Chhota Rajan: Still master of an empire

Chota Rajan

He may be suffering from serious kidney damage and holed up in a Southeast Asian country but fugitive gangster Rajan Sadashiv Nikhalje, or Chhota Rajan, still controls a powerful organised crime syndicate that spreads across countries.

Even the splintering of his gang into factions led by formal lieutenants Santosh Shetty, Vijay Shetty, Ravi Pujari, Bunty Pandey and Hemant Pujari does not seem to have weakened his hold. The brazen murder of veteran journalist J Dey in Mumbai this month, allegedly by his aides, has shown that Rajan still commands a network capable of sophisticated, daring underworld operations, observers say.

Those who have tracked Rajan from his humble beginnings in a chawl in Tilak Nagar, central Mumbai, feel his rise and long run at the top fit into a pattern that includes use of sheer muscle power and outwitting underworld rivals in bitter turf wars on the way to becoming the master of an empire.

Mumbai Police Crime Branch officers say Rajan still helms a large part of the network that he had built in India alongside Chhota Shakeel for his former boss and now rival Dawood Ibrahim.

"Although the media was initially informed that Dey's murder was not an underworld attack, this was a ploy to divert our line of investigation. The sheer planning and precision with which such a sophisticated attack was carried out pointed to the hand of a powerful gang such as the Rajan gang," says Additional CP (Crime) Deven Bharti.

"His operations are spread over Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, even Pune and Nashik. In his early days, his revenue came from shopkeepers, bootleggers and gambling dens... With time, he began getting regular extortion money from builders, which he enjoys even today," said another officer.

"Rajan today gets a lot of money from the transport mafia of trucks, containers at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, and also scrap auctions. He enjoys a virtual monopoly on this. He also gets protection money from builders, bars, pubs, hookah parlours, restaurants and the cable mafia," adds Additional DGP Rakesh Maria, who has dealt extensively with the underworld.

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