Rise and Fall of Gangster MLA Papu Kalani
By Ganesh N - MUMBAI
Published: 08th Dec 2013 09:22:05 AM
The packed courtroom at Kalyan near Mumbai in Maharashtra fell silent as Additional Sessions Judge Rajeshwari Bapat-Sarkar pronounced the accused persons as guilty of committing the murder. At that moment, one of the accused, a man in his mid-sixties, sought permission from the court to speak. All the eyes and ears were glued to what this man would now say. In a frail voice, he begged the court not to send him to prison as he was aged and his wife was also unwell. “I will banish myself from this city for the rest of my life. Please do not send me to prison,” said the man. As he spoke he moved towards the bench to hand over the medical file of his wife to the judge. However, his body appeared to be shaking and the file slipped and fell on the ground.
Former MLA and gangster Suresh alias Papu Kalani, who had managed to control Ulhasnagar city with a vice-like grip for close to three decades, looked defeated and heartbroken. Though Kalani has been booked in over two dozen cases ranging from murder, attempt to murder, engineering bomb blasts to graft, he was never found guilty and convicted. On December 3, a few days after the conviction, the court sentenced Kalani and three others to life imprisonment in a 23-year-old murder case. Also convicted and sentenced along with him were Bacchi Pandey and Baba Gabriel, known associates of fugitive terrorist Dawood Ibrahim. The life imprisonment came as a big blow for a man who has represented Ulhasnagar city in the Maharashtra Assembly four times since 1990 and twice from inside the jail as an under-trial booked under Terrorist And Disruptive Activities Act (TADA).
Since the 1980s, Kalani controlled Ulhasnagar by winning elections to the local self-government and Assembly. “Crimes happened in his quest for power. My brothers Ghanshyam and Inder were killed because they had raised voice against bogus voting engineered by Kalani when he contested the Assembly elections on a Congress ticket for the first time in 1990,” said Kamal Bhatija.
Political patronage ensured that Kalani, who had become an MLA, was not arrested for both the murders for the next two years till there was change of guard in the state with Sudhakarrao Naik becoming the chief minister.
These were not the only crimes in which the police did not initiate any action against Kalani. In October 1990, gangster Navin alias Anna Shetty who belonged to rival Gopal Rajwani gang was murdered under police protection. Shetty who was in the prison was brought by the police on the pretext of questioning him in another case. The police vehicle in which he was travelling was ambushed resulting in the death of Shetty and police constable Surve. The prosecution had said that Kalani had connived with the police to kill Shetty. Kalani was subsequently acquitted for lack of evidence in this case. In 1992, autorickshaw union leader Maruti Jadhav was killed; the FIR named Kalani but no immediate arrests were made.
“His arrest in November 1992 came as a shock not just for Kalani but for everybody else as he had become a man who was above law. Even during his eight years and nine months in jail, Kalani managed to win two elections in 1995 and 1999,” said Kumar Ailani, BJP legislator from Ulhasnagar. He was released by the Supreme Court in 2001 on bail when the Thane police in an affidavit said that they did not apprehend any trouble from him. Thane police were wrong; post-bail, 19 cases were registered against Kalani.
Kalani had contested the 2004 Assembly elections from Ulhasnagar on a ticket from Republican Party of India (Athavale). The city of Ulhasnagar did not let him down again and he was elected for the fourth time.
Ulhasnagar, an erstwhile military camp, about 40-odd km from Mumbai, came into being as a place to settle the Sindhi refugees from Pakistan. The community—essentially entrepreneurs, traders and businessmen—was often a soft target by criminals from Marathi community. Kalani through his acts of crime emerged as a don which was hailed by his community.
“In the 1980s, Kalani’s was one of the richest families in Ulhasnagar. I remember the first video player in Ulhasnagar was purchased by the Kalani household. During the period of his arrest and subsequent release, the ground realities had changed as there were hundreds of millionaires in Ulhasnagar who had developed their own contacts in the state’s power corridor. Kalani was no longer needed to get their work done,” said a former politician from Ulhasnagar.
The impact of delimitations and fall in his popularity ensured his defeat in 2009 Assembly polls. In 2012, he attempted to get back to power he had lost by contesting the civic body polls as an Independent. He won but failed to muster enough support from corporators to dominate the local body and ended being merely a corporator. “He had eyed to dominate the civic body and eventually win the Assembly polls in 2014. However, his gambit failed as he has now been convicted,” said Bhatija. The long arm of the law finally caught up with Kalani.