Mumbai

From Dombivali to Dakar, the rise and fall of Ravi Pujari

A native of Udupi in Karnataka, Ravi Pujari grew up in Dombivali. He was arrested in Senegal last week.

A native of Udupi in Karnataka, Ravi Pujari grew up in Dombivali. He was arrested in Senegal last week.  

Police say he wanted to build a reputation as a fierce mafia don

Ravi Pujari, arrested at Dakar in Senegal last week, had been trying to build a reputation for himself as a fearsome mafia don for years, police officers who tracked his history said. They said Pujari owed the few achievements in his life to the support of other people, including his wife Padma.

A native of Udupi in Karnataka, Pujari grew up in Dombivali and shifted to Andheri, where he ran a tea stall. In the late 1980s, Shrikant Desai, an aide of Rajendra Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan, recruited Pujari. Chhota Rajan was then one of the top lieutenants of Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar.

A Crime Branch officer said, “Pujari had his first brush with fame after senior police inspector Pradeep Sharma and Vijay Salaskar, posted with the Bandra unit of the Crime Branch, killed Desai in an encounter in 1993. Pujari swore revenge against the people who tipped off the police on Desai’s whereabouts.”

Rising in the ranks

The same year, Pujari killed Bala Zalte, a D-gang member who was picked up for questioning a week before Desai’s death. He suspected Zalte of giving information on Desai so that the police would let him off. A few months later, he murdered Mohan Shedge, a local resident, after he received news that he might have tipped off the police.

The officer said, “These two murders earned him accolades and a special position in the eyes of Rajan, who elevated him. Pujari now started reporting directly to Rajan’s number two man, Rohit Verma. Rajan’s trust in Pujari deepened when he stood by him when he split from the D-gang in Dubai that year.”

However, Rajan started suspecting his own men after a hit squad led by Munna Jhingada attacked him in Thailand in 2002, leaving him partially paralysed. The officer said, “A paranoid Rajan often wondered if Pujari and Guru Satam [another aide] might have tipped off Dawood about his whereabouts. Pujari and Satam parted ways with Rajan and started their own gangs.”

Brain behind the gang

Sources said, Pujari’s wife Padma was the brain behind his gang. On her advice, he told his targets to Google his name if they didn’t believe he meant business. A Crime Branch officer said Pujari was desperate to instil fear in others. He said, “We heard recorded calls where he would demand several lakhs from his targets and then reduce it to astonishingly low figures.” Among his targets was a Mumbai-based businessman, who ran a small fleet of tankers and built a three-storey building by investing his savings into the project. Pujari called him up and made extortion threats, said another Crime Branch officer.

In 2014, Pujari called up businessman Nusli Wadia’s office and asked him to stay out of the dispute between his son Ness and actor Priety Zinta. The same year, his men opened fire outside a film producer’s house, but his action went unnoticed. Pujari then called up a few TV channels and informed them about the incident. In 2018, he sent threatening messages to activists Shehla Rashid and Jignesh Mewani to build an image of a “patriotic don”.

The officer said, “The patriotism ruse was adopted by Rajan to disguise his cowardly exit in the middle of the night when he split with Dawood. When Pujari formed his own gang, he tried to adopt the same image.”

According to sources, Pujari did not support the families of his arrested gang members. As a result, his aides who were lodged in Central jails were nicknamed “use-and-throw” by fellow inmates, officers said.

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Printable version | May 23, 2020 5:32:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/from-dombivali-to-dakar-the-rise-and-fall-of-ravi-pujari/article26163925.ece

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