officer of the case directly. “Why have you picked up Nani? What does she have to do anything with the activities? Confront me,” he told the police officer.
The Ganesh utsav celebrated at Chhota Rajan’s den in Tilak Nagar, Chembur, was under police scanner at the time. They were looking at the transactions of Sahyadri Krida Mandal, which was believed to be the front for Chhota Rajan’s Ganpati ustav. It was for the same purpose that the police questioned Nani for nearly a week. “We used to call her in the morning, and let her go back in the evening. In those seven days, Chhota Rajan called up at least thrice,” a police officer who had questioned Sujata Nikalje, said.
Chhota Rajan rose from the lanes of Tilak Nagar in Chembur from being a black ticket seller to a gangster. The mill worker’s son joined the Bada Rajan gang. “In the 1980s, when the gang wars had started, there was too much violence and there were too many gangs. Chhota Rajan was inconsequential then. It was Bada Rajan and the Pathan gang that were big. Dawood’s gang too was gaining ground. Dawood and Bada Rajan joined hands, but after the sensational murder of Bada Rajan in the Azad Maidan court complex in 1983, Chhota Rajan started working with Dawood,” said Isak Bagwan, retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, who served at the Mumbai Crime Branch until 1985.
Raja Tambat, another retired ACP of the Mumbai police, who was involved in some famous encounters, recounted the dangerous 1980s. “Many traders, businessmen and informers were killed in the 1980s. At the time, Chhota Rajan was providing shooters to the Dawood gang. He had a huge network in Chembur, from where he recruited his men. The gang rivalries worsened after Arun Gawli had a spat with Dawood over a land deal,” he said.
Arun Gawli started proving to be a major threat to Dawood, which is one of the reasons why the latter fled the country, police sources said.
After the Mumbai blasts of 1993, Chhota Rajan declared that he would avenge the blasts. “In the period between 1998 and 1999, Chhota Rajan’s gang members bumped off a few accused involved in the 1993 blasts. Those who died included the owners of Magnum Video, Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora,” a retired police officer told The Sunday Guardian.
Between 1996 and 2002, Mumbai witnessed another major spell of gang wars. The menace was curbed only after 2002, after several encounters in the city.
Many police officers scoffed at the recent allegation made by Chhota Rajan that there were many supporters of Dawood in the Mumbai police. “If that is to be believed, we will also have to believe that there are many supporters of Chhota Rajan too,” an officer said on the condition of anonymity.
Another officer recalled how certain police inspectors were close to some gangsters in the 1980s and 1990s. He claimed that when a local goon was killed by Chhota Rajan, a police aide was called in to show the murder as an encounter.
Currently, officers in the Mumbai police feel snubbed since cases against Chhota Rajan have been transferred to the CBI. There are over 70 cases registered against the gangster in Maharashtra. Soon after Chhota Rajan’s arrest on 25 October, the Mumbai police started preparing a detailed dossier about the cases registered here.
The Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) also held meetings with various serving and retired Crime Branch officers to discuss the cases against the gangsters. Police officers said that the Mumbai police would have been in a better position to question Chhota Rajan than the CBI, considering all the cases against him registered in their city. The Maharashtra government has shown its willingness to help the CBI in investigating the matters by providing all the necessary information and human power.