He had spent weeks trying to track the rather irregular movements of the 32-year-old police officer who had shot dead many a gangster in police encounters. The 30-something Aarif Mirza Baig had been assigned the job by Karachi-based Chhota Shakeel, the under-boss of the D company, led by don Dawood Ibrahim.
Baig's 'watchers' had warned him it would be difficult to target encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, then posted with the western region police's special squad, now with the DN Nagar police in Mumbai. Since he was 'protected' during work hours, the key was to strike during his off-duty hours, when he emerged from his flat at JB Nagar in Andheri (East).
The moment Baig and his associate shooters were looking for arrived, unexpectedly, one early morning in February 1997, they spotted Sharma at a local ice-cream shop. Shakeel's orders had been unambiguous: "Shoot to kill." But Baig let the moment slip away; his finger never reached the trigger.
He's said to have told his boss that he did not shoot because Sharma was accompanied by a little girl in a frock — a hail of bullets could have hurt the child as well.
The ruthless Shakeel did not reprimand Baig for letting go of the 'target'. For, not hurting a marked man's family is an established company ka usool (rule of the D gang). Though the underworld by definition exists in defiance of the rule of law, it operates by its own set of unwritten codes. The underworld might have just one defining religion — money — but it is also sensitive to honour, ego and loyalty. The usool, say observers, have evolved over the years in response to these factors.
Though the underworld can sometimes flout the rules to suit its convenience, here are the seven big 'uns.
On that February morning, Pradeep Sharma was unaware of the danger that had slipped by him. But one month later, in March, he arrested Baig, who was nabbed with his AK-47 assault rifle, along with six other Dawood gangsters.
During the ensuing interrogations, Baig surprised Sharma with a throwaway line: "I let you go that day." Asked to explain, he revealed the details of the incident nonchalantly.
Sharma made it clear he thought Baig was trying to bluff. Slighted, the shooter offered proof: "The little girl with you was wearing a pink frock." Sharma then recalled that his daughter, around nine years old at the time, had on her favourite pink frock that day.
There was a sudden hush in the interrogation room but Sharma moved on. He explains why: "If I had asked him any more questions he would've thought he could rattle a police officer. So I let it pass."
Baig is currently believed to be in Dubai, having jumped bail and fled the country. According to a source, the mob bosses accepted the invocation of the usool but do not rule out the possibility that Baig might have made the excuse to cover up his failure.
The original code. As a gangster currently out on bail put it, "Family ko kabhi bhi touch nahi karne ka."
Since 1993, when Dawood's right hand man Chhota Rajan caused a vertical split down the gang, they have not ceased to be at each other's throats. Dawood ordered a murderous bid on Rajan on September 15, 2000, at his Bangkok pad by a six-member hit man squad sent from Mumbai. Rajan has got several of Dawood's close associates killed, including Sharad Shetty (alias Vangya) and Sunil Sawant (alias Sautya). And the list of dead on both sides is a long one.
But the two gangs have stuck to the rules even in this unspooling series of vendetta killings. They have let the families of their rivals live in peace, even though they make easy targets. Dawood's parents, who stayed at Dongri's Temkar mohalla, are no more but while they were alive, remained untouched by his rivals. Dawood's sister, Haseena 'aapa', still stays in the area with her family. Similarly, Rajan's wife Sujata and their three daughters stay at the family's home in Chembur's Tilak Nagar. (His wife is currently in custody under the stringent MCOCA.)
The way to get back a rival gangster is to harm him personally. Says one, "If our rival is a shooter, we tip off the police to take care of him. If he is involved in smuggling, drugs or gun-running, we give the authorities the details of his consignment and get them seized." He adds matter-of-factly, "Or we can simply kill him, of course."
BUT THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS TO RULE TWO
* Gangsters sometimes make exceptions in times of desperation. The six Dawood hitmen who sprayed Chhota Rajan with bullets (who survived the attack and escaped with two bullet injuries) ended up hurting the wounded don's right-hand man Raoit Verma and his wife Sangeeta. Verma succumbed to his injuries but Sangeeta recovered. D company sources claim Sangeeta was hit by a "stray, ricocheting bullet".
* Vicky Malhotra, Rajan's ace shooter now in Arthur road jail, had allegedly made a 'hit' on a rival Shivram Shetty in 1996, in which his wife also died.
* An Andheri-based gangster, John, was killed at Juhu in 1983 when he was dropping his daughter off at school. John had tried to escape, but the shooters pointed their guns at the kid and asked him to return. When he did, they killed him, leaving the daughter unharmed.
* The Dawood gang killed rival Arun Gawli's brother — Kishore alias Papa — in 1989, in retaliation to Arun's murder of Dawood's hawala handler, Mahendra Choradia. Gawli squared his loss by eliminating Dawood aides Lambu Ameer and Rajji Mehendi.
The underworld generally avoids killing a policeman, especially a high profile one. For that could trigger massive and focused police reprisals against the shooter and the rest of the mob.
The options the underworld may exercise, instead, says Mumbai Crime Branch's senior police inspector Jaywant Hargude, is to "try and get the troublesome officers transferred or harass him in some other way (without harming their families of course)."
Gangs do not take betrayals kindly and have an elephantine memory as far as avenging them is concerned. Chhota Rajan's gang is suspected to have killed a gang member, Kamal Nepali, in September last year at Kathmandu because he had helped rival Shakeel's hit-men kill Rajan's right hand Balu Dokre in Malaysia in July 2005. The Rajan team tracked Nepali for a year.
Such instances abound in the underworld where loyalty is paramount.
The gangs have a strict, vertical hierarchy when it comes to decision-making. A junior member is not expected to speak unless spoken to. And he certainly cannot talk back.
Dawood's top shooter Firoze Kokani and gangster Irfan Goga were killed when they violated this rule, claim sources. Kokani, who had escaped from police custody and fled the country, had reportedly called up Dawood himself to complain about his 'ill-treatment'. Hours later, he is suspected to have been killed by his boss's men.
Similarly, Goga was reportedly eliminated in Dubai for angering Dawood's brother Anees Ibrahim.
If he suffers the misfortune of being jailed, there is one consolation: a gangster is acknowledged to be at the top of the pecking order (rapists come last).
Because of gangland rivalries, members of one 'company' will stay firmly together and keep their distance from criminals of other hues. At Mumbai's Arthur Road jail, two group of inmates — one belonging to the D 'company' and the other to the Chhota Rajan 'company' are said to call the shots.
An ex-inmate, currently out on bail, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the 11 Chhota Shakeel inmates deported from Dubai late 2006, are having it 'good'. "Thieves, rapists and cheats get so little space, they have to sleep on their side. These gangsters get enough space for three men to sleep," he complained.
The preferential treatment also extends to alcohol, piping hot biryani and seekh korma from time to time. And sources claim gangsters are treated well by prison officials as well and are even offered chairs when called in for questioning.
The mob swears by both, the power and virtues of silence (the Sicilian 'omerta', made famous by Hollywood). A gangster who gets caught is expected to keep his tongue tied and not 'sing'.
If you've watched the Godfather series or even Bollywood flicks like Satya and Vaastav, you know what this means: if he doesn't spill any secrets, the gang will take good care of his family. If he does, reprisal will be swift and lethal.
In any case, most information in gangland is handed out only on a need-to-know basis.
Operations are carried out by various teams — watchers, couriers, shooters — who keep in touch with a common controller but are not told each other's identities.
Email Abhishek Sharan: abhishek .firstname.lastname@example.org