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Married to Mob, Neeta lived dangerously, paid the price in the end

MUMBAI, NOVEMBER 14: Neeta Naik had many faces: a graduate from Sophia College in posh south Mumbai, a fiery corporator in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, a Shiv Sena party member. But perhaps, she was best known as gangster Ashwin Naik's wife, and on Tuesday, that connection cost the 37 year-old her life.

By all standards, Neeta Naik led a split life -- corporator by day and gangster's wife by night. She was an educated and absorbing Sena corporator, one of the few women in a party that doesn't easily make space for women at the top.

If the Mumbai police's line of investigation -- that Ashwin Naik had his wife shot because he could not stomach her extra-marital relationship -- is to be believed, then there was another side to Neeta Naik that lay hidden. The police team that's headed for Tihar jail to question Ashwin on this may return with some clues, but it will do nothing to redeem her reputation.

Her modus operandi vis-a-vis the Naik gang was clear: nothing would jeopardise her political career. She had apparently given strict instructions to the gang that no one was to meet her at home. Politics, say her associates, was the route she chose to gain respectability and clout as well as legitimise some of the activities.

Neeta knew the sharp shooters of the gang by their first names and often enquired about their well-being. She operated through a well-established network in the Parel-Dadar area in central Mumbai, wherein key shop-keepers would collect weekly or monthly hafta (extortion) from traders, shop owners and hawkers in the area.

Dadar, Mumbai's main vegetable market, was the Naik gang's adda. Around 600 shop-keepers and hawkers allegedly give a monthly hafta to the Naik gang. ``The bhaji market rate is also set by the boss,'' said an insider, meaning that the retail rate at Dadar and therefore across the rest of Mumbai was decided by Ashwin and Neeta.

Police also believe that the largely Marwari traders and small-time businessmen at Shuklaji Street in south Mumbai paid an annual hafta of Rs 10 lakh. The current income of the gang is believed to be in the region of Rs 80 lakh a month. Apparently, Neeta took over the the finances of the gang after her husband fled six years ago. Another theory is that she was killed because she didn't split the booty among the gang members.

Neeta's first brush with the underworld was when she was still a teenager. Her father Jethwa was reportedly a hafta collector for the late Amar Naik, Ashwin's elder brother and the brain behind the Naik gang. Jethwa was gunned down about ten years ago by the rival Arun Gawli gang. By this time, Neeta had pushed Ashwin, an engineer, into the gang operations.

Ironically, the Sena has been unusually silent about the killing of one of its most prominent corporators. Though Sena MP Mohan Rawle did meet police commissioner M.N. Singh to assert that ``Naik's murder was politically motivated'', by and large, key Sena leaders have kept their counsel.

Says one of them: ``We made a noise about the earlier eight shootouts but this is a delicate personal matter, and it's odd to comment. But we do miss her as a corporator. She was hardworking and had leadership qualities.''

Ashwin Naik married Neeta for love in a dramatic elopement on the last day of her graduation exam. Now, her bloody end has brought the shadow of violence over her children -- Pinky (14) and Hardik (10). Ironically, Ashwin wanted them ``brought up protected from the underworld'', as he wrote last month to his father Maruti and sister-in-law (Amar's wife) Anjali.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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