They’re whispering about it, but the word is out. A new breed of Mumbai’s original claimants is in town, reports Rana Ayyub
FOR THE past three years, the enigmatic Mumbai underworld had restricted its presence to Bollywood movies based on infamous characters in the mafia and the consequences of their lives. During these years, the Mumbai mafia, which traces its roots to the times of gangsters like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Varadarajan Mudaliar, whose reigns were taken over by Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan and others, was uncharacteristically quiet.
Police encounters and incidents of firing were rare, and it was given out that the underworld was wiped out in Mumbai. But, shootouts from January this year, in Mumbai and in Nepal, point to simmering undercurrents. First, the killing of Mumbai-based lawyer Shahid Azmi; then of Asif Khan also known as Asif Dadhi, a businessman and alleged aide of Chhota Shakeel; police informer Irfan Chindi; and in late May, of Farid Tanasha, an assistant to the Chhota Rajan gang. All this has again shifted the focus to the underworld.
So, is the Mumbai underworld resurgent once more? Have the encounters returned, in another crafty move in the worlds of real estate and fake currency? Police officials dismiss the notion, but intelligence officials differ. These intelligence officials say a new breed of sharpshooters from mofussil areas are available for as less as Rs 25,000 a kill. And they have triggered the fresh bout of activity.
The new sharpshooters, well versed and easier for the dons to distance themselves from, are being brought in from across north India. Said a police official, “Such shooters are easier to hire and fire. They normally do not have police records and are willing to do anything for money and a few moments of fame among the bhais.”
A state department official insists the government is not taking the attacks over the past four months lightly and has discussed the issue in Mantralaya, the government headquarters. “I would not call it resurgence per se. These activities have come to light and investigations have been done. The good part is that we have managed to put the shooters and henchmen of the main gangs, the Dawood-Shakeel and the Rajan gangs, behind bars,” says Deven Bharati, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime).
The killing of Tanasha, a key Chhota Rajan aide, who had confessed to killing Nepal MP Mirza Arif Baig in late 1998, allegedly at the behest of the Indian intelligence agencies, has also added to the flurry of activity. Tanasha had once attempted to kill Dawood Ibrahim and so, it is believed that Ibrahim’s lieutenant Chhota Shakeel asked one of his men Bharat Nepali to get Tanasha.
‘MCOCA is of no use as witnesses are not ready to testify against the gangsters,’ says Bhujbal
THE RECENT rash of attacks has brought a sudden surge of activity in the network of police informers at a time when most of those operating for the Dawood and Rajan gangs were said to be either inactive or profiting from film piracy and counterfeit currency rackets outside India. The attacks have also cast suspicion on the claims of small-timers like Bharat Nepali and Ravi Pujari, who have been staking claim in smalltime extortions and firings over the past couple of years.
“I’m hopeful that the Home Minister and the police officers are keeping a tab on the situation. Earlier, the underworld activities during my regime were brought down to an all-time low because we had devised a strategy in which we were systematically targeting the right men. We also realised that terror laws like MCOCA were of no use as no witnesses were ready to testify against the gangsters. Filmmakers like Rakesh Roshan and Bharat Shah were threatened and assassination attempts were made, but we got it under control. I am not too sure if those phone calls and extortions have stopped now,” says Chhagan Bhujbal, Deputy Chief Minister.
Police sources claim the bigger gangs are marking their presence and testing the waters through these shooters and their smaller gangs. An intelligence official claims the main motive of the shootouts is to instill fresh fear in industrialists, builders and filmmakers and extort money. The killings of lawyer Shahid Azmi and later Tanasha, by Nepali, reek of a larger game. “We cannot say for certain that Rajan did not get Tanasha killed. Tanasha was one of the most feared and revered shooters and could have been bumped off by Rajan with whom he had developed differences,” an intelligence official said.
Dawood and Rajan may be stepping into it again to reestablish fiefdoms in the real estate and film piracy rackets. This time, they are doing so with fresh henchmen and not the older and established ones who have long police records and who also ask for a hefty price to kill. In another irony, the older shooters may be getting killed by the younger lot. And this could mean another generation of killers is taking shape.