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Controlling politics and politicians of his era was Don Karim Lala’s strong point

Haji Mastan and Karim Lala were not only Mafias but they were political financers too from crime to politics they dominated every sector then

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Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut has kicked up a controversy by making a statement that Indira Gandhi used to meet Don Karim Lala and this caused a political stir in India. Well! There is no point in feeling so offended or proving Raut wrong, criminalisation of politics has long been a concern especially in Maharashtra where then the flourishing underworld has been part of its political milieu for several decades. Several State-level politicians have long-standing, or newly established ties with Dagdi Chawl, Chhota Rajan and especially Dawood gang with the criminal-politician network developing significant muscle and money power in what appears as a resurrection of the syndicate. There are many reports and evidences to prove that the fugitive dons Dawood Ibrahim and his aide Chhota Shakeel used their close links in local politics to influence key redevelopment schemes in South Mumbai in those days without even the operators of the project knowing it.

Now coming back to Indira Gandhi meeting Don Karim Lala, Karim Lala aka Abdul Karim Sher Khan was born in Afghanistan. He came to Mumbai in 1930. He was a household name for his notorious jobs as a don of underworld from 1960s to 1980s. Similarly, Mastan Mirza, known as Haji Mastan was an underworld don originally from Tamil Nadu and based in Bombay. Haji Mastan and Karim Lala were not only Mafias but they were political financers too from crime to politics they dominated every sector then. After the 1993 Bombay blasts, the Home Ministry collected considerable information on the links between Congress politicians and the underworld. The details of this investigation were submitted to the Vohra Committee.

If you look at the connects, Dawood Ibrahim has amicable relations with Sharad Pawar, Salim Zakaria, Javed Khan (both ex-ministers close to Pawar), Mohammed Dosa was close to Madan Baffna (ex-minister), P. Raj Koli, he was a gangster and a contract killer active during the 1990s majorly was very close to Arun Mehta (former home minister), Haji Ahmed was smuggler and etornist and he was close to D.V. Patil, Javed Khan. Gangster Khan Brothers were close to Arun Mehta, Salim Zakaria (ex-ministers), Tiger Memon was in nexus with Javed Khan.

Abdul Latif was known to Chimanbhai Patel (ex-chief minister), Izzu Sheikh, Haji was with Ahmed Patel, AICC general secretary. Hassana Dada was in shelter of C.D. Patel (home minister), Thakor Nair (supply minister). Amar Subhania was shielded by Chimanbhai Patel. Ram Bhai Gadwai : Ashok Lal (” s/o Babu Lal, minister of sports”) Santosheben Jadeja, MLA: “Earlier of Janata Dal. Joined Congress. Known as mafia queen.” In mid-1995, N.N. Vohra Committee report on the criminal-politician nexus was tabled in Parliament, the Opposition was united in heaping scorn on it. The perception was that the 12-page report was incomplete and politically sensitive information had been suppressed. Months later, after the episode had receded from public memory, there are evidence to confirm that suspicion. Some documents submitted to the committee by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed shocking charges of the murky link between prominent politicians and the underworld. According to the report, Moolchand Shah alias Choksi a hawala racketeer also involved in the Jain case and “close to Dawood Ibrahim and gang” had, on various occasions between December 1979 and October 1992, transferred or paid Rs 72 crore to Pawar.

Many other Congress leaders have also been listed as recipients of money from Shah. When Raut mentioned Indira meeting Karim Lala, several Congress leaders condemned the statement and demanded that Raut should withdraw his remarks. Karim Lala was leader of the Pathan community; he led an organisation called ‘Pakhtun-e-Hind’. It was in this capacity of the leader of Pathan community that he met several top leaders including Indira Gandhi. There was a time when Chhota Shakeel, Dawood Ibrahim, Sharad Shetty used to decide who would be Police Commissioner of Mumbai and who would sit in Mantralaya. For over two decades, he was the leader of the dreaded “Pathan Gang” that operated from impoverished and crime infested Muslim ghettos of South Mumbai like Dongri, Nagpada, Bhendi Bazaar and Mohammad Ali Road. The Pathan Gang was involved in operating illegal gambling (satta) and liquor dens, illegal money recovery, illegal land evictions, kidnapping, protection racket (hafta), contract killing (supari), distribution of narcotics and counterfeit currency.

Karim Lala’s family settled in one of the most densely populated and impoverished Muslim ghetto of Bhendi Bazaar in South Mumbai. Starting as an ordinary worker in the Mumbai docks, he later joined a gang of ethnic Pathans who worked as illegal recovery agents for Marwari and Gujarati moneylenders, landlords and businessmen. These money lenders and landlords employed the burly Pathans whose tall imposing size and intimidating demeanour made it easy to recover money from defaulting debtors, evicting tenants and owners from prime properties in expensive South Mumbai. Lala soon rose up the ranks to be the chief of the “Pathan Gang”. From the seventies, Lala agreed to a pact with the other two ganglords namely Haji Mastan and Varadarajan (Varada bhai) to divide Mumbai amongst them so that they could freely run their crime activities without any conflict between each other. Due to failing health during the late seventies, Lala gradually transferred the leadership of the Pathan gang to his nephew Samad Khan and then managed his hotel and transport business. Although Lala had several illegitimate businesses, his legitimate business included two hotels (Al Karim Hotel and New India Hotel) and a travel and passport agency called New India Tours and Travels.

During his peak, Lala frequently invited several personalities from Bollywood (Hindi film industry) to his daawats (parties) and Eid celebrations. Many characters from Bollywood movies closely resemble Karim Lala and his mannerisms and accent. Lala also held a weekly “durbar” where people from different walks of life narrated their grievances to him and in return, he helped them financially or to get justice using his gang’s muscle power. He died on 19 February 2002 at the age of 90. Karim Lala was the first mafia don of the underworld. His influence on Maharashtra politics was visible; there is no surprise if he met Indira Gandhi the then prime minister of India.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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