Rajan has been unwell and spent many months in hospital. So, he probably felt that he would be safer in a jail in India.
Dawood ko thokna hai (I want to kill Dawood),” was the only reaction from underworld don Rajendra Sadashiv Nikhalje, alias Chhota Rajan, when Indian sleuths visited him in July after he was attacked, allegedly by the sharp shooters of his mentor-turned arch rival, Dawood Ibrahim, in a café in Sydney. “But we did not react to his outburst,” said an officer who was part of that team. The silence perhaps influenced Rajan's trip to Bali, Indonesia, where he was arrested on October 26. “He would have realised that he could not survive outside the formal custody of Indian authorities and thus negotiated his arrest,” said an Indian intelligence officer.
Rajan, who had been hiding in Australia for several years, became a headache for local authorities after the July attack. Sources in the Indian intelligence establishment said the Australian government had sought their views on Rajan. “This sealed his fate and a plan was chalked out to get him arrested,” said a source. The CBI had received a query from Australia on whether it had issued a red corner notice against him. “The entire thing began about a month ago, when Rajan applied for a visa extension. It was during the verification process that the Australian authorities came to know that he was a wanted criminal in India,” said an officer. After he made a trip to Bali, he was arrested by the Indonesian Police, acting on the red corner notice against him.
In Australia, Rajan had few trusted aides left and the Sydney attack was facilitated by his cook, who tipped off his rivals. Although he escaped death, he realised that it was time to stop being a fugitive, said a senior Intelligence Bureau officer. A senior officer of the Delhi Police’s special cell, which deals with counter-terrorism and organised crime, said Rajan’s influence and activities had declined considerably in the past few years. “After his close associates like Farid Tanashah and Rohit Verma were killed, his underworld activities were hampered,” he said. Rajan could escape the Sydney attack only because he received a tip-off from Indian authorities. In 2000, Dawood’s shooters had made an attempt on Rajan’s life in Bangkok. Then, too, he had escaped with the help of unidentified sources in India.
Also read: Who is Chhota Rajan?
Rajan had apprenticed as a gangster under the Mumbai don Rajan Nair. After Nair’s death in a shootout in 1983, Rajan came into contact with Dawood and rose to become his second in command. The two split up after the 1993 Bombay blasts, with Rajan positioning himself as the “patriotic don”. After the split, Rajan reportedly provided information about Dawood to law enforcement agencies in India. Indian counter-intelligence officers, however, said Rajan had not been providing useful information about Dawood for some time now. Moreover, some of the information he had given recently was erroneous, which made some influential people in Delhi unhappy.
Home ministry officials said after Rajan's name figured in the list of suspects behind the murder of senior journalist Jyotirmoy Dey in 2011, there had been a change of perception about him among authorities. Many within the intelligence agencies and the Mumbai Police frowned upon him. Moreover, Rajan has been unwell and spent many months in hospital. So, he probably felt that he would be safer in a jail in India.
The Interpol division of the CBI, which had issued a red corner notice against Rajan in 1995, had been coordinating with security agencies in Indonesia and Australia. The CBI will soon send a team, which will also include officers from the Mumbai Police, to Indonesia for further investigation. India is expected to seek Rajan’s deportation as India and Indonesia have not yet ratified the extradition treaty.
“We will possibly get him deported to India, as Indonesia would not like to get into the legal formalities of extradition. Deportation is an executive exercise in which a government can take a decision on the basis of travel documents, without involving the judiciary. The extradition process is lengthy as courts are also involved and then the consent of the person to be extradited would also be taken,” said a senior officer in the home ministry. Once brought to India, Rajan “could prove to be quite handy in preparing a dossier to put pressure on Pakistan to help nab Dawood”.
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National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh played a significant role in Rajan's arrest. Doval alerted Indonesian agencies about the possibility of an Indian don travelling to the country on vacation and then reportedly struck a deal with Rajan about providing information about Dawood in return for his safe passage to India. After the deal was finalised, the IB and Interpol steered Rajan's arrest through the Indonesian route. Singh, accompanied by seven officers, travelled to Jakarta on October 22 to meet Indonesian agencies.
Doval and Rajan are familiar with each other as they collaborated in 2005 to eliminate Dawood through a covert operation. According to a WikiLeaks account, Rajan's sharpshooter Vicky Malhotra was paid by the IB to travel to Dubai for the purpose, but he was picked up by the Mumbai Police in Delhi, under suspicious circumstances.
Doval's effort to bring Rajan back is seen as a prelude to cornering Dawood. Although Pakistan denies sheltering Dawood, Rajan is said to be in possession of clinching evidence of his activities against India in collaboration with the Inter-Services Intelligence. Although the Indian agencies have not received actionable inputs against Dawood for some time now, a senior Mumbai Police officer said, “Rajan knows a lot, a lot that has to do with his rift with Dawood and the 1993 Bombay serial bombings.” The officer has been tracking Rajan and his organised activities from the 1980s.
“We tracked Rajan’s movements closely and informed the police in Indonesia and Australia,” said CBI director Anil Sinha. “We are making arrangements to bring him to India and pursue all criminal cases against him.”
WITH ANUPAM DASGUPTA