//Cradle of non-violence now swears by guns

Cradle of non-violence now swears by guns

Haresh Pandya, Rajkot, Hindustan Times, May 24, 2006

Bapu must be tossing in his heavenly abode. Once the cradle of the father of the nation, Porbandar is now Gujarat’s desi version of Bronx. And its wild boys are no less than the “Gangs of New York”.

The gangs trade fire over big metal buck, for this dusty business town rides on a multi-crore business in bauxite, chalk powder, limestone, realty and transportation. At stake is the control of the fund-flush underworld thriving on the outskirts.

The city's brush with dangerous living dates back to the Sixties. But organized crime is a much recent phenomenon. It began with the murder of “godmother” Santokben Jadeja's husband Sarman Munja Jadeja, a true-blue Mer (the community to which he belonged) in 1986. And the mafia was born. The Vagher gang called the shots in the late Sixties. Siblings Devu and Karsan Vagher were hired by Nanji Kalidas Mehta of Maharana Mills to smash the labour movement.

Young Sarman was a rookie then — working as a transport labourer and doubling as a milkman on the side. But the Vagher brothers bullied the Mer cinema ticket blackers. And they hated the duo.

Such was the terror, that Sarman and his family had decided to leave the town for good. But while they were packing, the brothers barged in. Sarman and his maternal uncles (two of them) lost their cool and gunned down Devu. A few days later, Karsan’s body was found at the gate of Maharana Mills. Sarman earned his passage and became a don in his own right.

Sarman was a Mer hero and had an uninterrupted run for several years. He was a law unto himself with a tally of 47 murders to his name. But he was a kind of modern-day Robinhood. Sarman spared the poor and the women. And ran a parallel judicial system. His whip was the law.

Life, however, took a reel-like twist. He chanced upon the late Pandurang Shastri of the Swadhyay movement and bade farewell to arms. Past, however, crept up on him. On a chilly December night in 1986, he was shot dead at Bakharala village by the Kala Keshav gang. Wife Santokben donned the mantle of crime. The simple god-fearing widow suddenly found herself lording over 100 hardcore Mer criminals. Retribution was scripted in blood. Sarman’s brother Bhura Munja came from London to uphold family honour. Bullets flew, leaving 30 dead in the bloody trail. Sankotben became the “godmother” and her gang one of the most-feared and “revered” terror machines. In the Nineties, the gang was wanted in over 500 cases, including nine against the “godmother” herself.

Guns bequeathed power and the road veered to politics. Santokben became an independent MLA in the Chimanbhai Patel government in the early 1990s. After Chimanbhai’s death, successor Chhabildas Mehta decided to purge Porbandar of crime. Santokben took flight. And struck base in Rajkot. Rival Bhima Dula took advantage of her absence and took over her empire. But saga of crime that began in 1986 came a full circle last week. Assailants pumped bullets into Santokben’s  daughter-in-law Rekha.

And the scores were evened.