Mumbai’s underworld gangster Ravi Pujari, who has several extortion and murder cases pending against him, has been arrested by authorities in Senegal in West Africa, sources in the security establishment said. Sources said the gangster had been arrested about a week ago and that the Indian government was in touch with authorities concerned in Senegal to bring him back.
Once a member of the Chhota Rajan gang Pujari has been absconding for over a decade and a half and has operated from various countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and South Africa in the past. Pujari was among the various members of Chhota Rajan gang who fell out with him over the years and tried to start their own gang.
Known to run an extortion business that largely targeted builders and, once in a while, Bollywood personalities, Pujari aspired for the same title that his former boss Chhota Rajan did: that of a ‘Hindu don’ or ‘the patriot don’ – a tag coveted by several estranged Rajan gang members to get protection of a section in the Indian security establishment.
Just as Rajan was said to have been used as an asset by agencies to target 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Dawood Ibrahim’s infrastructure, Pujari tried to demonstrate his dislike for Pakistan-linked dons and those alleged to be part of Jihadi terror infrastructure. It was route followed by several estranged Rajan gang members such as Bharat Nepali, Hemant Pujari, Vijay Shetty and Santosh Shetty.
But unlike Nepali, who orchestrated several sensational murders including that of Rajan’s close aide Farid Tanasha and lawyer Shahid Azmi before being shot dead in 2010 himself, Pujari always remained a small fry. So his attempts at becoming a security establishment asset ranged from making threat calls to lawyers representing arrested Indian Mujahideen operatives to JNU student Umar Khalid and Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
In fact, after splitting from Rajan, Pujari hardly orchestrated any murders. His typical attacks would be on a builder’s office where gunshots fired by a hired amateur shooter from UP would either shatter the glass door or cause minor injuries to the security guard. Once his shooter ended up destroying all the tomatoes on a vegetable cart in front of a builder’s office after he missed his target by a significant margin.
Following every shootout, Pujari would call up the media and inform them of the shootout. “He basically avoided murder. The basic idea was to create terror and scare away the financiers behind the builder. The builder would cough up money as such attacks would disrupt business,” a Mumbai police officer said.
Pujari like Rajan started out working alongside Dawood Ibrahim in the 90’s and moved to Dubai from where he made extortion calls to builders. He took the side of Rajan after the gang split on communal lines following the 1993 blasts and Rajan proclaimed himself a Hindu Don. Things, however, changed after there was an attack on Rajan’s life while he was in Bangkok in 2000 by Dawood Ibrahim gang members.
A senior officer said, “Rajan knew that his location was known to only a handful of men and Pujari was one of them. He started viewing him with suspicion as someone who could have leaked his details and parted ways with him.”
Following this, Pujari set up his own gang and tried to forge an identity for himself. The officer said that in order to create fear in the minds of people so as to get extortion money, Pujari started calling up celebrities and use the media coverage to threaten others. Among others he had made threat calls to Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar among others.
Known to be operating out of Andheri, Pujari was a school dropout involved in petty criminal activities till he killed a rival gang member Bala Zalte that propelled him to Rajan’s gang.