On January 13, people in Thane woke up to banners put up at bus stops wishing gangster Chhota Rajan a happy birthday.
The banner put up at two bus stops bearing Rajan’s photograph also mentioned the names of three persons and had ‘CR Samajik Sanghatana’ written on it. Since no permission was taken to put up the hoardings, the Thane police took them down and registered a case of defacement of public property.
The police said the initials ‘C’ and ‘R’ stands for ‘Chhota Rajan’. “We arrested one person, who was the Thane unit head of the ‘CR’ group, for putting up the banner. Since the person was booked under a bailable section, he was given spot bail. We will now be filing a chargesheet in court,” Senior Inspector of Naupada police, Anil Mangale, said.
However, Hemchandra More (37), Rajan’s maternal cousin and the founder president of the group named in the banner, said ‘CR’ stands for ‘Citizens Rights’ and the fact that it is similar to the initials of ‘Chhota Rajan’ is just a “happy coincidence”.
When The Indian Express had spoken to him in 2015, after Rajan was arrested by Indian agencies, Hemchandra had said that ‘CR’ stood for ‘Chhatrapati Raje’. He now maintained that the group was registered as ‘Citizens Rights Samajik Sanghatana’ in February 2018, with its headquarters in Baramati.
“We are a group of like-minded people who have come together for a social cause. Our members are spread across Maharashtra. We take up activities related to education, women’s rights, de-addiction, environment and health issues among others. For us, result-oriented action is more important than publicity,” said Hemchandra, who practices law in Baramati.
When asked about the name of the group, he added: “Call it a happy coincidence, but it is registered as Citizens Rights Samajik Sanghatana. None of our members have any criminal case registered against them. If people see some connection, I don’t have anything to say about it.”
Hemchandra is the son of Advocate Daulatrao More, the youngest of Rajan’s four maternal uncles and six aunts. Daulatrao’s family lives in Baramati.
On the banners put up in Thane, More said, “Prakash Shelatkar, who was booked for putting up the banners, is the head of the Thane branch of our organisation. He was booked only for putting up banners without permission. What is wrong in putting up a banner? Aren’t banners put up for the likes of Arun Gawali and even Nathuram Godse? Not just Thane, we also celebrated Rajan’s birthday in Pune. There was nothing illegal about it.”
He added, “ We consider Nana (Chhota Rajan) as the backbone of our family. We were in touch with him even before his arrest. Nana has never acted against the country. The allegations against him are criminal in nature not of sedition or anti-national activities. We will always stand by him. We will also request the government to show him leniency, as and when the trials against him finish.”
Rajan was deported to India from Indonesia four years ago and was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in the J Dey murder case. He is currently lodged in Tihar jail.
Rajendra Nikalje, who later came to be known as Chhota Rajan, was born in Mumbai to Sadashiv and Laxmi Nikalje. Sadashiv hailed from a Dalit family at the small village of Girvi in Phaltan taluka of Satara. Laxmi, whose maternal surname was More, hailed from Pimpare village near Saswad in Pune district.
Today, a bungalow stands at the spot where the Nikalje family stayed in a predominantly Dalit locality in Girvi. The bungalow, named ‘Sada-Laxmi’, is known to have been built at the behest of Rajan, when he was on the run.
On a stone platform located inside the bungalow, is a bust of Sadashiv Nikalje. Villagers said that till a few years ago, Rajan’s family members, including his wife and brother, used to come to the village to pay respects at the bust of Sadashiv on March 3 — his birth anniversary.
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