(And why is the forthcoming film on this gangster causing so much excitement)
Manohar Arjun Surve, a notorious underworld figure, was gunned down by the police on January 11, 1982. By the end of this year, the John Abraham starrer on the gangster, “Shootout at Wadala” is expected to be released. Neel Shah recounts the rise and fall of the man who gave urban dacoity its deadliest dimensions
11th January, 1982 1p.m: The entire area around Wadala Bus Depot and Ambedkar College was staked out. A special squad of Mumbai police had spun a spider’s web round the area.
Their prey, a notorious underworld figure and Bombay’s, (as it was known then), big time ‘urban dacoit’, Manohar Arjun Surve alias Manya Surve was to arrive to meet his girlfriend.
This was not the first time a trap was laid for Manya. Earlier, on several occasions, he had successfully hoodwinked police and evaded arrest. This time, however, the trap was organized with authentic information from a trusted informer, and was handled with meticulous care. The Detection Crime Branch, CID, were informed of the exact time and place where Manya would be picking up a woman near Ambedkar College.
Dressed in tight jeans, similar to those worn by carefree college students, were then sub-inspector and now retired ACPs Raja Tambat and Issac Ibrahim Bagwan, with their service revolvers hidden amidst college books.
At 1.50 pm, Manya alighted from a taxi near the college. When Tambat called for Manya to surrender, the latter whipped out a Mauser automatic, but before he could fire, Tambat and Bagwan let loose five bullets, which slammed into Manya’s arms, chest and head. Manya died en-route to KEM hospital.
Police recovered an acid bulb, a dagger and 36 bullets tucked into Manya’s belt. “Even with five bullets in him, Manya was difficult to handle. He cursed us for shooting him and even spat blood on us, while we were escorting him to hospital,” recalled Tambat.
It was Manya’s killing which introduced the word ‘encounter’ into the vocabulary of the Mumbai police, and transformed the nature of gang wars in the city.
Subsequently, the spate of encounters picked up and received a further impetus after the underworld went ballistic during the serial blasts in 1993.
Bagwan was honored with the Police President’s medal in 1982 for his role in the encounter of Manya Surve, who had spread panic in the city during the late 70’s. In fact, Manya’s end marked the first encounter in the history of Mumbai police.
The entry point into crime
Born in 1944 at Ranpur in Ratnagiri District, Manya came to live in the city along with his mother and step-father. Initially he passed his SSC and then enrolled in an Arts course in Dadar’s Kirti College. But instead of getting a University Degree, he graduated in petty crimes.
Under the influence of his step-brother, Bhargav, popularly known as Bhargav Dada, he gathered more than two dozen college students and formed a gang which preyed upon the locality of Agar Bazaar in Worli.
It was only when Bhargav Dada and Manya killed a man named Dandekar in 1969 that they came into public focus. The two of them along with accomplice Manya Phodkar, were immediately rounded up by then police inspector Dabholkar and staff of the Worli police station.
A perfect water-tight case was presented by the prosecution and the Sessions Judge Kashilkar sentenced the duo to life imprisonment. When the case ended, Manya swore that inspector Dabholkar and prosecutor would pay for their “crime” of having them incarcerated. In fact, his associate Phodkar went a step further... and whipping out a blade, which he had concealed on his person, he slashed one Dominic, who was the primary witness in the case, said Tambat.
Manya and Bhargav were then safely placed in Yerwada Jail and the Worli police relaxed. No longer would they get anonymous calls informing them of illicit liquor dens. Once the police mobilized personnel to raid these dens, Manya would launch his attacks in the opposite direction and wreak havoc amongst those who had not bothered to get ‘protection’ from him and gang.
It was the Yerwada jail authorities who now had to suffer Manya and his terror tactics. As soon as he was sent to Yerwada jail, he waged a war against his rival hoodlums Suhas Bhatkar alias Potya. To get rid of this menace, the warden transferred Manya to Ratnagiri jail.
Here Manya launched a hunger strike and as his body weight dipped by an alarming 40 pounds, he was sent to Ratnagiri Civil Hospital for recuperation.
On November 14, 1979, Manya escaped and remained at large till his death on January 11, 1982.
Soon after escaping from hospital, Manya again formed a gang. Nine years in Yerwada and Ratnagiri jails gave him the charisma of a hardened outlaw who had plenty of experience and finally, the realization that he had been, till his conviction, only a big frog in a small pond.
Before this, Manya’s arena of operations was limited to certain areas of Dadar and Worli. Apart from murder, his activities were largely concerned with bullying, extortion or mugging. However, rubbing shoulders with Shaikh Munir from Dharavi and Vishnu Patil from Dombivli, convinced him of his lack of stature in the underworld.
With a strong, well-knit gang of urban dacoits formed sometime in the first week of March 1980, Manya took the city by the scruff of its neck and shook it harshly for more than a year.
On April 5 1980, an Ambassador car was stolen and used to launch a raid on Lakshmi Trading Company at Currey Road, in which property worth Rs 5,700 was stolen.
On April 15, one Ibrahim Sheikh Aziz was viciously beaten up by the gang near Kaka Killa in Dharavi. The motive – Aziz was Sheikh Munir’s ‘enemy’. Nine days later, two constables attached to Worli police station were stabbed as they were escorting one Vijay Ghadge to the police station. The motive – these cops were enemies of Prakash Misal, associate of Manya.
It was Manya’s reading of James Hadley Chase at Yerwada Jail which apparently inspired him to pull off a daring dacoity at Chembur. Taking a leaf out of a thriller, he and six others made preparations to snatch themselves a getaway vehicle.
On March 28, an Ambassador (MRJ 449) parked near Badal Bijlee in Mahim, was singled out and it’s locked jimmied open. Accompanied by hardcore criminals like Munir, Dayanand Shetty, Parshuram Katkar, Moreshwar Narvekar, Kishore Sawant and trusted lieutenant Uday Shetty, Manya drove towards Chembur. Their target was the Bombay Milk Scheme Cash Receiving Centre.
Good Picking for Manya
A collection Centre for cash from a network of milk booths in the northern suburbs, the centre on Govandi Road was good pickings and an easy nut to crack for Manya and gang. More important, however, was the realization for Manya that this was big-time that a successful operation would elevate him from a common murderer to a leader of an audacious gang of urban dacoits, said then police inspector Yashwant Bhide, who retired as Addl. Deputy Commissioner of Police (CID Intelligence). Bhide was the head of the 18-member squad prepared to eliminate Manya.
At the Centre, knives and guns were brandished and within five minutes, the gang of seven decamped with a morning’s collection of Rs 1.26 lakh. The robbery took place at 12.45 pm and immediately afterwards the police took up the case.
All that the police could achieve was to find the Ambassador near National College in Bandra, but there was no trace of Manya and his gang of notorious robbers.
To trace this elusive criminal, the DCB, CID finally launched ‘Operation Manya Surve’. A special squad under the leadership of Bhide, was set up to pin down the man who created havoc, both on citizens as well as on police personnel of Mumbai.
Moreover, Manya’s invincible notoriety had started giving an indication to the already organized gangsters of the city that the urban dacoit would soon emerge to become an influential figure in Mumbai’s underworld, if there was no one to stop him.
Operation ‘Manya Surve’
Sheikh Munir, one of Manya’s most volatile associates, was finally traced down to the canteen of National Rayon in Sahad on June 22, 1981. After a harsh bout of interrogation, he cracked and squealed on his colleagues.
Subsequently, Dayanand Shetty and Parashuram Katkar were arrested in a lodge at Goregaon. Manya, confessed Sheikh, often frequented a liquor den operated by one Maruti Gurao alias Tembya at Mahim. Could Manya perhaps be found there, he was asked To which there was no answer from the latter. So the cops just had to try their luck.
Manya, however, did not turn up at the liquor den. In fact, after the arrest of his close associates, he immediately gave up his old haunts and went underground. His dens at Saroj Lodge, Goregaon and another room at Airport Colony, Vile Parle, were watched but Manya never came.
Manya had shifted his base to the then relatively peaceful Thane District. Accompanied by Uday Shetty, he set about recruiting newcomers to add to his depleted forces. Shyam Bambulkar, externee from Dadar and staying at Dombivali, was initiated into the gang, as was one Chandrakant Rane from Govandi.
On September 22, the group attacked a vehicle belonging to Duke and Sons, Deonar. This was followed up by an audacious hold-up of Central Bank of India on the Sion-Trombay Road. The gang disappeared with a haul of Rs 1.5 lakh.
The Trombay police managed to apprehend Rane, while Bambulkar was held at Dombivali. Soon, Raut and Kishore Sawant also fell into the arms of the law at Pune where they were arrested for carrying loaded revolvers.
They too cracked under interrogation and revealed that Manya was living in a hut owned by one Mahadeo Bhausar, an old time associate from Bhiwandi.
On November 19, the hut was broken into by cops but Manya had again disappeared – he had hurriedly left, according to Bhausar, who was detained by the police. At least the police were successful in recovering Manya’s hand bag, which the latter in a bid to escape, had left back in the hut. The bag contained, a hand grenade, a country made revolver and ammunition.
The trapping of Manya after a tip-off, was organized with meticulous care. The DCB, CID, were informed of the exact place where Manya would be picking up a woman (a widow with two children) near Ambedkar College in Wadala.
According to retired assistant commissioner of police Ashok Desai, who played a crucial role in the operation, it must be noted that Manya was not a known womanizer. What drove him to this woman was the fact that his associates had been, in the last couple of months, systematically eliminated from the scene. Even his close confidant, Uday Shetty, was arrested a couple of days prior to Manya’s own death.
This means, that suddenly, there was no one but Manya alone. What was once a dangerous gang of dacoits who had become a force to reckon with in Mumbai’s crime world, was now reduced to only one man – Manya Surve…!
The police assume that an overpowering sense of loneliness drove Manya to the woman. Later, when the police searched her residence near Plaza Cinema in Dadar, they did not find any incriminating evidence. The woman later claimed that she was not aware about Manya’s true identity.
Finally, the day arrived for the police to zero in on the notorious dacoit. On the afternoon of January 11, 1982 at 1.30 pm, the entire area around Wadala Bus Depot was staked out. The special squad, which had spent more than 50,000 hours in trying to pin down Manya, split up into three groups and practically spun a spider’s web around the area.
At 1.50 pm, Manya walked into the parlour and as he alighted from a taxi, the spider’s web closed around him. When the cops called for him to surrender, he whipped out an automatic but before he could fire, sub-inspectors Bagwan Raja Tambat let loose. Five bullets were pumped into Manya before he fell and died en-route to KEM hospital.
A rumor was stated that a substitute for the gangster had been killed, but this was quickly scotched. The fingerprints taken from the deceased matched that on Manya’s files with police. The huge funeral procession also made it apparent that it was Manya who was killed.
According to police officers who were attached to the special squad for eliminating Manya, the latter’s funeral was an event to remember. It seemed that a martyr was being cremated, with more than 1,000 mourners in attendance. The procession started from Manya’s residence at S K Bole Road in Dadar and wound its way with pomp and fanfare before culminating at the crematorium at Chowpatty.