Chhota Rajan

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Chhota Rajan: A backgrounder; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, October 27, 2015
Chhota Rajan: A backgrounder; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, October 27, 2015

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Chhota Rajan: Biographical details

The Times of India, Oct 27 2015

Mateen Hafeez

Mill worker's son became D-gang's big foe

 Chhota Rajan was a nick name that Rajendra Nik alje, born to a lower-middle class family in Chembur, earned after he shot to fame upon joining the D-Gang in the 1980s. The son of a mill worker took his first step into the world of crime as a pickpocket after dropping out of school. He later graduated to selling movie tickets in black outside Chembur's Sahakar Cinema. While selling tickets, he began to pick up fights with rivals. His fearlessness was noticed by gangster Rajan Nair alias Bada Rajan, who took him under his wings.

Both Bada and Chhota teamed up and began to sell tickets in black, one of the main sources of income for Mumbai gangs between 1970 and 1985. Soon, Bada formed his own gang with Chhota as his chief lieutenant. Their bonding continued until Bada Rajan was killed.

Observing his daring as well as skill to spread his area of network, Dawood Ibrahim recruited him in his gang.

Rajan worked closely with Dawood until 1993 when Mumbai was shaken by serial blasts, allegedly engineered by Dawood. Rajan found sudden changes in the syndicate post the blasts.“He claimed to be a patriot and portrayed himself as a Hindu don. However, this does not justify his crimes,“ said a police officer. The most shocking case in the recent past where Rajan was allegedly involved is senior journalist J Dey's murder in 2011.

The other big cases registered against him include conspiracy to kill former Dawood gang member Aasif Khan alias Aasif Dadhi, which resulted in a shootout at Bhendi Bazar. While Aasif survived the attack, two others were killed on February 10, 2011. In 1996, Rajan formed his own gang, claiming to be a patriot who did not kill Indians like Dawood did.

Rajan's wife Sujata stayed back. Now aged 50, she lives in a redeveloped building at Tilak Nagar in Chembur with one of their three daughters, Khushi.The eldest, Nikita is an engine er; she is married and lives with her husband. Ankita is studying for an her MBA in the UK. In 2006, she was booked for extortion and money laundering.

Rajan, who escaped from India in 1988, and stayed in Dubai under Dawood's shelter till 1994, when he left with help of Indian intelligence officers. Soon after leaving Dubai, he claimed to be a patriot and engineered the killing of at least six persons suspected to be involved in the 1993 blasts. They included Saleem Kurla, Majeed Khan, Mohammed Jibran, Majeed Khan, producer Haneef Kadawala (who had gifted a Rs 12 lakh ring to a Bollywood actress). The gang even attempted to kill former customs officer Somnath Thapa.

Did V K Singh coordinate op?

There was speculation that junior external affairs minister V K Singh was involved in coordinating the operation while on an official visit to Thailand. There was no immediate confirmation, but some sources said the former Army chief played a role in the events leading to Rajan's arrest.

Extortion business

The Times of India, Oct 27 2015

Mateen Hafeez  Extortion business remained untouched by crackdown on Rajan's construction firm

With the arrest of Chhota Rajan's wife Sujata Nikalje in an extortion case in 2007, his gang began to lose control over the business in Mumbai. Khushi Construction, the firm floated by Sujata and Rajan's financial manager Abu Sawant, was also shut down following police scrutiny . His arrest, though, has seen several developers heave a sigh of relief as till now, no one could start or continue a construction project against Rajan's will.

“His gang members would extort money and launder it to him through various channels. He used this money to expand his business abroad since Mumbai police were scrutinizing his business here. His wife's arrest had brought him into the spotlight and various activities of the gang were exposed,“ said a senior officer.

While no other company other than Khushi Constructions existed on police records, cops believe it was used a front to force some developers to join hands with them, as well as for extortion. “There is information that while Rajan did not start any business other than Khushi Construction, he forcibly invested a lot of money in other builders' projects. This was meant to utilize their extortion money into a business with little chance of betrayal,“ said a source.

Soon after Sujata's arrest, police began to scan files of some projects where the underworld's investment was suspected. Even today , cops are investigating such projects, said police sources. Sujata was jailed for two years and the case is pending. If convicted, she may be sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

Afew years ago, Rajan and his cronies are learnt to have extorted around Rs 25 crore from a construction firm for carrying out a huge redevelopment project in Chembur.

The extortion money was laundered from Mumbai to Jakarta, Malaysia and Bangkok to his manager Abu Sawant, who would then invest the sum in clubs, discotheques, casinos and betting business. “Most of the businesses Rajan ran were under others' names to avoid police suspicion. His interrogation will throw light on his businesses abroad since he has been asking his cronies to send across money to him. There were reports that he was into software piracy as well, but there is no confirmation yet.We also suspect he has invested huge sums into the betting syndicate in Bangkok,“ said the source.

Cops say his interrogation will expose some builders who are suspected to be hand in glove with him.“Cops should also check if he has invested in film-making since he knows several people in the industry . His brother had made a movie in the past,“ said an officer.

“Since the D-gang had captured most of Mumbai's extortion business and invested in real estate, Rajan followed similar business plans abroad. He wanted to start a garments shop in Mumbai but someone suggested that he must not step into this area,“ said a former Mumbai crime branch officer.

An agent for Indian intelligence

The Times of India, Sep 08 2016

Chhota Rajan tells court he's an agent for Indian intel 

Calling himself a “true patriot“, jailed gangster Chhota Rajan told a trial court that he had helped “Indian intelligence agencies in fighting terrorists“.

He decided to take on terrorists and “anti-national elements“ and help the intel agencies after the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Rajan told special judge Vinod Kumar through video-conferencing while recording his statement as an accused in a case of obtaining and misusing a fake passport.

He was “extremely disturbed“ by the blasts, Rajan said, adding he was sure that they had been masterminded by Pakistan's ISI. Since 1993, I have been working constantly for my country and fighting those persons who want to damage our country . Unfortunately once a fight starts, there is no returning back and I have to keep my identity secret so that I can help those people who are involved in the protec tion of our territory.However, I was not in the country when this (fake) passport was prepared so, there is no question of my signing on any application form,“ Rajan said.

Rajan said he could not reveal the identity of those who helped him in his fight for the country due to security reasons. Rajan also claimed that he was provided the passport in the name of Mohan Kumar after fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim's henchmen tried to kill him. Refuting allegations of cheating and forgery of documents in a trial court, Rajan also alleged that his original passport was snatched in Dubai by Dawood's men after Dawood got to know that he (Rajan) was supplying infor mation to Indian intel ligence agencies about the 1993 Mumbai blasts. “Somehow, I was able to escape from Dubai and reached Ma laysia. Thereafter, I went to Bangkok where an attempt of my life was made in 2000 by the henchmen of Dawood,“ Rajan said.

Rajan and three former government officials are facing trial in the case for several offences including that of cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy . All accused had pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.

RAW, IB used `patriotic' don against Dawood

The Times of India, Oct 27 2015

Raj shekhar Jha & S Ahmed Ali

Away from action for long, he may not have fresh info

RAW, IB used `patriotic' don against Dawood

While arrested gangster Chhota Rajan will be crucial to cracking cases such as the murder of journalist J Dey and other criminal or terrorism cases registered against him and others in Mumbai, there is little hope that he will have any new piece of information to share with Indian agencies. Sources in the security establishment say Rajan has been out of touch with the core underworld as he has led an isolated life since several years now.

He had restricted the reach of his acquaintances even further in the past one year. He only made calls on VOIP using proxies to hide his location. At times, he made calls on Whatsapp.

Even as these reports have been doing the rounds, there is one theory that the arrest may have been stage-managed by Rajan himself as he wanted to return to India due to his ill health and feared being killed by rival Chhota Shakeel.

“By December 2014, Rajan virtually had no members in his gang. He was in touch with some people from Uttar Pradesh and other states to get men for any job temporarily. He was finished as a ganglord,“ said an official who had been tracking Rajan's movements.

This state of affairs is a far cry from the year 1998, when Rajan was detained in Thailand while travelling on a fictitious passport, but he walked out within a day .Sources said the Union home ministry as well as the security agencies were not interested in getting him extradiated.

Officials said intelligence agencies were using him to counter fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim. Rajan was instrumental in eliminating certain ISI and Dawood aides, including Nepal MLA Dilshad Mirza Baig, ISI mastermind Khalid Masood, Parvez Tanda in Nepal-all with the blessings of the Indian intelligence. There were unconfirmed reports that Rajan was involved in the killing of Takiuddin Wahid Khan of East-West Airlines, suspected to be close to Dawood.He also allegedly orchestrated the killing of Nepal cable operator Jamim Shah, another D-Company aide.

Senior police officials said Rajan always tried to portray himself as “a patriotic Hindu don“ after his split from Dawood following the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. The Intelligence Bureau and particularly the Research Analysis Wing (RAW), have in the past used Rajan against Dawood.

In 2005, the agency had reportedly sent two Rajan aides -Vicky Malhotra and the late Farid Tanasha-to eliminate Dawood in Karachi. A senior official of IB who currently holds a senior post in the government, supervised the operation. But before that, Mumbai crime branch arrested Malhotra and Tanasha and booked them under the stringent MCOCA. This was the time when Dawood's elder daughter Mahrook was to get married to Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad's son in Karachi.

“The plan was that when Dawood would arrive at the venue, the two shooters would kill him,“ said an officer.

The second time Rajan slipped from the Thai policewas in September 2000 when Chhota Shakeel's shooter Munna Jingada carried out a serious attack on him in Bangkok. While Rajan was seriously wounded in the firing, his confidante Rohit Verma was shot dead. Rajan was admitted at Samitivej Hospital in Thailand.

A team of five police officers flew to Thailand to record his statement and get him back to India but before this, Rajan's allies Vijay Shetty and Santosh Shetty helped him flee from the hospital. Thai government suspended five officials for negligence and a police officer came under the radar for allegedly aiding Rajan's escape.

Why India's intelligence agencies turned against him

The Times of India, Oct 27 2015

Neeraj Chauhan & Raj Shekhar Jha  Why did agencies turn against him?

So what changed the attitude of India's intelligence agencies towards Chhota Rajan, once regarded as an `asset' against Dawood Ibrahim? Was it because of something he did ­ such as double-crossing them or withholding information ­ that irked the agencies? Or, because he had outlived his utility and even become a liability? Or, was it to protect him from Dawood's hit-men who've been planning a hit on him ever since his cover had been blown and his whereabouts disclosed? If top government officials are to be believed, the 55year-old don recently made some “serious errors“ after which a decision was taken to pursue him. A senior official told TOI that the decision to arrest Rajan with the help of Interpol was taken with some care and deliberation. Without going into details, officials said there was also a possibility Australia was not happy with Rajan's presence there.

Canberra might have been unsettled by reports that Dawood henchman Chhota Shakeel was planning to assassinate him; it didn't want shootouts and bloodshed on its soil. The other possibility being spoken of is that Rajan may have been running out of options. He is thought to have been cornered, especially after DCompany discovered he was holed up Down Under.

TOI reported on July 3 that Rajan was living in Australia. The reports are said to have built immense pressure on him as well as on Indian and Australian agencies to act. The Indian embassy in Jakarta was alerted on Sunday about an Indian being arrested in Bali. “We take these things seriously , so we checked on his passport as soon as we were informed,“ said Indian ambassador to Indonesia, Gurjit Singh. “The passport in the name of Mohan Kumar was completely kosher,“ he said.

But the next morning Singh said he was informed by the Indonesian authorities that `Mohan Kumar' was actually Chotta Rajan, who had been living in Australia and flew in from Sydney . The tipoff to the Indonesians came from the Australians while the Indians had made a request to pick up Chotta Rajan to the Interpol. The Indonesians said they were responding to the Indian request. “Till April, only a handful of people in agencies knew that Rajan was in Australia.However, in mid-April his cook and a person who handled his travel logistics blew his cover. They tipped off Chhota Shakeel about his whereabouts,“ an official said on Monday . Indian agencies, trailing Dawood's main man Shakeel, intercepted conversations in a mix of Hindi and Urdu that gave out the contours of a plan to dispatch shooters to eliminate Rajan. In a conversation with TOI on July 4, Shakeel had “invited“ Rajan to a faceoff and confirmed his men were still in Australia.

Other sources said Rajan had begun to bring a bad name to Indian intelligence agencies -especially after reports of his alleged role in the murder of journalist J Dey -for the alleged protection they were reportedly offering him.

2000: State, Centre did not agree on Rajan’s extradition

The Times of India, Oct 28 2015

Ahmed Ali

State, Centre did not agree on Rajan extradition in 2000

Gangster Chhota Rajan could have been brought back to India in 2000, but for a difference of opinion in the echelons of power, said policemen who dealt with the don then. The Congress NCP state government was keen on getting Rajan, but the BJP-led Centre wasn't. Retired ACP Shankar Kamble, who was part of the three-member team that went to Bangkok after Rajan was injured in an attack, said: “Initially, the government had shown interest in getting them and hence, we were sent to record Rajan's statement. Rajan too was keen on returning to India but within five days, things changed. We were not allowed to speak to him and were told to come back. “I had a meeting with then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who showed a lot of interest and hence we send a team of officers to get him back. But within five days, our team was told by the Thai authorities that Rajan had fled by jumping from the window . Now, I doubt the version how Ra jan, who was critically injured, could have jumped. Secondly , the government too was not keen as we did not get the kind of coordi nation he expected,“ said M N Singh, who was the Mumba police commissioner then.

Sources said Rajan was ad vised by the Intelligence Bu reau (IB) against returning. It used the opportunity to insti gate Rajan against Dawood “When the Indian security agencies started wooing him dangling Dawood as the carrot Rajan got carried away and did not think twice,“ said the sour ce. They said Singh and joint commissio ner D Sivanandan had pursued the case and were instrumental in clearing the Mumbai police team's visit to Bangkok to study the sequence of events of the attack on Rajan, believing bringing him back wo uld have a direct impact on the Mumba gangland killings.

2015: Assets are worth Rs400cr-500cr

The Times of India, Oct 30 2015

Ahmed Ali

Chhota Rajan's assets are worth `400cr-500cr

Mumbai crime branch, which has been keeping tabs on Chhota Rajan's criminal activities since three decades, said his assets total between Rs 400 crore and Rs 500 crore. Officials said he had built a few hotels, discos and casinos in Malaysia, Singapore and Jakarta. In Mumbai, he had invested in a few properties and was a sleeping partner with a few builders. Most of the properties he brought in foreign lands were in part nership. Once arrested, chances are that his partners will usurp these, said sources. “Nobody has done an audit of his properties. Nobody else other than Rajan himself or his manager Abu Santosh Sawant can tell us about his assets and his worth,“ said a senior officer who now serves at the anti-terrorism squad (ATS).

Another officer said, “Had we known about his investments in Mumbai, we would had frozen them, like in 2006 we froze bank accounts of his wife Sujata Nikhalje and Kushi Developers, his money laundering construction company in Chembur.“

Victims' families still live in fear

Though Chhota Rajan has been arrested in Indonesia, the fear of the gangster is still palpable among family members of those killed by Rajan's gang. TOI tracked down five of the victims but none of them was ready to come and talk on record.

“We definitely want him to be brought back and face the gallows but we don't want to talk against him openly as he may target us. We have already suffered a lot due to the killing in our family. What had my brother done? Only when Rajan loses his dear ones will he feel the pain we went through,“ said a family member of one of the victims who was killed in February 2010. Ahmed Ali

2018: first conviction in a major case

Ahmed Ali, Boast on TV proved to be Chhota Rajan’s nemesis, May 3, 2018: The Times of India

Gangster Rajan Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan, who allegedly enjoys the blessings of intelligence agencies, was confident of being acquitted in journalist J Dey’s murder case for lack of evidence.

According to police sources, though more than five dozens cases are registered against Rajan, he was directly involved in only a handful of them. And since his deportation from Indonesia in 2015, Rajan has been sending messages to his cronies and a few builders that as most of the cases were very old, it would be difficult for cops to nail him and he would soon be out on bail, sources said.

“He was even confident that he would be acquitted in the J Dey murder case as there was no direct evidence. However, the journalist fraternity stood by the prosecution and gave voice samples of Rajan’s live TV interview openly admitting to have ordered Dey’s killing claiming that the latter was trying to tarnish his gang’s image,” said a police officer. This proved to be concrete evidence against Rajan.

This is his first conviction in a major case. As many as 64 cases relating to murder, attempt to murder, extortion were registered against Rajan between 1978 and 2011.

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