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Tuesday, September 19, 2000

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A don's journey -- From selling tickets in black to Rs 1000-cr crime ``empire''

MUMBAI, SEPT 18: Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, alias Chhota Rajan, was initiated into the world of crime around 1974 by his mentor Rajan Nair, alias Badda Rajan, who was the local don of Tilak Nagar in Chembur.

A resident of Vikhroli, a nearby suburb, Rajan began his ``career'' by selling cinema tickets in black. He soon became a hitman and Badda Rajan's trusted lieutenant.

In the early 1980s, Badda Rajan took Chhota Rajan to Dagdi Chawls, a regular hideout of the gang, where he was to later meet Dawood Ibrahim. At that time, Ibrahim headed a gang from Nagpada.

Dawood first hired Badda Rajan to kill members of a Pathan gang led by Amirzada and Samad Khan, who had killed the former's brother, Shabir. The conspiracy was hatched at Tilak Nagar and some local hitmen took part in the shootout.

In 1985, Chhota Rajan was arrested with Rama Naik, Babu Resham and Arun Gawli in connection with the murder of Parasnath Pande at Mumbai Central. After his release from jail, Dawood reportedly gifted four revolvers to the gangsters as a gesture of his appreciation.

After Badda Rajan was killed in a court, his ``protege'' took over the leadership of the gang.

Between 1985-87, Dawood hired Rajan again to kill his rivals. However, the latter soon fled to Dubai after Mumbai's crime branch turned the heat on him.

Relations between Rajan and Dawood soured soon after the 1993 blasts when they parted ways. As the Dubai warlord was blamed for the blasts, Rajan, a Hindu, projected that this was the reason he had broken away from the Dawood gang. However, the actual reason was that Rajan had masterminded Bhandup don Kim Bahadur Thapa's killing without Dawood's sanction. Thapa had allegedly had tipped off the police about one of Rajan's close associate.

As an immediate fallout, Dawood's associates Subash Singh and Sunil Sawant alias Sawtya hatched a plot to drown Rajan in the high seas before he fled from Dubai but they failed. Sawant was killed by Rajan's hitmen in 1995.

The Tilak Nagar don suffered a major setback when officers of the crime branch eliminated key members of his gang like Arun Mahajan, Jaggi and seperate encounters. He later recovered by recruiting shooters from the western suburbs.

A school dropout, the 41-year-old gangster heads an empire with a monthly turnover estimated around Rs 1000 crore. There could be between 200-300 members affiliated to his gang, police sources revealed.

Some of his businesses include running extortion rackets, film financing, drug-running and collecting regular ``hafta'' from local businessmen as protection money.

He is named in at least 17 murders, 12 of which are connected with the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993. He was arrested eight times between 1978 and 1983 before he sought a safer haven in Dubai around 1988.

Rajan's three brothers do not have any criminal records and at least one of them is into film-making.

The don was married in 1994 and gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim, Sunil Sawant, Sharad Shetty are believed to have attended the wedding.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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