TEN DAYS ago, a bar owner was shot outside his establishment in the heart of Bengaluru with a breech-loading gun, and then hacked with a machete. This rare underworld killing in the central business district, followed by a chilling phone call to two TV channels, has raised apprehensions in police circles that a new gangland order is moving to take over organised crime in the tech city.
On October 15, Manish Shetty, 41, who has a history of involvement in robbery and extortion and was an associate of the extradited gangster Muthappa Rai , was killed outside Duet Bar and Restaurant. Soon, a caller claiming to be Vijay Shetty, a former associate of Mumbai gangster Chhota Rajan and a self-styled “patriotic” gangster, called two local channels in Bengaluru and Mangaluru to claim that the killing was an act of revenge for a murder in coastal Karnataka last month.
On September 24, Kishan Hegde, a gangster in Udupi with alleged links to Hindutva groups, was hacked to death in broad daylight by a group of men. Udupi Police arrested associates of Manoj Kodikere, an activist of the Hindu Jagaran Vedike with criminal antecedents, for the killing. “The murder was the fallout of a dispute between Hegde and Kodikere for control of business activities at the Mangalore port,” police sources said.
In his phone calls to TV9 in Bengaluru and Daijiworld in Mangaluru, the caller who identified himself as Vijay Shetty claimed that the Bengaluru bar-owner had allegedly orchestrated the Udupi murder. “He (Manish Shetty) provided all the support for the murder. He was the boss of Kodikere Manoj. It is under his influence that the murder was carried out. This is why we attacked Manish Shetty,’” the caller claimed.
In normal course, the killing of the bar owner would have been considered an extension of Mangaluru gang rivalries that have long histories and taken communal shades in recent years — mirroring the Mumbai gang rivalries of the 1990s.
But the circumstances, police sources say, are different. The Bengaluru killing has come at a time when the local underworld is in a state of flux following the death of former don Muthappa Rai, 68, due to cancer in May and the extradition of Pujari, 54, from Senegal in February.
The big question, sources say, is whether this is a possible power struggle for the control of Bengaluru among underworld remnants from various groups. “We are trying to ascertain if there is an attempt by different groups to fill the vacuum in the underworld left by the death of Rai and the arrest of Pujari, and whether the fight has been extended from Mangaluru to Bengaluru,” police sources said.
Pujari hails from Mangaluru, which was also Rai’s hometown. Rai was extradited in 2002 from Dubai where he was an associate of Sharad Shetty, the Mumbai gangster from the Dawood Ibrahim gang. And since Rai’s death, there have been reports that one of his former associates Rakesh Malli, 49, has been trying to gain control of the gang.
Malli, who was a Congress candidate for the 2018 Assembly polls from Udupi’s Kundapur, had earlier accused Rai of cheating him of his share in a property deal in Mangaluru. “There are reports that some of the persons who surrendered for the murder in Udupi on September 24 are linked to Rakesh Malli,” police sources said.
Unlike Rai, who went from Bengaluru to Dubai before being extradited, Pujari was a part of the Mumbai underworld and the Chhota Rajan gang before moving abroad. He is alleged to have collaborated with Rai in the 2001 murder of the realtor Subbaraju in Bengaluru.
Pujari was primarily involved in extortion activities using the services of a henchman from Mangalore, Kali Yogesh, who is reportedly in a foreign country, and local aides like the bar-owner Manish Shetty, police sources said.
The murdered Shetty served a 10-year jail term for a 2006 bank robbery in Belagavi where he was part of a gang that robbed Rs 8 lakh from an SBI branch. He was arrested following an armed robbery worth Rs 2.90 crore from a branch of Chemmanur Jewellers in Bengaluru in August 2007.
While in prison, he is alleged to have been involved in coordinating extortion activities of the Pujari gang with associates like Kali Yogish and Nikhil Shetty who was extradited from Dubai in 2015. After his release, Manish Shetty provided muscle for a fraudulent real estate firm and was an informant, police sources said.
One of the reasons that Bengaluru Police are not readily buying the claim of gangster Vijay Shetty that the Bengaluru murder was an act of revenge is the lead that the four hired killers – Shashikiran (45), Nitya Shetty (29), Ganesha (39) and Akshay (32) — were tracking the movement of the bar-owner for at least four months prior to the killing.
Two of the alleged killers, who were arrested within hours of the murder, were employed near Duet Bar, police sources said. “The killing of Kishan Hegde in Udupi may have been the spark to execute the Bengaluru murder which was being planned for many months. But there are hidden figures behind the curtains and we are trying to find them,” a senior police officer said.
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