The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dons stray into ballotfield, cops follow

Mumbai, March 1: Once upon a time, as police bullets zipped across the dark alleys of Dagdi Chawl, Arun Gawli used to hide for cover.

The mustachioed, slightly gaunt former don doesn’t hide any more. He is ready for another encounter, only this time it will be fought in the poll arena.

Mumbai has thrown up an interesting mix of wannabe politicians — those who upheld the law and those who ran from it — for the coming Lok Sabha elections. If Gawli has donned the Nehru cap, so has former Mumbai police commissioner M.. Singh. If fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Iqbal Kaskar has evinced interest in politics, so has former Dharavi deputy commissioner and tough-as-nails cop Sanjay Pande.

The list goes on. Mohammad Afroze, who was persecuted for “links with al Qaida”, may think politics is his comeuppance. So does retired director-general of police, state intelligence, T.K. Choudhary.

Then there is Deepak Nikhalje, Chhota Rajan’s brother, and Y.C. Pawar, the cop credited with wiping out the underworld kingdom of Vardarajan Mudaliar.

Gawli will contest from Mumbai South Central and is “sure” that those fighting him will have to forfeit their deposits. “There has been a lot of work, social work, humanitarian work, and people know that,” Gawli says. “My opponents can run a vilification campaign against me. The people know the truth.”

The former don is unhappy that those politicians he helped in the past are now against him because he has become their adversary. But he is ready for the fight. “My fight will be against corruption and I will see to it that it is rooted out,” he says.

But cops will be cops. Choudhary, the former top cop, says that once he dives headlong into electoral politics, “all hanky-panky will have to stop”. Talks are on with the Samajwadi Party, but that is all he will divulge.

Pande, the Dharavi DCP who had to put in his papers after political persecution, is more direct. “Since the last 20 years we have the same kinds of people joining politics. Things will have to change. I know what fighting is, I have seen all that. I can take on anybody,” he says.

Pande, however, makes it clear he will not fight as an Independent but solicit help from the bigger parties. Like Gawli, he says he would oppose corruption and terrorism while rooting for secularism.

From inside the Arthur Road jail, there are whispers that Dawood’s brother Iqbal is interested in fighting the elections as “bade bhai” wants it. Arrested in a land-grabbing case after he was deported from Dubai, Kaskar has been charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

But the “easy” manner in which he was sent back raised eyebrows, leading quite a few to think that it was a D-company conspiracy to get one of their own in India and Indian politics.

Afroze was arrested soon after the September 11 attacks in the US and later released on bail after the police failed to file a chargesheet in the sedition case against him within the stipulated 90 days. The police later dropped the terror charges against him for lack of evidence. Now Afroze thinks it is time to “get his own back”.

But if there is one person who doesn’t want to hear the term underworld, it is Deepak Nikhalje, the younger brother of don Chhota Rajan and producer of the film Vaastav. Nikhalje recently held public protests against the “manner” in which the police were conducting inquiries against him.

Nikhalje, who is the Maharashtra secretary of the Republican Party of India, says he is not sure “yet” if he would contest but sees no harm in it.

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