The first person Mumbai Police contacted when doubts emerged for a brief while Monday over the arrest of Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan was a trusted informant settled abroad who had acted as their emissary with the fugitive. The reply came in the form of a text message: “He is not in communication since the last two days.”
This unofficial confirmation was followed by official word from the CBI that one of India’s most wanted gangsters had indeed been arrested in the Indonesian resort island of Bali on a tip-off from Australian Federal Police, ending a 28-year-old global manhunt — Rajan is expected to be deported to India soon.
Read: Who is Chhota Rajan
Top intelligence sources told The Indian Express that Rajan had been hiding in Australia for over a year, and got in touch with Indian authorities four-five months ago.
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They added that there were “some discussions” going on between the Indian security establishment and the fugitive before Rajan “gave himself up” to Indonesia police while holding an Indian passport.
Rajan’s arrest has sparked a buzz in security circles because of long-running rumours about his connections to India’s intelligence services, who hoped to use him to target the other most-wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim.
A leaked US diplomatic cable of 2005 directly linked former Intelligence Bureau chief and current National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval to Vicky Malhotra, “the right hand man” of Rajan.
Dated August 5, 2008, the cable stated: “On July 11 the Mumbai police arrested Malhotra while he was driving through central Delhi. Accompanying Malhotra was Ajit Kumar Doval… Doval was allowed to go free, whereas Malhotra and two associates who were picked up later were taken to Mumbai where they now face criminal charges.”
On Sunday, CBI director Anil Sinha told reporters: “We tracked Chhota Rajan’s movements closely and informed the police in Indonesia and Australia. Eventually the Indonesian police managed to arrest him. We are making arrangements to bring him to India and pursue all criminal cases against him,” Sinha added.
A spokesperson for Australian Federal Police was quoted by agencies as having said that Interpol in Canberra had alerted Indonesian authorities “who apprehended Nikhalje at the request of Indian authorities”.
Government sources confirmed that the CBI had received a query from Australia four days back on whether the agency had any red corner notice against him. “The entire thing was set off when about a month ago, Rajan applied for a visa extension in Australia. It was during the verification process that Australian authorities came to know that he was a wanted criminal in India,” a security officer said.
Sources said Rajan has been keeping ill for close to five years now and that his health has deteriorated of late. With most of his trusted men either killed or behind bars, and Dawood Ibrahim’s henchmen consistently on his tail to kill him, his fortunes were on a downslide.
Early this year, Dawood aide Chhota Shakeel had reportedly sent sharpshooters to Newcastle in Australia to kill Rajan who escaped after receiving a tip-off from India.
In 2000, Dawood’s shooters had made a serious attempt on Rajan’s life when he was shot at in a hospital in Bangkok. Even then, Rajan escaped with help from his aides and unidentified sources in India.
In Mumbai, text messages from the police emissary, a close confidante of Rajan, provided sketchy details of the gangster’s recent past. “We learnt that he was in Australia for a few months and that his phone remained switched off for the first time over this weekend,” said a senior IPS officer.
Wanted in around 20 cases — murder and other charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), attempt to murder and cause grievous hurt under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Arms Act — the Mumbai Police is a major stakeholder in the Rajan case.
Rajan was first groomed as a gangster by former Mumbai underworld don Rajan Nair. After Nair’s death in a shootout in a local court, Rajan came in contact with Ibrahim in the mid-eighties and rose to become number two in the gang. However, the two split up after the 1993 blasts with Rajan positioning himself as the “patriotic don”.