BOOK EXCERPT

The making of a hitman: How Dawood Ibrahim groomed a reckless sharpshooter to murder Chhota Rajan

In a new book, a veteran crime reporter turns the spotlight on the hitmen who carry out the murders for their underworld masters.

After establishing his base in Karachi with the ISI’s help, Dawood had made it his mission to wipe out all other gangs in Mumbai so that he could rule the city all by himself. The two main obstacles in his path were Chhota Rajan and Arun Gawli. While Gawli had his own gang of diehard loyalists, a lot of Dawood henchmen recruited by Rajan shifted their loyalties when Rajan split with Dawood in 1993.

Jhingada and three other shooters set out the next day for Byculla, where Gawli was holding a rally to promote his political party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS). During the entire rally, Jhingada and his team kept trying to get close enough to Gawli to shoot him. However, there was too large a crowd, too many guards around Gawli to deal with any threat, and too many policemen deployed at the rally, taking into account Gawli’s criminal record.

Jhingada returned dejected, but Shakeel told him not to worry. It had been a test of guts, and Jhingada had passed. Shakeel then gave him his first real mission. He told Jhingada to gather as much information as he could about Gawli’s aide, Prakash Naik. Jhingada started hanging around the Dagdi Chawl and soon gave Shakeel a full report of Naik’s movements.

A pleased Shakeel gave the go-ahead, and in August 1997, while Naik was exiting the Laxmi Industrial Estate after meeting a friend, Jhingada accosted him and emptied a pistol into his body.

It took the police around twenty-four hours to find out that the daring murder had been committed by the same young, thin, diminutive-looking man who had walked into the Jogeshwari police station six years earlier and calmly confessed to having stabbed his collegemate. Suddenly, Munna Jhingada was a person of interest. The Crime Branch asked for all information on Jhingada on a priority basis, and started building a dossier on him. Policemen who had interrogated him for the first time in 1991 were contacted, his house raided, and all his known friends picked up for questioning.

Jhingada’s locality, too, was abuzz. Teenagers who were kids when he used to strut the lanes calling himself a bhai now idolized him. His association with the D-gang made him an instant hero in their eyes, while their parents prayed fervently to their god to save their own children from the path that their neighbour’s son was walking.

In the midst of all this, Jhingada, hiding in a D-gang safe house, was smiling to himself and basking in the glory of the generous praise Shakeel had heaped on him. A lavish feast was held in his honour, and other D-gang members in Mumbai were now looking at him with respect rather than amusement.

Over the next three to four months, Munna Jhingada was like a weapon unleashed by the D-gang against its enemies. From August to October, he shot down no less than four aides of Gawli and Rajan in broad daylight, either with an AK-56 or with a Star pistol, to which he is said to have taken a liking. His victims included financiers and enforcers for Rajan, and Jitendra Dabholkar, a close Gawli aide who was also senior member of the ABS. Jhingada teamed up with another small-time criminal, Sadiq Kalia, in killing a well-protected politician and founder of ABS, Dabholkar. The killing shook the city, demolished Gawli’s political game plan, and established the supremacy of Shakeel in the Mumbai gangland.

People who had once made fun of Jhingada learned to fear the mere mention of his name. The same neighbours who had once ostracized his family following his first arrest started cowering in terror when they saw Jhingada walking into the colony.

Guns became his sweetheart and his permanent companion. He was rarely without a pistol tucked under his shirt, and often carried an AK-56 in his car, adding all the more to his intimidating appearance.

The fear of police action was not a concern for him anymore.

Nasir’s murder had taught him that the police would come after him whether or not he was guilty, and he had lost his fear of third-degree torture long back. Besides, his employers, realizing his value, always kept him well hidden and constantly on the move.

Jhingada kept asking for more, and bigger jobs, and Shakeel kept telling him to be patient. However, his luck took a turn for the worse when the Santacruz police finally got a good tip and raided a house where he was staying in November 1997, cutting short his killing spree. The police found a large arsenal of assault rifles, pistols and live rounds in his house, and Jhingada ended up spending two months in custody of various police stations, and then close to two years in judicial custody. Central jail, again, was a cakewalk, as he was welcomed with open arms by the D-gang camp and hailed as a hero.

Meanwhile, in Dubai, Shakeel spared no effort in trying to get his latest favourite shooter back in action again. However, the amount of weaponry found in his house and the number of cases he was suspected to be involved in made this tough. Finally, in 1999, Jhingada managed to secure bail.

Like any smart gangster, Dawood and Shakeel realized that Jhingada had killed too many people too fast, and was attracting a lot of heat. The usual solution to the problem would have been to arrange a “tip-off” to an encounter specialist and close the account forever.

However, this time, Dawood had something else on his mind; something that he could use Jhingada for.

And so it was that Jhingada and Rashid Malabari were spending their last night in India in the small apartment tucked away in a corner of Pydhonie. They were poised to enter the annals of history.

Dawood had chosen them for a very special purpose. Ever since 1993, Dawood could not decide what he hated more: the fact that Rajan dared to defy him and start his own gang, or the fact that he had managed to portray himself as a patriotic don in the media, telling anyone who would listen that he had parted ways with Dawood because he had plotted against the country, thus winning himself a moral pedestal. Every time the word “patriotic don” was used by the newspapers, or every time Rajan gave interviews to television news channels about his supposed patriotism, something burned inside Dawood with an intensity that was becoming unbearable with each passing day. He felt Rajan had simply run away like a rat to save his life, got into bed with the Indian intelligence services and was now going to town calling him a villain.

And this was where Munna Jhingada came in. When the time came and the gang cornered Rajan, he wanted someone who would be up for the job to assign the hit to.

And Jhingada was the perfect candidate – a totally reckless, daredevil and dedicated hitman.

The next morning, Jhingada and Rashid flew to Pakistan with false passports, and were taken to Karachi, where they spent over a year close to Shakeel and Dawood.

And finally, in June 2000, Dawood’s network of informants delivered what he had been screaming for. They gave him a definite lead on Rajan. Dawood immediately told Shakeel to start planning. Shakeel, who hated Rajan with almost equal intensity, lost no time in putting together a hit squad, and put Jhingada in charge.

Jhingada was overcome with gratitude when Shakeel told him the name of his next target. He promised Shakeel on everything he held sacred that he would get the job done or die trying.

In September 2000, Jhingada and his team were smuggled into Bangkok, where they spent ten days verifying their information about Rajan’s whereabouts. It was con rmed that Rajan was staying in a at in the Sukhumvit Soi area in Bangkok, with his trusted aide Rohit Verma, his wife and daughter.

On September 15, Jhingada’s hit squad assembled around the corner from the nondescript apartment, where they removed their weapons from their bags, rechecked that they were working and loaded, and then ran to the flat. They entered the flat, headed straight to Rajan’s room – where he had run to try and save himself – and opened fire. The door gave way under the hail of lead, and the killers moved in to be confronted by Verma.

Jhingada stepped forward and pumped thirty-two bullets into Verma’s body before spraying the room with the remaining rounds in his gun. One round caught Verma’s wife in the shoulder, but she survived. By sheer luck, Verma’s daughter was out playing when Jhingada struck.

Rajan, too, sustained serious injuries in the attack, but Verma’s loyalty gave him enough time to make good his escape. In spite of the fact that the main target had survived, Jhingada became an instant phenomenon.

The phones rang off their hooks across the world that day. Yes, they said across Asia, Chhota Rajan had survived a near fatal attack on his life. Yes, they confirmed in Mumbai, it was Munna Jhingada who led the attack.

The Mumbai police helplessly updated their dossier on Jhingada while getting a verbal lashing from the courts for letting him slip through their fingers. Jhingada was arrested shortly after by the Thai police and is currently in a Thai prison.

However, the Mumbai police are far from taking him into custody. The Pakistan government has also staked a claim to his custody, making assertions that he is, in fact, a Pakistani national named Mohammad Salim, and the two countries are currently locked in a diplomatic tussle over his extradition.

Excerpted with permission from The Dirty Dozen: Hitmen of Mumbai Mafia, Gabriel Khan, edited by S Hussain Zaidi, Westland Publications.

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