Gangs of Bengaluru: How IT boom changed the face of gang wars
Bengaluru:On 27 July 2012, traffic came to a standstill on the busy Tumkur Road on the National Highway 4, but this logjam wasn’t the one residents of Bengaluru encounter often. Little did people stuck in the traffic know that ahead on the road, a politician was being butchered by a group of machete-wielding, gun-holding gangsters.
Around 8.45 pm, BEML Krishnappa, a resident of Nelamangala and Congress member of Bangalore Rural Zilla panchayat, was heading home after attending a business meeting at Basaveshwara Circle near Vidhana Soudha. He was accompanied by an armed bodyguard in his SUV when he realised around 30 men armed with guns, machetes and other lethal weapons were on his tail. Moments later, his car came to a screeching halt after being blocked by a truck, as planned by the gangsters, who first opened fire at him and then to be sure he had died, hacked him.
For Bengaluru, which had moved on from the gang violence of the 90s, this was a chilling déjà vu. The murder was part of a gang rivalry between two Bettanagere cousins Srinivas alias Seena and Shankar alias Shankara.
While gang rivalries in the decades from 1970 to 90 were mainly over illegal sale of liquor, kerosene and oil, in the new liberalised Bengaluru, claim over lucrative real estate became the primary lure for gang wars.
Praveen Sood, the current Karnataka Police chief, who served in Bengaluru in the early 2000s in various roles including the city police commissioner and additional commissioner of police, traffic, said liberalisation led to the property value in the city shooting up. “Before the IT boom, it was the licence raj that was the source of quick money for gangsters. They battled to gain control over whatever became scarce because of the licences. That’s the reason we had gangsters like Oil Kumar, who had control over the oil supply of Bengaluru. This seems like a small thing, but then it provided profit,” Sood added.
As the city expanded, most of these gang activities moved to the outskirts. “Post-liberalisation, rowdy activities shifted towards real estate. If you look at Bengaluru’s development as concentric circles and if you draw a line on the extend of gangster activities from 1990 to 2020, you will see the activities moving towards the outermost edge, where new layouts were coming up and land disputes were common. Here, gangsters used their muscle power,” said MN Anucheth, a 2009-batch IPS officer, who is currently posted as the DCP central.
The story of the Bettanagere brothers and their growth coincided with the real estate boom in Nelamangala, Devanahalli and other north Bengaluru areas in the last decade.
In 2005, Seena and Shankara, the Bettanagere cousins, were jailed in connection with the murder of Balekai Bassavaiah, who had defeated Hanumanthaiah, Seena’s father, in the taluk milk producers’ co-operative elections in 2004.
The rivalry began when Shankara managed to get bail and walked out of the prison, while Seena remained in jail. The rivalry resulted in nine murders, including that of Krishnappa. The murders were the result of the disputes over real estate deals and Seena’s political ambitions.
Political ambitions were another trait of the post-90s gangsters. “In the earlier days, being a gangster meant fame and fear that would help them hold on to their territories. But in the 2000s, most rowdies aspired to get political powers and not come into the limelight as much. They believe that political power gave them legitimacy and more power,” said a serving police officer, who didn’t want to be named.
“If politicians used gangsters to further their agenda, a look now at the criminal background of several politicians, especially at corporator level, one can see being a rowdy was a steppingstone,” the officer added.
In 2005, Seena was serving as a gram panchayat member and Shankara was opposed to his cousin’s political ambitions. Krishnappa is said to have helped Shankara get bail and soon the two joined hands.
In 2008, Krishnappa allegedly got his rival and member of Nelamangala Taluk Panchayat, Hadiyaala Devi, killed by Shankar’s gang. Devi was Seena’s brother-in-law.
The gang war between both gangs left a trail of blood. The first to be killed were advocate Devaraj and farmer Krishnamurthy, who were eyewitnesses to Basavaiah murder. Since Devaraj was killed in front of his father Bylappa, he was murdered too. Devaraj’s son-in-law, Gangondanahalli Ramamurthy, a local politician, too was murdered when he tried to take revenge on the cousins.
In retaliation of Devi’s murder, Seena’s gang is said to have murdered realtor Lohith Gowda, who was close to Shankara. The gang rivalry eventually resulted in the mid-highway murder of Krishnappa in 2012.
A month later, in September 2012, Seena was killed in a police encounter.
In November 2003, Rowdy Rajendra alias Bekkina Kannu (cat eye) Rajendra was hacked to death by a gang of five persons near Chalukya hotel in High Grounds police station limits. Years before his murder, Rajendra had been involved in the real estate and cable business.
He was also a contractor for the Bengaluru Development Authority and Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, thus enjoying close contact with several politicians in the city. One of the suspects in his murder, another gangster Silent Sunil, is on top of the police list, said officials of the Central Crime Branch (CCB).
Another gang rivalry over real estate was reported in June 2016, when a gang of four men, armed with swords and choppers, barged into a Cafe Coffee Day outlet and attacked a realtor and history-sheeter, Mahesh, killing him on the spot.
The investigation revealed that the public attack was the fallout of the murder of a 28-year-old gangster Harsha, who was hacked to death in Vijaya Nagar on April 27 this year by 10 men. The assailants are suspected to be Harsha’s associates. The rival gang suspected Mahesh of financing Harsha’s murder.
In March 2019, Lakshmana, 42, allegedly involved in several cases of murder and land grab, was hacked to death by a five-member gang in Mahalakshmi Layout, near Iskcon Temple.Police suspect the killing to be the fallout of a gang rivalry. Lakshmana, who lived in Sunkadakatte, is the twin of Rama, was also a gangster. The duo, known as the Rama-Lakshmana brothers in Bengaluru’s rowdy sheets, had specialised in grabbing land from people by using threats and violence.
Some gangsters tried to create an underworld in line with the Mumbai’s underworld in the 1990s. A prominent one being gangster Ravi Poojari. One of the first cases against him was for his alleged involvement in a fatal shootout against builder Subbaraju in 2001 in Bengaluru. He has been charge-sheeted in the case but is yet to stand trial. He is also charge-sheeted for the shootout at realty firm Shabnam Developers, which left two dead in February 2007.
His henchmen allegedly carried out a shootout at UTV, the Bollywood production company’s office in 2009, and at the office of Mantri Developers in 2010, both in Bengaluru. The last shootout he was allegedly involved in was against Bharati Builders in Mangaluru in 2014.
However, he was unable to establish control over Bengaluru and was eventually taken into custody in February 2020.
According to police, while earlier gangs tried to keep control over the entire city, in the later years, the war of domination was localised and limited to areas in the outskirts of the city. “The nature of crime has changed before and post-liberalisation. Even though not as brazen as the 90s, gang rivalries continue to be a top priority in policing, especially in Bengaluru,” said DG and IGP Sood. “Unlike the 90s, the rivalries are more decentralised and localised. Still, it poses a big challenge,” he added.