When Chennai police shot dead Manikandan (30), a history-sheeter charged with 20 murders on August 29, it marked the ninth "police encounter" in four years.
The previous eight happened during 2002-03, when former anti-Veerappan Special Task Force chief K. Vijaykumar was the Chennai police commissioner, effectively stifling Chennai's organised crime network, which once appeared to be shaping into an underworld.
If that has made the Chennai crime graph plummet, the flip side shows an alarming rise of another kind: A large number of criminals from Tamil Nadu are going to Mumbai as mercenaries. Intelligence sources told DNA that "the changed atmosphere in Tamil Nadu has forced jobless criminals to seek assignments in Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh'. The state police, however, are yet to officially endorse this.
"Criminal gangs in Tamil Nadu have been in touch with their counterparts in Mumbai and northern states for a long time, and this has led to exchange of human resources. This trend has gone up in the last three years," says a source.
"We have information that there are even a couple of well-connected agents who sent youngsters from Tirunelveli, Coimbatore and Madurai to cities like Mumbai for specific operations".
There have been some vital indications of the Chennai-Mumbai criminal link in the recent past. Sanjay Ghate, a member of the Chhota Rajan gang and an accused in the murder of Nepal MP Mirza Dilshad Beg, was shot dead in a "police encounter" in Chennai.
The gangster was arrested for making threatening calls from Chennai to a Pune businessman, demanding money and the 'encounter' tool place when he allegedly snatched an inspector's revolver while being taken from a police station to the Chennai airport.
About six months before the incident, two associates of Chhota Shakeel were arrested in Chennai and the city police said the gangsters were on an "accidental visit".
Sources told DNA that youth in the age group of 20 to 30 are being recruited for murder, extortion and kidnapping. "While the regular history-sheeters are under the scanner of the police, these lesser known youngsters go on short-term and quick operations in Mumbai," the source added.
'Organised Crime', a criminology research paper (published as a book last year) by CK Gandhirajan, a DIG in Tamil Nadu, speaks about Chennai's mercenary gangs - without mentioning the Mumbai link - thus: "Before every operation, prayers and gang rituals are done and they host parties at the end of every successful operation to celebrate their victory. Their professionalism can be seen in the crime scenes".
Gandhirajan attributes Tamil Nadu's mercenary menace to poverty and illiteracy in certain pockets.