I remember those days when I was a trainee reporter and met ‘Daddy’ Arun Gawli in his ‘den’ Dagdi Chawl at Byculla. It was only a stepping stone in journalism with the help of ambitious police officers who did not really have too many scruples about maintaining a sanctimonious way to the top of their careers. Among such officers were the encounter specialists who owed their long careers as sharp shooting cops, who selectively picked their targets. Befriending don-turned-politician Arun Gawli who entrusted to him the job of helping build his party were the Akhil Bhartiya Sena (ABS) along with his (Gawli‘s) trusted men Jitendra Dabholkar, Bhaskar Amdar, Vasant Gomne and Raju Philip. Ketan Tirodkar started decimating his benefactor by systematically setting up the latter’s men as targets for encounters. That period, the mid –nineties, were choc a bloc with encounters, the Gawli gang in particular losing a large number of men to the celebrated late Encounter Specialist Officer Vijay Salaskar‘s team. A large part of the repertoire of gangsters killed by Salaskar were significantly Gawli’s men, including his top aides Sada Pawle, Vijay Tandel and Dilip Kulkarni which reduced the strength of the Dagdi Chawl based Gangster. After Salaskar had systematically rid the scene off quite a few dreaded manes, the time was ripe for the entry of motivated journalists and it was around this time that Tirodkar had endeared himself to the Chhota Shakeel gang after his various ploys to get rid of Gawli men. He did not find himself alone there but had company in another sharp – shooting cop, Daya Nayak, who had gained fame till that time.
Gawli, who is also called ‘Bhai’, then launched his party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena. In those days, his political party had challenged the original sons-of-the-soil party, the Shiv Sena, in Mumbai. He has managed a string of victories; his union, the Akhil Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, replaced the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (the Shiv Sena union) in the Oberoi Hotels. Since the Shiv Sena came to power, they have done little. So many factories have closed down. The Sena government was hand in glove with the management as alleged, and that is why workers and the youth were fed up with their party and then they all supported Gawli’s party under the leadership of Jitendra Dhabholkar. Within a year of its existence, the ABS has registered nearly 350,000 members in Maharashtra, with another 50,000 in the union. And copying the Shiv Sena, who has set up 221 shakhas (branches) in Mumbai, the ABS too set up its own shakhas to solve local problems.
A sizeable number of Maharashtrians were reportedly fed up with the double standards adopted by the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party after it formed the government. Those days, Gawli appeared as a messiah to them. At least 2,000 people visited his chawl-turned-fortress to complain about their problems, despite having to go through an elaborate security check. Those days, even many of the old-time Shiv Sena cadres were unhappy with Bal Thackeray and that’s why half of the ABS shakhapramukhs (branch heads) were former Shiv Sena members. Gawli’s party contested 40 seats in the first municipal election, but did not win a single seat, because ‘Daddy’ was in jail at that time. Also, they had very little time to register themselves. And most of the people then assumed that ABS is a part of the Sena.
Newspapers were filled with reports about attacks on Gawli’s party members. Gawli suspects the police, with the state government’s help, were trying to kill him. One of his close associates, Ramdas Ambolkar, head of the ABS Mumbai unit, was shot dead by unknown assailants at his home. Gawli was first arrested in 1986 for the murder of criminal Parasnath Pandey and Sashi Rasham, the kingpin of the Cobra Gang. After a fallout between Rama Naik and Dawood Ibrahim over a plot of land at Jogeshwari, in which Rama Naik got killed, Gawli become Dawood’s arch enemy. His brother, Bappa Gawli, was butchered by Dawood’s men. In the 1980s, he worked for Rama Naik’s gang and was soon entrusted the responsibility of providing protection to Dawood Ibrahim’s consignments. Soon, he gave up his job at Khatau mills and joined the Amar Naik gang. To avenge the killing, Gawli killed Dawood’s brother-in-law Ibrahim Parkar in the early 1990s. Though Dawood’s men plundered his house in the subsequent period, Gawli managed to escape each time. During the tenure of Commissioner Arvind Inamdar, the police discovered Gawli’s extraordinary knack to escape from the police net.
The policemen involved in the operation found Gawli, known as the Daddy of the underworld, inside the drawer of a bed in one of the single-room tenements at Dagdi Chawl, with a gun by his side. During his stay in jail, Gawli and his gang gained prominence. The killing of Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh More, Balasaheb Thackeray’s confidante Jayant Jadhav and minority commission chief and MLA Ziauddin Bukhari gave Gawli and his gang the required notoriety. Around 1997, with the soaring crime graph and police pressure, Gawli floated his own party the Akhil Bharatiya Sena. In 2004, Gawli contested the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and was elected from Dagdi Chawl as an MLA. The last straw in Gawli’s life as an MLA came after he contracted killers to murder Shiv Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar in 2007.
He entered the gangland in the eighties and was initially associated with underworld kingpin Dawood Ibrahim, but later split with him in the mid-nineties and formed his own gang extorting money from builders and businessmen. Before joining the D-company, he worked for the Rama Naik gang. While Dawood, Chhota Rajan, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem preferred to flee India and run its operations from other parts of the world, Gawli remained in India and often faced cases after cases. While Dawood and Shakeel operate from Pakistan, Rajan runs his empire from South East Asia and Salem was extradited from Portugal in 2005. Gawli, however, dreaded late Vijay Salaskar the most. Salaskar, an encounter-specialist, was martyred during the 26/11 terror attacks. Prior to 2008 – often in and out of jail – he used to run his “durbar” from the Dagdi Chawl. The building in which he stays is highly-secured and has all the facilities that people in skyrise buildings would envy.
Gawli was jailed for life for murder of Shiv Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar in March 2008. This is for the first time that Gawli has been convicted and sentenced – in any case. The murder of Jamsandekar was a case of contract killing and the Gawli-gang was paid Rs. 30 lakh for the murder. This came not only as a blow to Gawli gang, but also sends a strong message to the overseas-based dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Chhota Rajan and others. The message is – gangsters are no longer safe in Mumbai and cops would go all out to secure their conviction.