Ravi Pujari: The making of a ‘Hindu don’

Ravi Pujari

Ravi Pujari  

Efforts are on to extradite Ravi Pujari, who was held in Senegal on January 21.

The 50-year-old Ravi Pujari had humble beginnings in a small village near the coastal town of Malpe in the Udupi district. His father Surya Pujari, who worked in a shipping firm, died five years ago. His mother and sisters are now based out of New Delhi. Though born in Karnataka, he mostly grew up in Mumbai and entered the underworld with a murder in Andheri in early 1990s. He was a trusted aide of Chhota Rajan, but later started his own network.

Pujari began identifying himself as a “Hindu don” as a cover for his crimes and often targeted Muslims. “Not that he only targeted Muslims, he targeted Hindu businessmen as well and extorted money. But often, he would make threat calls, which were overtly communal in nature, to claim that he was fighting for a cause,” a senior police officer from Karnataka, who has tracked the fugitive for years, said.

In October 2015, Pujari allegedly made threat calls to two Karnataka Ministers — K. Abhaychandra Jain and Ramanath Rai, both from Dakshina Kannada — and threatened to kill them as he alleged that the Ministers were “protecting the murderers of Prashanth Pujari”, a Bajrang Dal activist killed days before the threat call. In January 2018, the underworld operative allegedly made threat calls and sent SMSes to then Education Minister Tanveer Sait, demanding ₹10 crore. Earlier, in 2009, Ravi Pujari’s alleged henchmen murdered lawyer Naushad Kashimji, advocate for Rashid Malabari, a sharpshooter and an alleged associate of Chhota Shakeel.

Ravi Pujari: The making of a ‘Hindu don’

Gopal Hosur, former State intelligence chief, said Pujari was more active in Mumbai, where he grew up and entered the underworld, but had his henchmen in Bengaluru and Mangaluru, through whom he targeted builders for extortion. There are a total of 98 cases pending against him in the State — 46 in Bengaluru and 47 in coastal districts — apart from five other cases in other parts of the State, that include seven shoot-outs, of which three were fatal. One of the first cases against him was for his alleged involvement in a fatal shoot-out against builder Subbaraju in 2001 in Bengaluru. He has been chargesheeted in the case, but hasn’t stood trial.

Lying dormant for over five years, Pujari was chargesheeted as the main conspirator behind the shoot-out against realty firm Shabnam Developers, which left two dead in February 2007. The conspiracy was to kill K. Samiulla, alleging he had “links to the Muslim underworld.” This was closely followed by a shoot-out at HML Shipping in Mangaluru, again owned by a Muslim businessman, who allegedly refused to pay hafta, in 2008. “The shoot-outscreated a fear psychosis among businessmen from the community. Ravi Pujari made it a habit to make extortion calls to Muslim businessmen and many of them paid up, not even informing the police,” said a former top cop, who was in service during the period.

However, shoot-outs allegedly carried out by Pujari’s henchmen after 2008 in the State did not have a communal colour. His henchmen allegedly carried out a shoot-out at Bollywood production company UTV’s office in 2009, and at the office of Mantri Developers in 2010, both in Bengaluru. The last shoot-out attributed to him was against Bharati Builders in Mangaluru in 2014. All three shoot-outs were allegedly carried out after the businessmen declined to pay up, police sources said. The same year, he also made an extortion bid to Vinu Vishwanath Shetty, a prominent patron of Kambala.

Losing out?

Vicky Shetty, an underworld operative hailing from Mangaluru, made his mark as a trusted aide of Ravi Pujari, but became independent in the early 2010s. The two have been locked in a fierce turf war and a competition to emerge as the “Hindu don”, said a senior Karnataka police officer on the trail of Shetty.

Shetty’s henchmen allegedly killed a Chotta Shakeel aide in a Mangaluru prison and made an attempt on the life of Rasheed Malbari, a sharpshooter and close aide of Chhota Shakeel, and made statements claiming responsibility. Pujari had weakened with competition from his once trusted aide, had ceded ground and had been making threat calls for “publicity”, the officer said. Recently, Jawaharlal Nehru University student leaders Shehla Rasheed Shora and Umar Khalid, and Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani, received threat calls and messages from a person claiming to be Pujari.

Custody sought

Amar Kumar Pandey, Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence, Karnataka, has reached Mumbai to co-ordinate the country’s efforts to get Ravi Pujari extradited from Senegal. The Karnataka State Police have pressed for his custody. Pujari was arrested by the Senegal authorities on January 21, acting on a tip-off by Mr. Pandey, a press note by the Chief Minister’s Office said.

The State intelligence had tracked him down to Burkina Faso, where he had assumed the identity of Antony Fernandez and had investments in hotel chains. However, he fled from Burkina Faso and later appeared in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Mr. Pandey alerted officials in the country, leading to his arrest.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 7:10:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/ravi-pujari-the-making-of-a-hindu-don/article26164374.ece

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