Chhota Rajan did not just run out of luck; he ran out of time and places to hide with Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s aide Chhota Shakeel hot on his trail. Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, Mumbai Police sources say, tamely surrendered to the law in Indonesia on Sunday because Shakeel had vowed to murder him before Diwali.
Rajan suffers from a slew of ailments — some believe kidney failure is the prime reason for his ‘surrender’— and has been on the run ever since he split from Dawood after the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Shakeel has been pursuing Rajan ever since.
The most recent attempt on Rajan’s life was about two months ago in Australia where he had moved to earlier this year.
In a pattern of betrayal that has become the hallmark of the revenge saga, Rajan met his old henchman Anil Riteshwar in Australia. Riteshwar had played a crucial role in one of the biggest hits ever to rock the Mumbai underworld, the killing of Sharad Shetty, the D-Company’s third-in-command, in 2003. Shetty’s death was a major blow to Dawood, as he was the money brains of the group.
“It was natural for Rajan to trust Anil Riteshwar,” says a police officer. Rajan should have known, however, that Riteshwar had stayed in Dubai after Sharad Shetty’s killing, and it could not have been possible without Shakeel’s blessings. The only caution Rajan exercised while meeting Riteshwar was that he did not meet him at the house where he used to live, says the officer.
Rajan, who has four or five homes in Australia, would shift from one to the other. This habit helped him escape yet another Shakeel attempt on his life, about two months ago. Riteshwar betrayed Rajan to Shakeel who then sent a team of assassins to execute the murder. Shakeel’s killer team even visited the house where Rajan had met Riteshwar, say police sources.
Failure or not, Shakeel’s team stayed on in Australia, and Rajan realised he had run out of places to hide. He got in touch with Indian authorities in Australia. Riteshwar’s role was ascertained by the Intelligence Bureau who had monitored his calls to Pakistan, say police sources. Riteshwar, police sources say, had fallen for Shakeel’s promise that he would get control of Mumbai if Rajan was killed.
Shakeel’s first attempt to eliminate Rajan was at a boat party in Dubai before the 1993 blasts. Rajan got wind of the plot in time, and managed to make Dawood stay Shakeel’s hand. The blasts happened soon after, and Rajan got away to Bangkok as the leader of his own new ‘patriotic’ gang. Evading the law and a bent-on-murder Shakeel meant Rajan had to constantly move between Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In the late 90s, he was arrested in Indonesia, but his then trusted lieutenant Santosh Shetty used his resources and contacts with the Indonesian Coast Guard to help Rajan escape to Bangkok, police sources say.
Other henchmen weren’t as faithful. Mohan Kotian, one of Rajan’s own, gave away his Bangkok location to Shakeel and his men. Shakeel sent a team of trained assassins led by Munna Jhingada to the Thailand capital in 2000. Rajan’s luck held, and their well-planned attack was unsuccessful. Rajan, with the help of Santosh Shetty and Bharat Nepali, managed to later escape from the custody of the Bangkok police. Since then he had been moving between Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines to escape the relentless Shakeel.