Mumbai: Now 65-year-old underworld gangster Arun Gawli’s life has been a roller coaster of sorts. The man famous as ‘Daddy’ in the underworld has seen hide inside boxes, climb up his bathroom window to escape raiding policemen, to providing residents of the infamous Dagdi Chawl a proper place to live which in turn ensured that he stayed safe within.
But Gawli wasn’t the known gangster before the 80’s. His father Gulabrao had migrated to Mumbai from Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh in the early 1950s and settled at Dagdi Chawl. But abject poverty had made Gawli drop out of school while he was still in the fifth grade, and take up his family’s traditional business of supplying milk around Saat Rasta in Mumbai.
He later joined the ranks of Rama Naik’s gang in the 1980’s through his friends at school, and was soon entrusted to provide protection to transport Dawood Ibrahim’s consignments. This saw Gawli give up his lowly paid job in Khatau mills and join the Amar Naik gang as a full-timer. And it was not long before he was arrested.
Gawli was first arrested in 1986 for the daring murder of Parasnath Pandey, and the kingpin of the dreaded 'Cobra Gang' of the 1980's, Sashi Rasham. But fallout between Rama Naik and Dawood Ibrahim over a plot of land at Jogeshwari saw Naik being killed, and Gawli become Dawood’s arch enemy.
His brother Bappa Gawli was butchered by Dawood's men and to avenge the killing, Gawli killed Dawood's brother-in-law Ibrahim Parkar in the early 1990's. His house was plundered by hounding Dawood men in the subsequent period, however, Gawli foxed them every time.
Gawli’s ability to survive and escape is part of the folklore at Dagdi Chawl. But it was during police commissioner Arvind Inamdar’s reign that Gawli’s extraordinary knack to escape police net was discovered. Policemen involved in the operation found Gawli inside the drawer of a bed in one of the single-room tenements at Dagdi chawl, with a sten gun by his side. He was booked under TADA that kept him in prison for a period of nine years.
It was within the jail that Gawli and his gang found prominence. The killing of Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh More, Balasaheb Thackeray's close confidant Jayant Jadhav and minority commission chief, and MLA Ziauddin Bukhari gave Gawli and his gang the required notoriety.
Around 1997, as his crime graph soared and police pressure mounted he floated his own party Akhil Bharatiya Sena and in 2002 he contested the municipal elections. In 2004 Gawli contested the assembly elections in Maharashtra and was elected from Dagdi Chawl as an MLA.
But the last straw in Gawli’s life as an MLA came after he contracted killers to murder Shiv Sena corporator Kamlakar Jamsandekar in 2007. Gawli was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.