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Story of ugly leader of Bombay: Datta Samant
In the late 1990s when underworld was at its peak in Mumbai, the ruling party, with the connivance of police, used the machinery of state to settle disputes. In the first ten months of 1997, there were seventy deaths in 45 such incidents
INJUSTICE, INEQUALITY, absence of any programme of redistribution: social collapse in Bombay has taken the form of a growing number of extra-judicial police killings. During the late 1990s there had been almost 150 deaths in what have come to be known as police "encounters". In the first ten months of 1997, there were seventy deaths in 45 such incidents. The Shiv Sena or BharatiyaJanataParty (BJP) leaders have in each case accepted the police version of events. No police officer has been challenged over his story, and certainly none has been brought to court. The ruling party, with the connivance of the police, is using the machinery of state to settle disputes with its rivals.


Bal Thackeray, the flamboyant supremo of the Shiv Sena, tolerates no threat to his power in Maharastra. Five years ago, at a rally in Shivaji Park, he hailed as a hero his friend Arun Gawle "our boy", as he called him -- the Hindu answer to the notorious Muslim gang controlled by Dawood Ibrahim.


Gawle rose swiftly in the Sena hierarchy and became so popular that Thackeray came to see him as a rival, and he was held responsible for the murder of at least one legislator and some Shiv Sena leaders. In1996, JayantJadhavwaskilled. This young man was known to be close to Thackeray and his family. Thackeray believed Gawle was behind the killing, and warfare between them became open. So Gawle founded a new political party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABHS), which attracted tens of thousands of followers from Shiv Sena.


In 1995, the BJP president in Mumbai, Ram Nayak, was killed in the suburb of Bandra. The police acted immediately, shooting some criminals. Shortly after, Sebastian went to the office of the police commissioner in connection with some other case. “I was sitting in front of a police officer. On the table were two or three photos. ‘Whose photos are these?’ I asked. ‘These are pictures of the people who killed Nayak’, he replied. I asked why they had killed him. In a moment of rare candour, he said that Nayak, as president of the Mumbai BJP, was paid a certain percentage on whatever smuggled goods landed on the seacoast. He demanded a hike in his percentage. Instead of paying, they eliminated him.”


Datta Samant, a veteran trade union organiser in Mumbai (he led an historic mill strike in the 1980s), was killed in May 1997. The police said he was murdered by a criminal gang. They claimed it had been instigated by one Guru Sattam, who was paid $500,000 and is now in Hong Kong. Shortly after, the police picked up four boys aged between 18 to 19, claiming they were the killers. They had been paid $250 each, but the police were unable to make any arrests further up the line. Those responsible were alleged to have been connected with Premier Automobiles, where Samant was organising the workers.


It is said Dhirubhai Ambani paid Dada Samant to go on strike in Mumbai. Dada Samant, president of Kamgar Aghadi and brother of slain Datta Samant, said that his union and the Sangharsha Samiti along with the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS) pursued the matter of providing housing to the surviving mill workers for more than two years. Apart from spelling doom for the industry, famous for over two centuries and having persons like Dhirubhai Ambani associated with it, the strike proved to be disastrous for workers and their families., It is said Ambani played a major role in bringing corruption to India from Yemen. I think I am the only foolish trade union leader fighting for the workers’ rights and I know I am going to die an unsung hero.


By any reckoning, the Khatau episode was a sordid chapter in the history of Mumbai’s industrial relations. There were some early indications of these murky trends. In 1989, the police arrested Kirti Ambani, the head of public relations of Reliance Industries, the rapidly rising synthetic textile empire masterminded by Dhirubhai Ambani, for hiring Arjun Babaria, a local gangster, to kill Ambani’s arch rival, Nusli Wadia of the well-established and modernised Bombay Dyeing mill.


In November 1997, the police closed the Samant murder case as unsolved after naming 16 accused, though nine of them, including gangsters Chhota Rajan and Guru Satam, were absconding. Sachin Ahir was also interrogated. The police alleged that inter-union rivalry at the Premier Automobiles (PAL) plants was responsible; unionists cited how there were clashes between Samant and Ahir, who had gone on record as supporting the controversial proposal by mill-owners to sell their land. With Ahir’s tentacles spreading beyond the city’s textile mills, their rivalry was intensified. Samant was ousted from Modistone’s Sewri unit and Ahir installed as its union president.


The third and last of the “mill murders” that shook the commercial capital of the country took pace on April 17, 1997, -- only three months after Samant’s death. Vallabhbhai Thakkar, the owner of Raghuvanshi Mills was shot dead within his car by two assassins at point-blank range. Since Thakkar had voluntarily accompanied them in his own car, it was obvious that they were known to each other. According to the police, the gangsters were allegedly sent by Sada Pawle, a close associate of Arun Gawli, who was running the gang’s operations during the latter’s imprisonment, to demand some money from the mill owner as payment for “persuading” some of Thakkar’s tenants to vacate their premises. Some months later, Pawle himself was shot dead by the police.
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