Nearly 20 years ago, Pune saw one of the most sensational incidents in the history of gangwars in the city. On November 19, 1997, dreaded gangster Pramod Malvadkar was killed in a police encounter in Kalewadi. The incident had paused, at least for some time, the deadly battle between two leading rival gangs, led by Balu Andekar and Malvadkar.
Police officers, who were part of the team involved in the encounter, say that criminal gangs, like those of Andekar and Malvadkar in the 1990s, were at loggerheads with each other as they vied for supremacy. They survived on illegal activities such as running gambling dens and collecting hafta or extorting money from local traders.
In a span of 20 years, a drastic change has been observed in the criminal gangs and the way they operate. According to police records, there are about 20 organised gangs in the city, and they exert influence in different areas, suburbs and parts of the rural belt near the city limits.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (crime) Pankaj Dahane said that leaders of most of the dreaded gangs are currently behind bars and many of their aides have been booked under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The only major ‘gangster’ not in jail currently is Nilesh Ghaiwal, who was granted bail by the Supreme Court in February .
The early times
The first major gang rivalry in the city was seen in the 1960s and 1970s, between the gangs led by Narayan Jagtap, a vegetable trader from Mandai, who was also running illegal liquor and matka dens, and Govind Taru of Kasba Peth. There were also some gangs operating in mid-city areas, like the ones led by Jan Mohammad Pathan, Akbar Khan, Rampuri brothers in Cantonment area and Bhavani Peth, Soma Landge, Anil Alhat, Balkrushna alias Balu Andekar, Changa Thorat and others in Somwar Peth, Gurwar Peth.
These gangs used weapons such as bicycle chains, swords, Rampuri knives and soda water bottles to attack each other. The gangsters even used horse carriages — a public transport facility till the 1980s — to commit crimes and flee. Andekar gained supremacy after a series of attacks on the Appa Taru gang, but his gang was divided when one of his trusted aides, Pramod Malvadkar, parted ways in 1982.
Members of the Malvadkar gang killed Andekar in the Shivajinagar court in broad daylight on July 17, 1984. In the next few days, six gangsters were killed in one of the most fierce gangwars in the city. To bring the spiralling situation under control, a police team comprising then sub-inspector Bapu Kutwal, now retired as senior inspector, and Ram Jadhav, currently attached to the state Anti-Terrorism Squad, had gone to arrest Malvadkar after a tip-off was received about his location. Malvadkar was killed in an encounter with the police team.
Mumbai underworld enters Pune
Police sources say that gangsters associated with the Mumbai underworld initially considered Pune as a safe hiding place, but later, they started networking with local youths in an attempt to extend their base. Several unemployed youths started joining the gangs of underworld dons such as Arun Gawli, Chhota Rajan alias Rajan Nikalje, Ashwin Naik and Ravi Pujari. Even most wanted underworld don Dawood Ibrahim tried to spread the tentacles of his crime network to Pune. In the early 1990s, the names of city youths linked to Mumbai dons started cropping up in connection with various crimes.
Pradeep Sonawane, an alleged Gawli aide, killed a hotelier in July 1990. Sonawane was later killed in an encounter in August 1995. The Gawli gang is suspected to have strengthened its roots in Pune at a time when he was lodged in Yerwada jail, under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).
Pune-based gangster Pilu Khan, who was allegedly linked to Dawood Ibrahim, was arrested from Kalyani Nagar area in October 1992. Chota Rajan’s name also cropped up in connection with the murder of corporator Satish Misal on Tilak Road on February 28, 2003. Police named 12 persons including Rajan aides in the case, but they were acquitted by a court in 2009. Rajan was also named as an accused by the police in the attack on Shiv Sena leader Ajay Bhosale during an assembly election campaign in Pune in October 2009.
From traditional weapons to high-quality firearms
With the entry of Mumbai gangsters, the use of firearms became common in gang attacks in the city in the late 1990s and early 2000. An alleged Gawli aide, Ajit Lavand, was shot dead by rivals in Nigdi in January 1993. This was arguably the first gang war incident in which firearms were used in Pune, according to police. The Gawli gang then allegedly avenged the murder by killing a PCMC corporator.
Police say that the easy supply of firearms to city gangsters, through weapon dealers in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is a cause for worry. The quality of firearms used by local gangsters has also improved. Police have recovered fine-quality countrymade pistols and even foreign-made guns and carbine rifles from city gangsters.
The land mafia
Retired Senior Police Inspector Bapu Kutwal, who dealt with organised crime gangs in the city during his various postings, says, “There is a very clear shift in the economics of these gangs. Earlier, it was all about supremacy in their areas, to run their small illegal businesses. But as the city grew, and the post-1990s era saw a boom in manufacturing, IT and the real estate sector, they shifted their focus. They realised that money could be made in these avenues. Many also have links to political parties. The police machinery has to keep working to put the gangsters behind bars… but new ones keep coming up, certain factions become gangs themselves and so on.” With the growth of real estate and the industrial belt, the gangsters also upgraded their sources of income.
Not satisfied with small hafta vasuli amounts, they got involved in land grabbing, land dealings and extortion of money from major builders and businessmen. Besides real estate, the gangsters also got involved in labour unions, cable operating businesses, transport contracts and even security contracts in industrial belts.
Top gangsters like Gajanan Marne, Baba Bodke, Rakesh Bharne, Bapu Nayar and others, most of whom are now in jail, were allegedly found to be involved in land deals. TTeir gang members continue to keep policemen on their toes.
The political nexus
Many gangsters also give money for ‘social’ activities like religious festivals and blood donation camps. With these activities, gangsters try to recruit new members and build political networks. Some notorious gangsters even managed to join mainstream political parties. A history-sheeter, Datta Khade alias D K, later went on to become a BJP corporator.
In October 2016, a photograph of gangster Baba Bodke with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis went viral. CM office later clarified that Fadnavis didn’t know who Bodke who had accompanied a prominent builder and his wife to meet the CM. Dreaded criminal Vitthal Shelar had joined BJP in the presence of Minister and MLA Girish Bapat in January this year, but was expelled after media outrage.
Gangster Gajanan Mare’s wife Jayshree won the civic elections in 2012 on a MNS ticket. In 2017, many gangsters with criminal records contested the civic elections for various political parties In October 2006, gangster Sandeep Mohol, who had joined the NCP, was shot dead in broad daylight by rival Ganesh Marne gang. Gangster Sharad Mohol, who is the main accused in the murder of Indian Mujahideen operative Qateel Siddiqui inside Yerwada jail in 2012, contested elections from prison.
Gangs go tech-savvy
In the last two decades, as technology developed, city gangsters started using it to attract youths to join their gangs. A senior police officer said that gangster Nilesh Ghaiwal, the main accused in the Dattawadi shootout in 2010, was found to have a Facebook page. The members of his rival Gajanan Marne gang were also found to be active on Facebook.