Just like there is only one Big B in the Hindi film industry, there is only one Daddy in the Mumbai crime syndicate, Arun Gulabrao Ahir, aka Arun Gawli.
Gawli gave wings to his political ambitions in the mid-1990s when he was still a name to reckon with in the underworld, by floating the Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABS). The pan-India nomenclature was an audacious attempt, given that his influence did not extend beyond Mumbai and its neighbouring regions, though by that time he had shot to national prominence for not only taking on Dawood Ibrahim and his so-called D-gang but also crossing swords with the powerful Shiv Sena led by Balasaheb Thackeray.
Perhaps it was the latter development that made him float another ‘Sena’ to challenge the Shiv Sena. Gawli began by testing the waters in the Mumbai municipal corporation elections, fielding ABS candidates from wards in Dadar, Parel and Byculla. The Shiv Sena, which ruled the state in alliance with the BJP, was initially dismissive of the don’s new venture, and more so because these regions were Shiv Sena strongholds. Things changed soon, however.
‘The ruling party was willing to overlook Gawli’s political ambitions, but what got its goat was Gawli’s strong-arm tactics during the elections.’ Fuelled by his desire to wreak vengeance on the Shiv Sena, the reasons for which we shall come to later, Gawli ‘began threatening and intimidating Sena candidates in those constituencies’. The method did not rest at the verbal level; his men resorted to physical violence.
The red line was crossed when the don’s supporters took to bullying voters in Chief Minister Manohar Joshi’s constituency of what is now Mumbai North Central. Both rattled and offended by Gawli’s cheek of using means the Sena had mastered over the years, the ruling coalition decided to crack the whip.
Once the results were out—in Dadar, the ABS candidate came second to the Shiv Sena nominee, leaving the Congress representative far behind in the third position—the Mumbai police swooped down on Gawli and detained him under the National Security Act. What had further alarmed the police and Gawli’s rivals, including the Shiv Sena, was the fact that the ABS runner-up, Meenakshi Tandel, was the wife of Gawli’s notorious sharpshooter Vijay Tandel. Gawli may have burned his bridges with the Shiv Sena supremo but he still apparently had sympathisers in that party.
Senior leader Mohan Rawale strongly protested against the move and even went on a hunger strike at a police station. Rawale was no ordinary Shiv Sainik; he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991 and was repeatedly re-elected until 2004. He lost in 2009 from Mumbai South Central.
Towards the end of 2013, the Shiv Sena sacked him from the party after he alleged that the Sena had become a party of ‘brokers’. Interestingly, in backing Gawli, Rawale had taken on Manohar Joshi with whom he would, years later, have something in common: both would criticise Uddhav Thackeray and get sidelined for the effort.
But while Joshi wriggled back into Uddhav’s good books after he publicly and profusely apologised for his anti-Thackeray remarks and expressed unstinted faith in the latter’s leadership, Rawale refused to capitulate and was shown the door. Returning to the Gawli story, Rawale’s public disapproval of the don’s detention did not go unnoticed, and certainly not by the Gawli camp.
—Extracted from Baahubalis of Indian Politics: From Bullet to Ballot by Rajesh Singh, with permission from Rupa Publications India. Price INR 295.
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)