i f e & t i m e s
o f C H H O T A R A J A N
picture is not morphed. In the early eighties when Mumbai was still untouched
by colours of religion and a young Dawood Ibrahim was the undisputed king
of the underworld, his most trusted lieutenant was Chhota Rajan aka Rajan
Like most boys lured by the quick buck that crime offers, Rajan started
life in a lower middle class chawl. Growing up in Tilak Nagar, Chembur,
a suburb in central Mumbai, Rajan teamed with a namesake, Rajan Nair,
to black-market film tickets at Sahkar Cinema, next to his house. This
was in the early seventies. From ticket touts to petty crime, the two
men built a reputation of sorts, extending their clout from Chembur to
Ghatkopar, east, and soon had to clash with Yashwant Jadhav, a local matka
king of Ghatkopar, west.
many midnight skirmishes fought with soda water bottles and tubelights,
they decided to seek the help of Vardarajan Mudaliar alias Varda Bhai
of Matunga. The troika of Vardarajan, Haji Mastan and Karim Lala controlled
the smuggling operations in Mumbai. Together they put the fear of death
in Jadhav. Desperate, he then sought the help of a certain Abdul Qunju.
time, Rajan had become very close to the don Bada Rajan. Realising that
his bete noires clout emanated from this patronage, Qunju, in a
daring operation, got Bada Rajan eliminated in the premises of South Mumbais
Esplanade court in 1982. Rajan was shattered at losing his mentor and
Qunju was a cricket aficionado and often managed a good-sized crowd to
come and watch him play. That was Rajans cue.
one such match as Qunju was in full flow, well into his 50s, that Rajan
stuck. As Qunju hit a boundary, three innocuous-looking boys dressed in
T-shirts and sneakers entered the arena on the pretext of retrieving the
ball. They walked up to Qunju with the ball, whipped out their guns and
shot him dead at point blank range. Their names were Sanjay Raggad, Sadhu
Shetty and Rajan Nikalje. The killing catapulted Nikalje into the big
league and he was formally anointed Chhota Rajan.
reigning dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Arun Gawli, Alamzeb, Vardarajan and
Karim Lala immediately sat up and took note of this daring youngster.
Since Rama Naik, Bada Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim were known to each other,
Dawood asked him to join the D-Company. Rajan accepted. Once in the gang,
it didnt take him long to learn the ropes. He was next heard of
when Karim Lalas nephew Samad Khan was killed an incident that created
waves in Bombay in those days.
Khan had a girlfriend called Shilpa Jhaveri who lived in South Mumbai.
On October 4, 1982, when he stepped out of the lift of her building, Rajan,
Dawood and another colleague Anil Parab, pumped 26 bullets into him. After
this incident Rajan rose in Dawoods esteem and became one of his
when Dawood fled to Dubai, he handed over the reigns of his operations
in Mumbai to Rajan who got to work consolidating Dawoods business
interest, not only in Mumbai but also across Nepal, Sri Lanka and in European
cities like London and Amsterdam. Eventually, even Rajan had to flee from
Mumbai and joined Dawood in Dubai. Once in Dubai, they both formed a formidable
pair till the late eighties.
in the mafia, alliances are like shifting sands. Dawood realised that
he needed to clip Chhota Rajans wings. Thats when another
Chhota, Shakeel, stepped into the picture. Rajan was marginalised. Though
for long he kept his sense of unease to himself. Over the next few months
Dawood started promoting Shakeel aggressively and completely sidelined
Rajan who quietly started recruiting boys in preparation for setting up
his own outfit.
boys who were known for daredevilry paid for their legal expenses, for
their monthly expenses and their jail expenses as well in case they got
caught. At one point of time Dawood openly chided him for adding flab
to the gang but Rajan kept quiet.
the late eighties, gold smuggling was still considered to be the major
source of revenue for the underworld. Dawood had struck a deal with Bhai
Thakur, who held sway over the Vasai-Virar region off Mumbai, while his
clout extended right until Bassein belt. Thakur began offloading Dawoods
gold at his landing spots in Vasai-Virar belt, while Rajans favoured
spots like Trombay, Mahul and Kacchar Patti (behind Deonar Dumping ground)
were given a go-by. Thus Rajan despite killing the maximum number of people
at the behest of Dawood had very little share in the booty.
Rajan remained loyal to Dawood to the extent that he even dared the Shiv
Sena chief, Bal Thackeray. In his speeches, Thackeray had lambasted the
police for taking stringent action against Arun Gawli. Thackeray had referred
to Gawli and Amar Naik gang as amchi muley our boys.
Rajan had challenged Thackeray in an open letter which was carried on
the front page of a city tabloid: There is no communal division
in the D-gang and there shall never be one,he wrote. It is
a different story that later Rajan had no qualms in expressing his profound
reverence for Thackeray.
split came after the enmity between Chhota Shakeel and Rajan finally spilled
in the open. On one occasion fellow gang members Sunil Sawant alias Sautya
and Guru Satam had a spat. Rajan supported Satam, while Shakeel supported
Sautya. Later when Rajan escaped from Dubai, Sautya became the first casualty
of the split. Rajan organised the trap for Sautya and Shakeel. Shakeel
did not turn up though, Sautya was shot and his throat slit by Rajans
Rajan killed some other members of the Dawood/Shakeel gang. His most recent
killing was that of a former health minister of Nepal, Mirza Dilshad Beg.
After winning from the platform of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party from Kapilavastu
constituency in south-west Kathmandu, Mirza allegedly became Dawoods
mole. Mirza used to provide shelters to Dawood aides in his Krishna Nagar
mansion. But by eliminating Beg, in one swift stroke, Rajan destroyed
Dawoods base in Kathmandu.
Rajan knew that he and Dawood would be clubbed as gangsters and dismissed
as one if he didnt play his card cleverly. Fortunately for him,
Ayodhya happened, the bomb blasts and the riots helped him in playing
the communal card cleverly. He began to project himself as a patriotic
don and billed his rivalry against Dawood as a fight against a traitor
don. The deshbhakt vs the deshdrohi.
his point further, Rajan systematically began targetting the blasts accused.
Harboured in a ship off the coast of Malaysia he ordered the killing of
blasts accused Ayub Patel in March 1998. Patel who was shot at in Oshiwara
survived the attempt. In April 1998, Salim Kurla was gunned down in a
nursing home at Andheri. Shaikh Shabbir was shot dead in a case of mistaken
identity. The bullets were meant for Salim Tonk in May 1998, while Mohammed
Jindran, another accused, was killed in June 1998.
underworld has one unwritten rule, Offence is the best form of defence.
Once Rajan recovers fully, sources say he will probably gather his lieutenants
and muster all his strength and cunningness to hit back at his arch-rival.
While Shakeel himself will no doubt intensify his efforts to finish off
Rajan and his empire.
The first step for both men will be to change their operational bases.
Rajan may shift from Malaysia or at least from Kuala Lumpur to some other
undisclosed Malaysian city. Similarly, Shakeel will shift his base within
Karachi to some other spot.
thing is sure, the next salvo is not too long off.
Rohit Verma’s career in crime: from his beginnings as a petty robber
to his promotion as Chhota Rajan’s deputy
the mafia attracts strange bedfellows. Take the case of Rohit Verma,
an undergraduate and a petty thief, who turned into a merciless
killing machine. One of the few in the Chhota Rajan group to turn
into a contract killer and win his boss confidence, Verma
was quite the original smooth operator, planning well and killing
For the Mumbai
police, he was the phantom who left a hammer like a sinister trademark
at the site of the kill. Vermas graduation from thief to killer
happened in November 1995, when he orchestrated the murder of East
West Airlines Managing Director Thakiyuddin Wahid, at the behest
of Chhota Rajan. Flinging his hammer at Wahids passing car
with deadly precision, Verma then caught him in a spray of bullets,
even as the driver lost control. Later, the Mumbai crime branch
and the local police were amazed to find a hammer at the scene of
crime. It was an unconventional weapon, not known to be favoured
by sharpshooters. After Wahid, Verma was involved in seven or eight
killings as part of Chhota Rajans gang. Eventually, the hammer
gave way for the long-barrelled .45 pistol.
descent into crime began when he was 24 a college graduate
looking for a fast buck. The first thing that struck him was robbery,
perhaps because hed grown up in Mumbais affluent Santa
Cruz area, gawking at moneyed Gujjus. Slowly, Verma, who loved reading
pulp fiction, spread his dragnet to other affluent areas like Khar,
Juhu and Andheri.
By then, the
police stations in the Zone-VII region of Mumbai had woken up to
the existence of a smart robber called Rohit Verma, who used a hammer
in most of his operations. The Khar police arrested him twice and
he was also imprisoned for a couple of years. But it was an encounter
with Sunil Madgaonkar, alias Matya Chhota Rajans top-rung
lieutenant during Vermas second stint at the Arthur
Road jail in 1995 that changed the course of his life. He was 29
then. Matya, who was the caretaker of the dons imprisoned
foot soldiers, found the right measure of grit and gumption in Verma
and made him an offer, which he accepted. Till he was killed by
Chhota Shakeels men in Bangkok last week at the age of 34,
Verma who grew up a middle-class boy flirted everyday
with high-profile crime.
for Vermas bail and soon he was out. Other than the East West
chief, Vermas victims include Prakash Sinhasane, an aide of
rival gangster Sharad Shetty, and Dev Narayan Ghosh, the owner of
the Royal Security group in Mumbai. Ghosh was killed for his refusal
to pay extortion money to Rajan. However, Verma catapulted into
the big league after the killing of Mohan Kotian in Bangalore in
Kotian, a Rajan
aide, had decided to shift loyalties to Dawood Ibrahim, and was
trying to convince Verma to change sides too. Verma heard Kotians
arguments quietly, then whipped out his favourite pistol and emptied
it on Kotian. Among the Mumbai mafiosi, Vermas modus operandi
was often discussed. The sensational killing of Mirza Dilshad Beg
in Kathmandu in 1998 was his brainchild. Beg was Dawood Ibrahims
man in Nepal. Baigs killing (he was ambushed in a lonely spot)
was executed with a panache that the Mumbai underworld is rarely
IS it a case
of one foreign hand too many, or, if sources are to be believed,
was the Pakistani ISI and some multinational corporates operating
in Southeast Asia, instrumental in the attack on Chhota Rajan in
Bangkok last week?
The deduction is simple, said a senior Intelligence
officer. Most of the intelligence on Rajans movement
is believed to have been acquired from satellite tracking and passed
on to the ISI, who shared it with Chhota Shakeel and his men.
The sophisticated weapons that were used in the attack too were
procured from Pukhet by Bangkok-based Chavalit Arunkait and handed
over to key-shooters Munna Zingada and Rashid Malbari, he added.
The motive was as old as the hills: greed.
The Rs 4,000
crore garnered through extortion and illicit business operations
in South Asia has for many years been divided between Dawood Ibrahim,
Chhota Shakeel and Chhota Rajan. Part of the income was divided
among four other splinter gangs.
elimination would mean a whopping sum of money accruing to Dawood
and Shakeel and could also lead to their stranglehold over the existing
drug cartel operating from Afghanistan to Bangkok, including countries
like Pakistan, India, Burma, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Thailand. Estimates
have varied over the years, but the drug trade which is routed through
Mumbai could well be in the region of Rs 2,000 crores.
Rajan is believed to have been providing protection to some of the
drug syndicates operating in and around Mumbai for which he is getting
about 20 per cent of the profits. The Dawood/Shakeel combine on
the other hand, have consolidated their position at the airport
and hold high stakes in the narcotic trade, sources pointed out.
The more than Rs 1,000 crore Hindi film industry is the other area
of common interest for all three. According to an estimate, the
underworld corners about 15 per cent of the profit generated annually.
For year now, the Dubai-based gangsters had a stranglehold on Bollywood
but in the last couple of years, Rajan was trying to make inroads
as a financier-producer and his lieutenant Rohit Verma was trying
to extort large sums from successful producers, actors. Likewise
piracy of films and music is also another cash cow for the gangsters.
Rs 300 crore-odd is generated by pirating CDs and cassettes of latest
Bollywood films in Pakistan alone.
The other interest of the two gangs could be the Rs 1,000 crore
diamond trade in the city. In the last few years, Bangkok and Hong
Kong have emerged as major export centres and also cities where
the Mumbai underworld has been trying to expand operations.
The other plausible reason for the attack on Rajan is believed to
be a fallout of the killing of Mirza Dilshad Baig by Rajan-shooter
at Kathmandu in Nepal last year. Baig was considered close to Pakistan
and helped ISI built a strong base in the Himalayan Kingdom. Sources
in the underworld disclosed that Baig was killed by Rajans
henchman Rohit Verma and three others at the behest of an Indian
agent. Verma later escaped to Bangkok after the operation. Baigs
assassination had virtually crippled ISI activities at the Himalayan
kingdom since early 1998 and they were looking for an opportunity
for getting back at Rajan.
writers an editor at e-india. com and is at present working on a
book on the Bombay bomb blasts)