Around midnight last week, a 20-member team from Alipur police station gathered outside the rusting gates of a nondescript house. Inside, Padmeshwari (68) was woken up by the sound of her Great Dane barking. She made her way to the gate — only to be blinded by flashing cameras and officers asking her just one question: “Where is Gogi?”
“I have not spoken to my son in five years; we just want this gang war to end,” she told the officers, who mechanically clicked photos of the area, to brief their senior officers about the day’s developments, and left.
The team is one of many units of the Delhi Police camping out in outer Delhi, Rohini and parts of Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, anxiously waiting for any information about 26-year-old Jitender Mann alias Gogi, a kingpin whose rise has been as swift as it is brutal — graduating from providing muscle for Delhi University elections to eliminating rivals at will, mostly by shooting them in the face.
JCP (Crime) Alok Kumar said he has constituted “eight teams”, while senior police officers from the Special Cell said that “around 70% of Delhi Police’s anti-terror unit” is busy looking for him.
The reward on his head: Rs 4 lakh.
It was on July 30, 2016, that he gave police the slip. The gangster was being taken to Haryana’s Bahadurgarh for a court appearance when 12 of his gang members, including a national-level boxer, intercepted the Panipat Police, threw chilli powder on officers, and fled.
Since his escape, police believe he has been involved in at least four murders. His rival gang, headed by Tillu of Tajpur Kalan village, currently in Sonipat jail, retaliated by gunning down Gogi’s close confidant and childhood friend, Monu Maan, on March 16 this year, escalating tensions in a rivalry that has huge swathes of outer Delhi in panic.
Even as police bust one hideout after another, Gogi has remained in the shadows — and yet managed to orchestrate the killings of rival gangsters, a folk singer and an MCD school teacher, police said.
The gang war, police said, is reminiscent of the 1980s when a spate of revenge killings by rival gangs had parts of southwest Delhi on the edge. It had taken police almost a decade to nab the key players.
Today, Gogi, who has taken up the mantle of Delhi’s most wanted man after the arrest of Sonu Dariyapur, operates a clandestine network largely comprising local, disenchanted youth, including medal-winning sportspersons whose dreams and reality did not match.
Unlike other kingpins who drop out of school early, Gogi has cleared his Class XII, and likes to surround himself with men who are sharper than the average gangster.
Gogi’s mission, those who know him told The Indian Express, is the “complete destruction” of Tillu. Both Tajpur Kalan, where Tillu hails from, and Alipur, home to Gogi, have as a result become fertile recruiting grounds for both gangs, with teens and men in their early 20s joining for free. In the last five years, at least 12 people from both sides have lost their lives.
“Gogi will not stop until he kills Tillu. Even though Tillu is in jail, he keeps engineering plans to assassinate him. Until then, anyone associated with Tillu has a target on his back,” a Crime Branch officer said.
One gang, one village: this was the credo of the nascent Gogi gang, which came up in 2009. Gogi’s right-hand man and a fellow Jat, Sunil Maan, was one of the first to join. “As a child, Sunil would come to our house and the two would lie in the verandah, talking for hours,” said Padmeshwari.
So thick was their friendship that Sunil would run to Gogi’s home every time his mother didn’t make chapatis for him. “They were inseparable; it’s quite unfortunate how things changed,” said Gogi’s sister-in-law, referring to Sunil’s decision to join Tillu’s gang in 2011.
Police said Sunil was arrested for rioting in Delhi University, and made contact with Tillu’s associates while in jail. His decision to join Tillu’s gang was an inflection point for Gogi, who dealt with the “betrayal” by surrounding himself with more people who were in awe of him.
“Gogi had won medals in volleyball, representing his school at competitions in Bihar, and Jammu and Kashmir. When he was 17, he injured his right shoulder in an accident, and could never play again,” his mother said.
With any chance of a career in volleyball gone, Gogi scrambled to find options to make money. His elder brother, Ravinder, would drive and rent out tempos, while his father, Mehar Singh, a private contractor who belonged to the dominant landowning Jat community in Alipur, had been diagnosed with cancer.
The family pinned its hopes on Gogi, who was increasingly becoming involved in Delhi University politics. The hotly contested elections in Alipur’s Swami Shraddhanand College was the first time Gogi’s gang came face to face with Tillu’s men.
Apart from the fight for college supremacy, the rivalry had another angle, police said. Deepak, a close associate of Tillu, had been pursuing Gogi’s cousin. “Deepak used to tease Gogi, saying he would become the family’s damaad,” said a police officer, adding that Deepak was killed on January 20, 2015.
Once, when Tillu’s associates almost hit Gogi’s vehicle, he threatened to “kill them all”. “Gogi was taking his father to the hospital. He told Tillu’s friends, ‘Today I will leave you because I am with my father. The next time, I’ll kill you’,” his sister-in-law claimed.
Elections for the posts of president and vice-president in Swami Shraddhanand College have always been fiercely contested. “Many who contest the polls are from nearby villages. They bring their own ‘muscle’ from back home,” a college staffer said.
“Violence between the two villages (Alipur and Tajpur Kalan) breaks out every now and then. Last year, an ABVP candidate who won was attacked. Students often put up hoardings of themselves with local leaders who have criminal backgrounds,” said acting principal Dr P V Khatri, who has installed 32 CCTV cameras at the college, including one inside his room.
Though Gogi and Tillu were at the forefront of violence at the college in 2010, the principal and other staffers denied that they ever studied there. Instead, the two provided muscle and manpower, police said.
One such student was Arun alias Commando, who was pursuing BA programme and had contested for the post of vice-president in 2013.
Gogi started mobilising Alipur residents to campaign for Commando, while Tillu backed his opponent. Things came to a boil when Commando was arrested for allegedly assaulting men from Tillu’s gang.
Commando’s invigilator recounted the day he came to college to take an exam with a police party: “He took the exam in handcuffs.”
Eventually, the candidate propped up by Tillu won the polls, and Commando failed the exams. In February, 2015, Tillu’s associates, now full-time gangsters, gunned down Commando — ostensibly as revenge for Deepak’s murder.
What began as one upmanship over a college election had grown into two gangs recruiting enforcers, sharpshooters and financiers to gain supremacy.
Kirana stores and shops selling glass and aluminium dot the streets of Alipur village and Tajpur Kalan, less than 5 km away. Residents said the violence unleashed by the two gangs has prompted many to move out.
Homes of gang members are easy to identify — almost all have CCTV cameras outside. Sunil’s house in Alipur village, for instance, has six. While Sunil is in jail, his family steps out rarely — mostly to buy groceries. “We keep asking Sunil to shed this lifestyle and get married, but he gets irritated,” his father, Sulat, said.
Desperate to keep their youths alive and out of jail, village elders in Alipur have been trying to dissuade them from joining Gogi’s gang. The local pradhan has announced that anyone fraternising with gangsters would be ostracised. It’s not an easy task though. Disenchanted with the promises of urbanisation and falling revenue from their agricultural land, youths become easy fodder for the two gangs. Teenagers who join the gang start off as spotters, and graduate to hit men itching to pull the trigger. “We do not call it a gang, it’s a brotherhood. If a brother asks us to do something, we do it,” a resident said.
DCP (Special Cell) Sanjeev Kumar Yadav said that “the gang comprises youths from Haryana and outer Delhi, who join because of Gogi’s glamour”. Most entry-level gangsters offer their services after watching YouTube videos of Gogi’s exploits.
According to an officer, many of Gogi’s gang members are well educated. Fazza, Gogi’s top enforcer, studied BSc from a DU college. He was arrested by the northwest district police from Uttarakhand in June 2016, and is believed to be involved in two murders.
The quest for revenge, police said, is also what got Tillu arrested. “After Commando’s murder, Tillu pressured a witness to change his statement. But he refused and was murdered in Sonipat on October 23, 2015. In July 2016, Tillu was arrested from Haryana. Gogi was arrested the same year,” the officer said.
Since Gogi’s escape, there appears to have been an uptick in brutality. Gogi’s first target was Devender alias Pradhan of Alipur, a Tillu gang sympathiser. He is also alleged to have killed Deepak, an MCD teacher in Swaroop Nagar; and Ravi Bhardwaj, a Tillu associate, in Pitampura.
But his most high-profile victim was Haryanvi singer Harshita, who was shot dead on October 17 last year by four men, led by Gogi, in Panipat. The men pumped seven bullets into her chest at the behest of Karala, her brother-in-law who was lodged in Haryana’s Jhajjar jail. Police believe Gogi met Karala in jail and did not take a single penny to gun her down.
Gogi’s gang, which runs on extortion money, has steadily expanded from southwest, outer Delhi and Rohini to Haryana’s Sonipat and Panipat. Deputy Commissioner Police (crime) Rajesh Deo said the gang procures weapons from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, and “most members carry sophisticated pistols”.
Gogi has also developed a ‘signature move’ — of shooting his victims in the face. A police officer working to track down both gangs told The Indian Express that he carries a diary with names of members. Each time one is gunned down, he crosses off the name from the book. “This helps me remember who is alive and yet to be arrested,” he said.
But despite the occasional arrest of a lieutenant, Gogi remains in the wind, often seeking refuge with college students staying in rented accommodations, police said. “He never carries a mobile phone. He has been spotted in Narela, Alipur, Bawana, Sonipat, Panipat and some parts of western UP — but manages to flee before police reach,” a police officer said.
At the home where he grew up, Gogi’s family hangs on to hope for normalcy. “We found a girl for him to marry, but he refused to see her. He said he does not want to drag a woman into a life of crime,” Gogi’s sister-in-law said.
Looking at her son’s portraits from when he was a teenager, his mother said: “We have had enough. Gogi should hand himself over to police. I don’t even know if he thinks about us.”
Perhaps she can take comfort in knowing he’s not far. According to a police officer keeping tabs on his gang, Gogi was in Alipur recently to meet a contact. “A police informant told us that Gogi asked his contact, ‘Chacha sab theek hai?’ and then left,” the officer said.