Chota Rajan: A Gangster Comes Home

Published: October 27, 2015 - 17:04

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

On the front page of a Delhi daily there is a picture, released by an Indian news and photo agency, of a tubby clean shaven man with slightly disheveled hair smiling alongside a happy Indonesian Policeman in Bali.

Rajan does not look like a person in a state of panic after being arrested, but he gives an impression of joy and comfort normally associated with those who are homeward bound (ghar vapasi).  His happy countenance and the manner in which Rajan was arrested after all these years raises deep suspicion about what is really brewing in the Indian security establishment.

Chota Rajan or Rajendra Sadashiv Nikhalje was arrested by the Indonesian police on Monday when they responded to the Interpol red corner notice requested by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. There were a number of criminal cases against him including that of the murder of Mumbai reporter; J Dey.  CBI spokesman claims that they had got in touch with the Australian authorities, the country where he had been living for the past seven years, to get him deported.  What though is intriguing is the manner in which the Indian security agencies decided to bring him back to India and face trial for all his crimes. Is it an attempt to get their prime target Dawood Ibrahim by using him as bait or an attempt to protect from the threat that he faces from his former gang leader.

Rajan was part of Ibrahim’s gang, but he parted ways after the Mumbai blast and the ensuing violence. He was then used by the Indian intelligence agencies to target many of Ibrahim’s ground operatives, and many of them were killed. It was a bloody proxy war in which the India’s IB and R&AW were helping out Rajan and his gang to destroy Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) backed Dawood’s gang.  The thinking in India’s home ministry and intelligence bureau was that the ISI was using Dawood’s formidable network of operatives to mobilize radical elements from the minority community and wage war against the country. 

To put it bluntly, Rajan, despite his criminal record, was performing a national service by taking on the enemies of the Indian state. According to the national daily, The Hindu, the present National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, was intercepted by the Police while traveling with Rajan’s close associate, Vicky Malhotra back in 2005. Sources claim that Doval had to shout out that he was the former Director of the IB lest he got shot by the police. It is learnt that the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was deeply distressed by the manner in which Doval was hanging around with mafia dons and wanted strict action to be taken against him, but he was prevailed upon by others in the security establishment.

A US embassy cable reproduced by 'The Hindu' states, “ The media originally speculated that the IB wanted to use Malhotra to target and kill Ibrahim if he traveled to Dubai to attend the reception (for his daughter’s wedding). According to this theory, Doval acted as a conduit between IB and Malhotra.” 

These are tricky operations in which Doval has built a considerable reputation over the years. This proximity is more a reason Rajan’s arrest and deportation has attracted attention. As stated above, Rajan is capable of sending out a distress call to his protectors in Delhi highlighting the threat to his life from Dawood’s close confidant Chota Shakeel, who had sworn to kill him for his betrayal. Newspaper reports suggest that Shakeel was in Australia on a mission to kill him. In some ways, Rajan was rescued from Shakeel. In 2000, Shakeel had targeted Rajan in Bangkok, but he only managed to kill his close associate, Rohit Varma and his wife. He escaped with gunshot injuries.

The other theory going around is that he has been brought in to give meaning to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Doval’s quest to get Dawood from Pakistan. It is not clear how his presence will facilitate this process, but insiders claim that it might become easier to track Dawood's movement better with Rajan around.

Rajan started his career in crime by selling film tickets in black, very similar to the rise of the mafia 'Don' shown in filmstar, Amitabh Bachchan's eponymous movie. Later, the gangster managed to get close to Dawood Ibrahim and flourished at the time when the metropolis real estate had begun to boom. Builders who needed strong arm tactics to throw out slum dwellers used the services of the likes of Chota Rajan. Their activities have been well documented in scores of Bollywood movies. Later, Rajan under the protection of Dawood Ibrahim got into the extortion racket. Due to their formidable reputation they could get the vulnerable builders and businessmen to give a large amount of protection money.

This life of extortion was an easy one, till Ibrahim stopped being just a criminal and became a religious zealot after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. He began to see blood and revenge and began to find ways to get back at the communal Indian state. The manner in which he fed hatred among Memon brothers is a well-known fact. Also, well known is how a bitter war took place in the Indian underworld under communal lines. The issue has not settled as yet as is evident from the fact that Rajan has been brought back to India. Many observers feel that his presence on Indian soil, though in custody, would trigger off a serious bloodbath in Mumbai. Watch out for this space.