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From small-time crook to don, the rise of Chhota Rajan

In the late 1970s, Chhota Rajan could be found at the nondescript single screen Sahakar theatre in the suburb of Chembur selling movie tickets in black.

Radhika Ramaswamy | CNN-IBN

Updated:October 31, 2015, 10:36 AM IST
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From small-time crook to don, the rise of Chhota Rajan
In the late 1970s, Chhota Rajan could be found at the nondescript single screen Sahakar theatre in the suburb of Chembur selling movie tickets in black.
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In the late 1970s, Chhota Rajan could be found at the nondescript single screen Sahakar theatre in the suburb of Chembur selling movie tickets in black. The eastern suburbs were then a hotbed for smuggling, bootlegging and gambling. He soon caught the eye of gangster Rajan Nair alias Bada Rajan.

He rose through the ranks steadily but in 1983, Nair was killed by rival Abdul Kunju. It was then that Rajendra Nikhalje took over the gang and was thereafter known as Chhota Rajan - a name by which he is recognised in the international crime syndicate.

Veteran journalist Baljeet Parmar who covered the underworld extensively for decades and was also allegedly attacked by Rajan's men in the 90s, recalls, "Once when Abdul Kunju was watching a cricket match, Chhota Rajan and Sanjay went and killed him in the stadium. That was very daring and that gave Rajan a little prominence in the eastern gang land."

By 1985, the city was in the grips of an ugly gang war between Dawood Ibrahim and the Pathan gang led by Karim Lala. Chhota Rajan smelled an opportunity to strike it big by supplying hired killers to Dawood and his company. During the escalating gang war, Dawood took Chhota Rajan's help in eliminating at least 10 members of the Pathan gang.

"In 1986, Dawood moved to Dubai. Chhota Rajan committed three other murders in between, finally they killed Samar Khan at Seka Nagar. That was a big catch in those days. Samar khan was nephew of Karim Lala, After which, Chhota Rajan became a big face in underworld. Due to a number of cases against him, he fled to Dubai and joined Dawood's gang in 1988," Baljeet remembers.

Rajan though faced opposition from already well-established Chhota Shakeel and Aftab Batki, Dawood had a tough time in brokering peace between the two warring groups within his own empire.

"By 1980, Dawood settled all his disputes with the Karim Lala gang leaders and thus he had no more killings to be done therefore Chhota Rajan's importance was reduced and he had to leave Dawood in 1993. It was then that the rivalry between the two started.

Dawood put Chhota Shakeel on Rajan's trail to eliminate him but he escaped several attempts on his life. However, he was finally shot at and injured in 2000 at Bangkok. Since then, Rajan kept on changing his hideouts, always living in the shadow of death.

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