Dandia Ras at ‘Dagdi Chawl’

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I was totally dumbstruck on seeing the revelry in this part of town today! The illuminated Dagdi Chawl and the area surrounding it was testimony to the grandeur and joyous celebrations. No wonder the inmates of this famous chawl worship Arun Gawli like God. He has totally transformed the chawl. Today you can find most of the inmates sporting window Air-conditioners!


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The inmates seem to be proud to have a modern day Robin Hood amongst them. One can see children enjoying the festivities. One has to check the turn out of people every day to experience the extent of the Dandia Raas celebrations here. Not only the insiders, but people from other chawls from far away places flock to Dagdi.   Even plain clothes police men are seen frequenting the area.


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The donation boxes on either side of the mandap are kept to keep the IT people at bay. Every single day, hordes of thick fat notes in thousand and five hundred denominations are collected. Who has donated this much of money, one might ask.  Well, God only knows. But, the nine day celebrations will not cost less than a whopping 20-30 lacs!


Yes! Gawli is not an ex-gangster any more! He is today MLA of Chinchpokli! He has won contesting on an Akhil Bharatiya Sena (ABHS) ticket. He defeated Madhu Chavan (Congress) in a multi-cornered contest by a margin of over 11,000 votes.  No mean feat this. It doesn’t take long to realize that people simply adore him.


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Arun Gawli is also  known to his followers as "Daddy". He was once upon a time a notorious gangster from Mumbai. and it is common knowledge that  he  is based at Dagdi Chawl in Byculla-Saat Rasta, Mumbai.  Gawli’s rise in prominence is believed to be due to his "native roots" as a localite, which make him a street-smart people’s person. His wife, Ashatai, is Muslim, formerly known as Ayesha. She is called ‘Mummy’ by his followers. They have two children.


The poor boys from Dagdi Chawl took to crime mostly from the fallout of the infamous Cotton Textile Mills strike of Mumbai in the 1970s in which lakhs of mill workers were rendered jobless. These unemployed, hungry, poverty-stricken workers and their children subsequently took to a life of petty crime. Can anyone be blamed for these circumstances is anyone’s guess.


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Once a small-time charge-sheeter in the Byculla-Mahalaxmi-Agripada-Parel/Naigaum-Chinchpokli area, the frail Gawli with bags under his eyes, is now the undisputed boss of Dagdi Chawl, whose word is law in most parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra.


"Daddy" has been in and out of jail several times and spent more than ten years in judicial custody, but has never actually been convicted.. His decision to enter politics and become a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly also ensured that he would not get killed by a police hit squad in a fake ?encounter"! Gawli’s political designs suffered a major blow when his nephew and party legislator, Sachinbhau Ahir, came out openly against him and joined Sharad Pawar’s NCP.  He even contested against Gawli in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections on a NCP ticket, resulting in defeat for them both, but victory for the Sena’s sitting MP Mohan Rawle.


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Later they reconciled and made amends by which Sachin contested the Sewri Vidhan Sabha seat and Gawli the Chinchpolkli seat. Both won in their respective constituencies this time.  Well, the reformed Arun Gawli is very much into social work. He has raised the living conditions of the poor people around his area a few notches higher and in his constituency pretty good!! Well, this is one way of ensuring, he will be elected a second time too!!


Until then, the Dandia Ras celebrations stand testimony to his power and affluence.

Author: Donald DSilva- Mumbai


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