If Rajendra Sadashiv Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan thinks he can return to India and run his gang like the old days, he would not be more wrong.
Who will become Rajan’s second-in-command is the big question which could trigger a split within the gang, said police sources.
Rajan’s rise from a petty criminal in Tilak Nagar area of Mumbai to become a close confidante of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, and his much publicised split after the 1993 serial blasts is well-documented.
In 1994, Rajan fled from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur and took with him many Dawood Ibrahim’s key aides, including Sadhu Shetty, Jaspal Singh and Mohan Kotiyan.
He was then joined by gang members of Mutthapa Rai and the likes of Santosh Shetty, Hemant Pujari Dharmesh Shah, alias Nanu, and Ravi Pujari.
For around six years till 2000, Rajan managed to expand his empire and his key lieutenants. New faces such as Ravi Mallesh Bora alias DK Rao and Vicky Malhotra joined the gang.
But after Chhota Shakeel tried to kill Rajan at Bangkok in 2000, Rajan’s gang slowly started to crumble, said police sources.
“His gang started to crumble primarily because Rajan, after the attack, was suspicious of almost everyone,” said a police officer, who closely monitors the underworld. And this led to miscommunications and mistrust in Rajan’s gang.
The gang suffered a deadly blow when his most trusted and feared lieutenant Kiran alias Balu Dokre was stabbed to death by Rashid Malbari, a D-Company operative, in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in 2005.
“Dokre was feared by everyone in the Rajan gang. After his death, Rajan almost lost entire control over his gang,” said a police officer.
Moreover, Santosh Shetty, the brain behind Rajan’s company, broke away to run his own gang after a verbal altercation over a failed drug deal. Rajan usurped Shetty’s restaurant in Bangkok.
Later, Hemant Pujari who was a feared name among bar owners, real estate developers and businessman in Mumbai split from Rajan to start his own gang in the Maldives.
Ravi Pujari too followed suit and Rajan was left with DK Rao, Vicky Malhotra and Dharmesh Shah alias Nanu.
Rajan fought with Shah over a land in Kalyan, and usurped the plot for real estate development, said police sources. Though Shah has not openly rejected Rajan, he is not the gangster’s close associate.
The 15 years from 2000 has been too long for people such as DK Rao and Vicky Malhotra who have not met Rajan in person even once. “With men to run the gang and Rajan being a poor paymaster, DK Rao started his own operations under Rajan’s name. And Vicky too with the blessing of central agencies has been running his own business,” said a police officer, requesting anonymity.
But neither DK Rao nor Vicky Malhotra see eye to eye with each other. “If Rajan decides to promote Rao as his second-in-command, Malhotra will surely see red. And there is also a chance of Rao operating on his own,” added the officer.
The situation is such that Rajan does not have many top lieutenants left on his side, which may lead to his gang crumbling after he is back.