If the Congress has Dawood Ibrahim with them, we have Arun Gawli' roared Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray at a public meeting before the 1995 Maharashtra assembly election.
Just two years later, 'amchi (our)' Gawli has turned the tables on the Sena, emerging as its rival in Bombay despite the fact that his party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena, did not win a single seat in the municipal election. Its union, the Akhil Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, too is swiftly spreading its tentacles in the city.
Acquitted of most of the charges against him, the gangster is, to a large extent, a free man. Yet, he rarely ventures out of his fortress, the infamous Dagdi Chawl in central Bombay, and is guarded at all times by more than a hundred people.
Syed Firdaus Ashraf had to pass a metal detector and three security checks before he could encounter Gawli. Excerpts from the interview:
The Akhil Bharatiya Sena is just about a year old. What makes you feel that it is already a threat to the Sena?
The Sena did not do anything for its workers after it came to power. There are people there who have worked for the party for the last 20 years, and yet no one has bothered to take care of them. Even the Sena union, the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, is not doing anything for its workers.
The Sena did not even keep the promises it made to the people in rural Maharashtra. The people have realised that they are not going to get any kind of help from the Shiv Sena; this is why they are supporting us today.
How successful are your schemes for the unemployed youth?
This innovative idea belongs to our party. And I hope it continues to do well. In the last four months, we have given jobs to 700 to 800 people.
Why did you start taking over the unions only after the death of trade union leader Dr Datta Samant? Why are the workers rejecting the traditional unions in your favour?
You see, the living standard of the labourers is the same as it was, say, five years ago. The union leaders only gave them false promises. The workers feel I can rectify that error. That is why they are supporting me.
How is your union different from the others?
When the workers come to me, I want to know on what basis they have approached me. Why do they want to join my union? It is only when I see that 60 per cent of the work force in a factory is with us, that we allow them to to join our union.
Do you think the workers's problems have increased after the liberalisation of the economy?
We believe the rights of a labourer should not be compromised. But we also say that the employer has the right to set matters straight in his company and the workers should co-operate with him.
In the late 1960s, the Congress used the Shiv Sena to eliminate Communists from Maharashtra. Today, they are using you to eliminate the Sena.
I do not accept this allegation. God brought me into this profession. There is no brain behind this party. It is a wave which has brought me here. The Congress itself is not united. It has two groups -- one of which quietly supports the government.
All over Maharashtra, people are upset with the BJP-Sena government. And the government thinks there is no one who will take them to task about their misdoings. That no one will oppose them. The people support me because I raise my voice on their behalf.
Why did you enter politics?
It was what the public demanded. When I was in jail, a lot of people approached me and asked me to start my own party. Many of my supporters in Lal Baug and Dharavi made me their leader even when I was in jail. I had no choice but to bow to their desire.
Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde, told Rediff On The NeT that you continue to be involved with the underworld even today.
Do you expect him to praise me, now that I am his opponent?
He said your party is funded by the underworld...
These kind of statements only reflect the irresponsibility of his government.
It is alleged that your foray into politics is a front for your criminal activities.
When has the law ever let go of a criminal, whether in politics, business or the underworld? Look at Laloo's fate today. Look at Narasimha Rao and Jayalalitha. If you commit a crime, the law will discover it sooner or later.
Why should I join politics to hide my criminal face? After all, the Indian judicial judicial system has given me a second chance. Do you think I would waste it? If I had to run a gang, why should I sit here in Dagdi Chawl. The journalists and the intellectuals are not ******** (expletive deleted). I cannot fool the people.
That is not the issue. I would like to how your party is funded.
Our party exists because of the people. And it is the people who are my money and muscle power.
Where does your party get the money it needs?
Who will give us funds? Builders and industrialists only fund people who are in power. Today, our party is not in a position to return favours, so why will anyone give us money? Probably, everyone feels that we are of no use to them as we are not in power. People who give funds to any party are involved in black marketeering. And these are the people who continue to benefit when such governments come to power.
So where do you get the money from?
We have all kinds of people -- rich, middle class and poor -- in our party. These people donate the money, according to their capacity, to keep the party going. Our party has hardly any expenses. We do not have annual celebrations, unlike the Congress which is holding its plenary session in Calcutta. (laughs)
Today, you are referred to a gangster-turned- politician...
I began doing social work only to bring succour to those who suffered the atrocities of that underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim. The police were the ones who branded me a gangster. I've never said that I lead the 'Gawli gang'; it is the police who say that. The people on the street do not call me a gangster; only the police and the press do so.
At one time, they called Dagdi Chawl a deadly place. Today, the situation is different. Today, people from all over Maharashtra come to Dagdi Chawl without fear. If I were still in jail, everyone would have still feared the name of Dagdi Chawl.
You must understand that many people are compelled to become gangsters because of circumstances beyond their control. The Constitution of India does not recognise a gang as a legal entity. The words 'gang' and 'gangster' have been coined by the police.
Former underworld gangster Haji Mastan refused to be called a gangster unless that charge was proven against him in court. Do you agree with his view?
I do. How can you call me a gangster until you prove that charge against me in court? I don't even have a gang, so why do you call me a gangster?
Why did you become a gangster?
I did not become a gangster; I only stood against Dawood when he was involved in the narcotics trade. As a result, my brother and a reporter from the weekly magazine, Khatarnak, were killed by his men. And the police labelled me a gangster. Till date, I have not committed any crime. Yet, the police framed wrong charges against me under TADA.
Where did you work earlier?
I worked in Godrej for some months before I joined Crompton. After that, I became a social worker and the police termed me as a gangster.
Earlier, Bal Thackeray used to say that if the Congress had Dawood Ibrahim, he had Arun Gawli. Why did you distance yourself from the Sena?
Balasaheb made this statement during the elections in Maharashtra. He knew it would get him votes. I came to know about this statement when I was in jail. As a result of his statement, the government shifted me to anaanda (egg) cell, where prisoners are kept isolated from others. That started affecting me mentally.
Have you ever met him. Or telephoned him?
Have you met any of the Sena leaders?
Yes, people like Mohan Rawle know me since they have been in politics for a long time.
The ABS did not win a single seat in the Bombay municipal election despite contesting in 40 constituencies.
First, we were a new party. Second, I was not completely involved in the ABS; I supported the party but I used to function from outside. Third, the Shiv Sainiks met me very often. Fourth, they arrested me under the National Securities Act. The Sena played a clever game -- their MP, Mohan Rawle, went on a fast, demanding that I be released. As a result, the people thought that I was backing the Sena. They spread rumours thatbhai (brother) said to vote for the Sena.
Is the government implicating you in false cases and harassing your workers?
They are trying to charge me with false cases. However, thanks to the courts, I am free. The police are harassing my family and party workers. They are even harassing the fathers, mothers and relatives of my party workers. They say they will continue to interrogate them as long as their son is part of the ABS.
The only way to escape this harassment is to resign from the ABS. I have told my people that they can resign from the ABS by stating police harassment as a cause.
Will the economic differences in Bombay lead to a class war between the haves and the have-nots?
If the income difference continues to be large, it might happen in Bombay. The rich must realise that they can live peacefully only if the poor are happy. Otherwise, the poor people will loot them.
Do you think you will be a force to contend with in the coming elections?
I have a good amount of support. But I am not overconfident.
You have taken to wearing the Gandhi topi (cap) these days. Do you believe in his ideals of non-violence?
The Gandhi topi is a necessity in politics. I wear it because I do puja(worship) regularly. And I do believe in some Gandhian principles. Violence and non-violence have their own place in society. It all depends on the situation.
‘Salman came to Dubai when I was with Dawood’
Old colleagues, Dawood IBrahim and Chhota Rajan are today waging a war for control of the Mumbai underworld. Rajan was once lynchpin of D-Company; today he is one of the tools Indian intelligence uses to strike at the Dawood empire. In an exclusive telephone interview from somewhere in Europe,Chhota Rajan reveals how Salman Khan lunched with Dawood in his presence and goes on to claim that Bharat Shah (acquitted on this specific charge) was a front for Dawood’s money. Repeatedly invoking the ‘national interest’ to justify his actions, he also admits to his close linkages with India’s Intelligence Bureau. Excerpts:
At the outset, what do you know about Salman Khan’s links with the underworld. In a conversation with Aishwarya Rai, he claims to know Dawood IBrahim, Chhota Shakeel and you. He has named you too in the tape.
No, I have not financed any film.
So, you have no links in film industry…
No, I have nothing to do with it.
That’s not true. Isn’t it because there are reports here that you called Ram Gopal Varma, the director of d?
I had spoken to Ram Gopal Varma only to tell him to not glorify a traitor like Dawood. I wanted to know why he was making a film on a deshdrohi. Varma told me that he had made a commercial film and that the main character of the film is not really Dawood, but a Hindu character.
Do you have any idea where Dawood is now? You must be keeping an eye on each other.
He is sitting in Karachi. He is sitting there cosy and comfortable with the ISI’s help.
There are reports that his daughter is marrying Javed Miandad’s son.
Yes, the marriage has already taken place and the reception is being held in Dubai
on July 22.
The Dawood camp has actually managed to pump bullets into you and kill many from your gang. Is he the stronger don?
It is not the question of being stronger. He has the support of an entire country, of the Pakistani establishment. I have no such support, even the Mumbai Police doesn’t support me. Even a Bharat Shah, who finances films with underworld money, has status and contacts. I operate differently. I kill in the national interest. In India’s interest. I killed the Nepal mp Dilshad Beg, who was a big ISI agent. That helped India. I killed Sharad Shetty, Dawood’s close associate. That also helped India.
Dawood’s gang is quite active even though he is holed up in Pakistan. Is he still ruling Mumbai?
No, it is not like this. We have damaged him to a large extent.
What about your dhanda? How do you remote control it?
(Laughs) What is our business, only buying and selling land in Mumbai city.
It is said that, you kill and extort…
Some people must be doing it in my name but there is no truth in it, I don’t go asking for money.
Whenever there is talk of the underworld, two names are mentioned, Dawood’s and yours... Through what activities do you maintain your gang?
People buy and sell land and if there is a dispute, I get it settled.
That means you are land mafia.
Land mafia! No, I don’t grab land.
One of your associates, Vicky, was apprehended recently. He was in the company of a senior Intelligence Bureau officer. You obviously have links with intelligence agencies.
There is no dearth of patriots in this country. Difficulties (Vicky’s arrest) are encountered even when we intend doing something good for the country.
We help a lot. Not only Dawood, there are other problems also, but I don’t want to talk about it. It will only alert the enemy. There are other problems concerning the country which we want to resolve. If we do it together it will be easier to handle. Together, we can do a lot of things.
Which problems are you talking about?
No, I don’t want to disclose it. There are some problems.
Recently, there was an attack in Ayodhya. Are you talking about that?
No, at this stage I don’t want to say anything. I don’t want to comment on this.
Does Dawood have links with terrorist organisations? He has been in Pakistan for years where a lot of terrorist organisations are headquartered.
Yes, he has links with all kinds of terrorist organisations.
Which all terrorist organisations is he related to? Al-Qaeda? Hizbul? Lashkar-e-ToIBa? Harkat? Which all?
He has links with all these organisations and more.
Pakistanis are now believed to be behind the London attacks…
I’m not sure if Dawood knew about the London blasts but I am sure that he is in someway linked to whatever is happening in India.
Do you mean the Ayodhya attack?
I think finance-wise.
Why is it that Dawood is seen to be representing Muslims and you are seen as a Hindu supporter?
No, the question doesn’t arise. There is no question of Hindus and Muslims. I am a Hindustani and there are many Muslims in my gang.
Of course, we had separated because of blasts only.
These blasts created a rift between Hindus and Muslims.
But many Muslims are patriots.
If you are such a Hindustani as you claim to be and even justify murder as being in the national interest, why are you in hiding?Why don’t you come back?
I would like to come back provided I get full support from the government. Dawood should be killed.
But you have the support of the IB.
I should get support from all quarters, some support me and some are against. If I have majority support, I will do something, I will do wonders, will do it early and come back.
The Indian agencies had helped you escape from the hospital in Bangkok.
Nobody helped me.
That is a lie. The papers for your extradition were delayed.
I don’t know what happened but papers did come later.
By that time you had escaped, it helped you.
Yes, this delay helped me.
But how did you escape?
(Laughs) I climbed down from the seventh floor with the help of a rope.
From the seventh floor?
(Laughs) With the help of my associates.
Were these associates sarkaari?
Which political parties do you support?
I have no interest in politics. For me, the party that stops the spread of terrorism is good for the country and for me.
Are you are saying that you want to come back but some people are against you? Is there a threat to your life or is it because you know you will be arrested?
Yes, I have threat to my life as some of the Mumbai Police personnel are acting on behalf of Dawood and are being used by him.
What about the underworld’s links with politicians, a subject on which many movies have been made?
Yes, many politicians are linked but I will disclose their names at the appropriate time.
You must disclose their names since this involves the country’s interest.
I will name them at an appropriate time. Politicians from at least two political parties have links with Dawood and so does the Mumbai Police.
Name the parties.
Please don’t ask me. I will name them when the time is right.
When do you think, will you be able to come back?
I can’t say anything on this for now.
You have been trying to target Dawood for a long time and claim to have almost got him once. What’s happening now?
I will reach him. I don’t want to disclose anything now. Everything will come before you.
Where are you hiding now? What is your location?
I can’t tell you that.
July 23, 2005
On why he took to crime: “I am not a criminal. All the cases were framed against me by the police for the sake of convenience. There were 26 cases against me, including murders, but they do not have any evidence against me except bias. I am not convicted in any of these cases. You cannot call me a criminal unless proved in court. I have not committed any crime till date. All those cases were fabricated, and the courts freed me.”
On why youth join gangs: “Basically it is the unemployed and frustrated youths who have taken to crime out of desperation. A single execution of a job gives them the equivalent of a month’s salary. Also their association with the bosses who control the gang from foreign shores give them the feeling of power and thus misguides them.”
On Dawood Ibrahim: “The fight against Dawood cannot be abandoned. I am not a coward and my fight against him will continue in some way or the other.”
On Mumbai police: “It is used and misused by anybody and everybody. At times, by gangsters like Dawood for killing his rivals in fake encounters and other times also by their political masters. Still I will not make sweeping generalisations, some of the policemen are highly competent and devoted professionals.”
On allegation that his entry into politics is a front for criminal activities: “The law does not ever let go a criminal. There are so many examples. Why should I join politics to hide my criminal face? After all, the Indian judicial system has given me a second chance. If I had to run a gang, why should I sit here in Dagdi Chawl.”
About future plans: “I have spent so many years in jail, I have come across so many criminals. My experience with the criminals, youth and the police could be put to constructive use. If the police or some organisation can consult me regarding ways and means of crime control I think my experience and advice can really be helpful to society in general and youths in particular.”
On accusations that he continues his terror activities: “These accusations are absurd and baseless. I am really trying to devote myself to social service.”
On wearing the Gandhi cap: “The Gandhi topi is a necessity in politics. I wear it because I perform pooja regularly. And I do believe in some Gandhian principles. Violence and non-violence have their own place in society. It all depends on the situation.”