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Deccan Herald » Sunday Herald » Detailed Story
Mumbai’s own godfather
From the notoriety of Mumbai’s crime lanes to the corridors of power, the rise of Arun Gawli as the big daddy of politics makes for a thrilling potboiler, reports Parag Rabade from Mumbai.
Arun Gawli, known to his followers as ‘Daddy’, was a notorious gangster from Mumbai; now he is the ‘honourable member’ of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

In 2004, he was elected as an MLA from the Chinchpokli constituency in South Central Mumbai as an MLA, and also leads his own political outfit Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS). For some, he is a reformed underworld don who has given up criminal activities for a decent lifestyle, but for many, especially the police and rival politicians, he remains a ganglord, whose entry into the hallowed portals of the Assembly shocked the conscience of the people. To be sure, Gawli spent several years in jail as an undertrial but was never convicted.

Only recently, Gawli was accused by the police of taking supari (contract to kill) from a Bollywood starlet Priti Jain to eliminate film director Madhur Bhandarkar, against who she had filed a case of sexually exploiting her.

Gawli, on the other hand, claims that it was he who tipped the police of the plot to kill Bhandarkar. He told the police that one of his former henchman had taken the supari and sought Gawli’s assistance, but he dissuaded the man and informed the police. The police, on their part, allege that Gawli blew the plot immediately after he realised that the police suspected his involvement.

Always wearing the Gandhi cap, the diminutive Gawli’s rise is believed to be due to his ‘native roots’; he was the Marathi-speaking, Hindu don, while others were non-Marathi and Muslims. The infamous textile mills strike of late 1970s rendered lakhs of mill workers jobless. Those unemployed, hungry poverty-stricken workers and their children subsequently took to a life of petty crime. Once a small-time charge-sheeter in the Byculla-Mahalaxmi-Agripada-Parel/Naigaum-Chinchpokli area, Gawli was spotted by his mentor Rama Naik, who is still regarded as the ‘original godfather’.

His syndicate was originally aligned with the Dawood Ibrahim gang. Rama even killed supari-king Karim Lala’s nephew, the dreaded Samad Khan in 1986, and paved the way for Dawood to become the undisputed don of the Mumbai underworld. However, the gangs fell apart due to differences over division of spoils. As a result Rama was killed in a ‘police encounter’ in 1988, believed to be engineered by Dawood Ibrahim.

Gang wars

After Rama, Gawli became the don of the gang and established himself at Dagdi Chawl - a virtual fortress with metal detectors and closely guarded by armed bodyguards - and soon his control spread over most parts of Mumbai. A fierce gangwar erupted between Gawli and Dawood gangs, both killed each others prominent members. Gawli’s henchman Ashok Joshi killed Dawood’s main agent in Mumbai Satish Raje (Dawood had already fled India and was operating from Dubai), and in turn the D gang assassinated Ashok Joshi and others in Panvel.

Gawli then kidnapped Dawood’s incharge of hawala transactions Mahendra Chordia and executed him. In retaliation, Dawood killed Gawli’s younger brother Kishor. A furious Gawli then launched a wave of extortions and kidnappings of businessmen who had dealings with Dawood Ibrahim. The Gawli gang even kidnapped another Muslim don Yusuf Patel and extorted Rs 50 lakh from him.

Finally, the CID managed to net Gawli in 1990 and he was sent to jail in judicial custody. He had been in and out of the jail several times, was externed to Pune district for two years. In prison, he spent time reading works of Swami Vivekanand, the Bhagwad Gita and other books. His most potent weapon in jail, however, was a small mobile handset, from which he used to pass necessary instructions. He ran his criminal empire of kidnappings and extortion from behind bars very efficiently and ruthlessly.

Prison was also a safe haven for Gawli, helping him avoid assassination attempts from the Dawood Ibrahim gang or getting killed in police encounter. In fact, this fear of getting killed has followed him like his own shadow.

The massive police crackdown on the underworld after 1997 saw most of the gangs running for cover. Gawli was out of jail but with depleting strength, he hit upon a clever idea, he floated a new political outfit Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS).

It is composed of criminals and disgruntled politicos from other parties. The ABS stunned the then BJP-Shiv Sena government by taking out a huge rally in Mumbai to demand the dismissal of the saffron rule. Even Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who used to regard Gawli as a ‘Hindu Don’, was surprised.

Gawli is married to ‘Mummy’ Asha Gawli and has two children. Asha (formerly Ayesha) used to be in charge of criminal operations when Gawli is in prison. In April 2004, Gawli entered the parliamentary contest from Mumbai South Central constituency, but his political designs suffered a major blow when his nephew and party legislator, Sachin Ahir, came out openly against him and joined Sharad Pawar’s NCP. He even contested against Gawli in the Lok Sabha poll as an NCP candidate, resulting in defeat for them both, but victory for the Sena’s sitting MP Mohan Rawle. However, Gawli garnered 92,000 votes or about 26 per cent, which showed his strength.

In October 2004, Gawli was elected to the Assembly from Chinchpokli constituency. Due to his background, Gawli draws sympathy from unemployed youths and mill workers, which is considered as his real strength besides his terror tactics. Inside Assembly, Gawli asks questions and has even given brief speeches on various issues. He also sought, to the consternation of the Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil, police protection as an MLA which the state government was reluctant to give. The House Speaker gave repeated warnings to the state government to find any police person ready to salute the former don, least of all protect his person.

Mumbai’s old dons

V Mudaliar

The first noteworthy gang to emerge in Mumbai was that of Vardrajan Mudaliar. A Tamil migrant, he used his community contacts and ruled the roost for over a dec

ade beginning early ’60s. Varadha Bhai organised bootlegging in a systematic manner, spreading an umbrella of protection to several lesser gangs dealing in illicit liquor.

Without Vardha Bhai’s support and without paying him a cut, it was not possible for anyone to distil, store, transport or sell hooch in the city. He soon diversified his illegal activities into gold smuggling, matka gambling, extortion and supari killings. With the acquisition of considerable wealth he subsequently attained a ‘Godfather’ status among the poor by providing them justice.

Haji Mastan

He was contemporary to Varadha Bhai and became the most prominent public face of the Mumbai underworld. He was a smuggler of the 1960s and 70s. Mastan and his colleague Yusuf Patel specialised in smuggling gold and silver and later invested their money in construction and real estate business. However, smuggling being his main business, his hold was limited to South Mumbai and dockyard area. Mastan also expanded his clout into Bollywood. He became the first celebrity gangster, and as his influence grew, he began producing films and cast his mistress, an aspiring startlet into small roles. Mastan was imp

risoned during the emergency. After getting freed, Mastan declared that he was giving up his crim

inal activities.

Mastan was looked upon as a saviour by Mumbai Muslims. Later, in 1988, he floated a political outfit called 'Dalit Muslim Minority Suraksha Mahasangh' with a prominent RPI leader.

Karim Lala

The Pathan may be regarded as the first big name in the Mumbai underworld. Lala dealt in drugs and gambling.

The socialist pattern adopted after the independence, especially the introduction of prohibition and anti-gambling laws, gave boost to un

derworld activities and made them exceptionally wealthy. Lala controlled gambling dens. At one point in his life, Lala floated his own outfit, the Jirga-e-Hind Pathan Party, which he claimed had the blessings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.


On why he took to crime:
“I am not a criminal. All the cases were framed against me by the police for the sake of convenience. There were 26 cases against me, including murders, but they do not have any evidence against me except bias. I am not convicted in any of these cases. You cannot call me a criminal unless proved in court. I have not committed any crime till date. All those cases were fabricated, and the courts freed me.”

On why youth join gangs: “Basically it is the unemployed and frustrated youths who have taken to crime out of desperation. A single execution of a job gives them the equivalent of a month’s salary. Also their association with the bosses who control the gang from foreign shores give them the feeling of power and thus misguides them.”

On Dawood Ibrahim: “The fight against Dawood cannot be abandoned. I am not a coward and my fight against him will continue in some way or the other.”

On Mumbai police: “It is used and misused by anybody and everybody. At times, by gangsters like Dawood for killing his rivals in fake encounters and other times also by their political masters. Still I will not make sweeping generalisations, some of the policemen are highly competent and devoted professionals.”

On allegation that his entry into politics is a front for criminal activities: “The law does not ever let go a criminal. There are so many examples. Why should I join politics to hide my criminal face? After all, the Indian judicial system has given me a second chance. If I had to run a gang, why should I sit here in Dagdi Chawl.”

About future plans: “I have spent so many years in jail, I have come across so many criminals. My experience with the criminals, youth and the police could be put to constructive use. If the police or some organisation can consult me regarding ways and means of crime control I think my experience and advice can really be helpful to society in general and youths in particular.”

On accusations that he continues his terror activities: “These accusations are absurd and baseless. I am really trying to devote myself to social service.”

On wearing the Gandhi cap: “The Gandhi topi is a necessity in politics. I wear it because I perform pooja regularly. And I do believe in some Gandhian principles. Violence and non-violence have their own place in society. It all depends on the situation.”
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