Bengaluru is not just the garden city-turned-IT hub, packed with glittery lights, shopping malls and micro-breweries. Beneath the glamorous façade, lies the silent and dangerous world of organised crime and gang wars.
This side of Bengaluru, which was once in its prime during the 1980s and 1990s, still exists, where battles are fought over land supremacy.
The city progressed from being quaint to cosmopolitan and so did the underworld. Gangsters who once wielded machetes and killed have now graduated to guns. In Bengaluru’s underworld, fleeting instances of fame and the fear of being killed are ground realities.
There are still bloody battles, movie-style police crackdowns and rowdy-sheeters go in and out of prison. Some even conduct operations from within the prison, but these gangsters guard their business, which surrounds real estate, fiercely.
The city, which once had thousands of rowdy-sheeters, now has only a few hundred who are active.
The February 3 attempted murder of AMPC President Kadabagere Srinivas Murthy alias Dhaba Seena has brought to the forefront gangsters who have several cases filed against them at various police stations across the city.
Gangsters including Agni Sridhar, Onte Rohith, Silent Sunil and Bachchan have been arrested by the city police, and are being questioned in connection with the shooting which took place in broad daylight at Kogilu Cross in Yelahanka.
But who is the man they attacked and why did they target him?
Srinivas Murthy - and his brother Rama alias Poison Rama - owned a dhaba in Kadabagere near Magadi Road.
In the 90s, Seena used to work alongside gangsters to fix petty real estate deals. At the time, most of Bengaluru’s gangsters were regulars at Seena’s dhaba. Seena’s brother, Poison Rama, was a cashier at the dhaba as well.
“Dhaba Seena wields considerable power near Magadi Road and Yelahanka Upanagara areas. He had political aspirations and had joined BJP for a while, and later defected to the Congress and became the APMC President,” a person with close connections to gangsters told TNM.
To understand Seena and Rama’s power and popularity though, and to figure out why he was targeted, we must go back to where it all started - the 1970s.
Dawn of the first don
Bengaluru’s underworld was firmly established when Kodigehalli Mune Gowda assumed the title of ‘don’ as he held control over all of the city and made a quick buck by collecting haftas from arrack shops and brothels located in the city’s dimmer gallis.
Not much is known about Mune Gowda’s empire, but the man who reigned after him was the first real don of Bengaluru.
In the 1970s, MP Jayaraj and Kotwal Ramachandra were the reigning powers of the underworld. Jayaraj was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assaulting a man named Thigallarapete Gopi in court premises. It was during his stint in jail that his hold in the underworld began to loosen.
By the time he came out of prison, the city was under the control of Kotwal Ramachandra and Oil Kumar. Jayaraj wanted to regain control, and that’s when he enlisted Agni Sridhar.
With the help of Agni Sridhar, Jayaraj contracted four men to kill Ramachandra. On March 22, 1986, Ramachandra has been murdered at a farmhouse in Allasandra in Tumakuru district and Jayaraj had established his regime.
“When it comes to organised crime, MP Jayaraj can be considered as the first real don of the city as opposed to Mune Gowda. He was made the vanguard of Bengaluru’s underworld by M D Nataraj, the son-in-law of the then Chief Minister Devaraj Urs,” said BB Ashok Kumar, retired Additional Commissioner of Police.
He added: “Jayaraj was also the President of the Indira Brigade, which used to be the Congress’ youth wing. He was popular among the Dalit groups as he was also involved in social service.”
The bloody 80s
In the late 1980s, young bloods like Muttappa Rai, Agni Sridhar, Jedarahalli Krishnappa, Bekkina Kannu Rajendra and Srirampura Kitty, all indulged in bloody battles to gain supremacy over the city’s underworld. They ruled Mahalakshmi Layout, Kamakshipalya, Basaveshwarnagar, Vijayanagar, Hanumanthnagar, Subrahmanyapura, Girinagar, J P Nagar and Madiwala.
But Muttappa Rai then gained power by assassinating Jayaraj on November 20, 1989 in Siddapura, recalls SK Umesh, DCP Bengaluru Rural, who was involved in arresting many gangsters during his tenure as the city’s ACP.
By then, gangsters had also turned to money-making sectors including live band establishments, and oil adulteration.
The 80s saw constant bloodshed, with gangsters getting killed almost on a weekly basis. Movie style hot police chases were also common. Some even managed to escape from police custody. In Bengaluru’s underworld, Sandalwood film scripts were a reality.
Most gangsters either died at the hands of their rivals or were destined to die in police encounters.
But while most of them perished, Muttappa Rai, Agni Sridhar and Pushpa Kalapathar ‘turned their lives over’ and became self-proclaimed social activists. Agni Sridhar also went on to pen a memoir.
Establishment of the Muslim underworld
In the same decade, the Muslim underworld fixed its roots in Shivajinagar, Tannery Road, Ilyasnagar and JJ Nagar.
Koli Fayaz alias Murgi Fayaz was a big-time gang lord of the Muslim underworld. He reigned over Shivajinagar until he was brutally murdered by a rival gang led by Ishtiaq.
Fayaz’s protégée, Tanveer took over the reign of the gang and made peace with Ishtiaq’s men.
Bengaluru’s best hit man
During this period, there was another gangster, Silent Sunil, who gained considerable power and was one of the most dreaded contract killers.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were multiple deaths of rowdy-sheeters from different factions in the city. The police were clueless about the perpetrator. It was only in 2005, when Bekkina Kannu Rajendra was murdered, that Silent Sunil’s name came to be known,” DCP Umesh said.
Sunil was considered Bengaluru’s best hit man. Gangsters of various factions contracted killing to Sunil. “His murders were extremely well planned and he left not a trace behind. He would silently listen to the taunts by other gangsters and in the morning their bodies would be found,” the source said.
The source also revealed Silent Sunil’s modus operandi. While contracting a murder to Sunil, the contractor had to provide him with a few goons. The goons were told to meet Sunil at the designated spot, where they had planned the kill.
While the goons waited for Sunil to appear, he would silently slip in and kill the said person, giving him the moniker ‘Silent Sunil’. The goons would end up being implicated for his crime.
In 2005 he killed Bekkina Kannu Rajendra at Chalukya Hotel and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But unlike Jayaraj, who lost his empire while he was jailed, Sunil’s franchise only grew stronger.
“While he was at Parappana Agrahara Prison, he ran extortion rackets from within the jail. His men would collect haftas from cemeteries in the city and the spoils was used to keep his gang intact,” said DCP Umesh.
Sunil’s men later killed gangsters Lambu Nati, Ravi and Bharath Raj at Shanti Sagar Hotel in Malleshwaram during an engagement ceremony. This gave Silent Sunil legitimacy and he became feared in the criminal circles of Bengaluru.
The gangsters of today
Sunil was out of prison in 2014 and became close to Agni Sridhar. He also became the secretary of Sridhar’s Pro Kannada Organisation. Ever since, Silent, Onte and their associates have been involved in the real estate business and extortion.
Silent Sunil, Onte Rohith, Agni Sridhar and his right-hand man Bachchan, were among the seven persons arrested on Monday, who are now being questioned on the Dhaba Seena shooting.
Onte Rohith is a resident of Gayatri Nagar and began his criminal career by committing petty robberies. He became famous in the rowdy syndicate after he aligned himself with Silent Sunil. Their friendship bloomed while they spent a lot of time together in Parappana Agrahara Central Prison. Sunil and Rohith got together and conducted operations from within the prison. He was titled Onte (camel) because of his height and gait.
There are also allegations that the tight-as-thieves bond the duo share resulted in the killing of Bullet Ravi, the Robin Hood gangster of Yelahanka, who was hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang of 10. The bromance was still intact and they were also suspects of a double murder in Subramanyanagar and Hennur.
The duo became dormant a couple of years ago, in terms of bloody murders in broad daylight, but kept to extorting money from people. They aligned themselves with veteran gangsters Muttappa Rai and Agni Sridhar.
There have been allegations that Sridhar was harbouring Dhaba Seena’s hitmen, and that Onte Rohith and Silent Sunil sketched a plan to bump off Dhaba Seena, on the orders of a politician.