Chhota Rajan, born into a family in the Tilaknagar area of Chembur, started his journey as a cinema ticket seller before embarking on a notorious criminal career. Rajan, whose real name is Rajendra Nikalje, began his criminal activities by committing petty crimes in his neighborhood. However, it was his association with his mentors, Bada Rajan and Yadagiri of Hyderabad, that paved the way for his rise in the underworld.
Introduced to the world of black market ticket sales at Sahakar cinema Ashok Theatre in the 1980s, Rajan quickly learned the tricks of the trade from his mentors. Following the demise of Bada Rajan, Rajan assumed the throne and earned the moniker “Chhota Rajan.” For a brief period, he collaborated with Dawood Ibrahim and Arun Gawli. However, a rift emerged when Gawli’s elder brother, Papa Gawli, was assassinated over a drug deal.
In 1989, Rajan traveled to Dubai to attend the wedding of Noora, Ibrahim’s brother, and never returned. The 1993 Bombay bombings strained the relationship between Rajan and Ibrahim, leading to their fallout. Reports even surfaced suggesting that Rajan had tipped off the Research and Analysis Wing about Ibrahim’s network. The Ibrahim-Rajan alliance came to an end in September 2000 when Chhota Shakeel orchestrated an attack on Rajan in his Bangkok hotel room.
The tide turned against Rajan when he was arrested in Bali on October 26, 2015. Acting on a tip-off from Australian police, Indonesian authorities detained Rajan upon his arrival from Sydney. CBI director Anil Sinha confirmed the arrest, revealing that it was made at the CBI’s request through Interpol.
During his criminal career, Rajan engaged in bloody shootouts with Dawood’s gang members. In a notable incident in 1994, Rajan lured Dawood’s associate Phillu Khan, also known as Bakhtiyar Ahmed Khan, to a hotel room in Bangkok where he was tortured and killed. Rajan’s gunmen were responsible for eliminating ten individuals accused of involvement in the 1993 blasts.
Despite his criminal activities, Rajan had a personal life. He is married to Sujata Nikalje, and they have three daughters named Ankita, Nikita, and Khushi. Rajan’s younger brother, Deepak Nikalje, is associated with the Republican Party of India led by MP Ramdas Athawale.
Rajan, known as ‘Nana’ among friends and colleagues, led a group that was often referred to as the Nana Company. His attempted assassination by Dawood’s men in Bangkok proved unsuccessful as he managed to escape with injuries. Seeking revenge, Rajan’s associates targeted and killed Dawood’s aide Vinod in Mumbai, followed by another associate named Sunil Soans. In a bold move, Rajan’s gang gunned down Sharad, Dawood’s chief finance manager and money-laundering agent, at the India Club in Dubai in 2003. This event marked a significant shift in power dynamics between Rajan and Dawood, as it took place on Dawood’s operational turf.
The life and actions of Chhota Rajan exemplify the dark underbelly of the criminal world. From humble beginnings as a cinema ticket seller, he rose through the ranks to become a feared gangster, leaving a trail of violence and revenge in his wake. His arrest in Bali marked a crucial milestone in the ongoing battle against organized crime, offering a glimmer of hope for a city plagued by the shadow