Arun Gawli: The don is finally nailed
The law has finally caught up with the Big Daddy of Mumbai mafia, Arun Gulabrao Ahir, or simply Arun Gawli, with a special court Friday sentencing him and 11 others to life for the 2007 killing of Shiv Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar.
Gawli, who for four decades played a cat-and-mouse game with the law enforcement agencies, has finally met his nemesis. This is his first conviction though he has been arrested several times for various crimes, including murder, extortion and kidnapping.
Gawli, who is in his mid 60s and is always seen with a Gandhi cap, was elected legislator in the 2004 assembly elections and continued to be one till 2009. In 2008, he was nabbed for Jamsandekar's murder along with over a dozen associates. He was also externed from Mumbai.
He contested the 2009 assembly elections from lock-up but lost, as did all other 20 nominees of his Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS).
Few, including Gawli, realised then that it was the beginning of the end for his mafia and political empire.
He spread his web from the fortress-like Dagdi Chawl in south Mumbai, where he lived with his family and "extended" family, comprising neighbours, members of his group and activists ready to die for him.
Gawli also lorded over the ABS, floated in 1997 as a rival to the Shiv Sena after it bagged power with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1995.
The ABS was formed to counter the policy of "encounter (staged shootout) killings" encouraged and rewarded by the Shiv Sena-BJP government, with Gopinath Munde as deputy chief minister holding the crucial home department.
The staged shootouts gave rise to an awed new tribe among police -- that of the "encounter specialists" -- many among whom claimed to have dozens, and some even having more than 100 scalps, under their belts.
The fortunate Gawli, who always took care to move around surrounded by a huge group of womenfolk, survived all of this.
Gawli had earlier been virtually the blue-eyed boy of the Shiv Sena, which fondly referred to him as "a Hindu don" to rival the likes of Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem and others.
Long before he joined politics, "Daddy" Gawli, as he was known to one and all, had built up an impressive curriculum vitae during his long mafia innings.
His name figured in major kidnappings, extortions, contract killings and other major crimes with the willy-nilly support of many politicians from different parties and bureaucrats out to settle personal scores.
Affiliated to the Dawood gang and starting with the likes of Amar Naik, Rama Naik, Babu Reshim, Ashok Choudhary alias Chhota babu, Guru Satam alias Mama, Anil Parab, Tatya Koli and others, most of whom were killed by police, the notorious Dagdi Chawl "syndicate" ultimately crumbled, leaving Gawli a haunted and scared person.
Perched on a huge sofa on the plush fourth floor terrace of the Dagdi Chawl, Gawli had once expressed his deepest fear - being killed by Vijay Salaskar, a police officer.
"Woh mere ko kabhi bhi uda sakta hai... Isliye main akela bahar nahi jata (He can kill me any moment... this is the reason I do not venture out alone)," he confided in a whisper to this correspondent in 2005.
Salaskar was killed while combating Pakistani terrorists in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, while Gawli was jailed in 2008.
Since his prosecution began, the "Daddy" of Dagdi Chawl took care to ensure his "boys" were not orphaned.
While his English-speaking graduate daughter Geeta is a municipal corporator and now manages the ABS affairs with her mother Asha (formerly Ayesha, a Muslim), the "boys" of his gang are now veering to strictly legal businesses and avoiding a brush with the law. He has another daughter, who is not in politics.
In the late 1990s, Gawli suffered a major setback when his nephew, Sachin, parted company with him to join the Nationalist Congress Party. He is now a minister in the ruling Democratic Front government in Maharashtra.
With dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Chhota Rajan Nikhalje and others absconding or killed, and the Gawli gang now staring at a bleak future, Mumbai's mean streets would hopefully become safer.