Who was Karim Lala?

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Gangster Karim Lala held significant clout over then city of Bombay. (Express archive photo)

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut's remark that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used to meet Karim Lala in Mumbai ruffled quite a few feathers in the Congress party, Sena's ally in Maharashtra.

At a function where the Lokmat Group honoured outstanding journalists from Pune, Raut was asked about his days as a crime reporter for a local publication in Mumbai and his experiences of covering the Mumbai underworld. Raut replied that in those days, underworld operators wielded too much influence on Mumbai politics and society.

“(Underworld don) Haji Mastan used to visit Mantralaya and was treated as an honoured guest. Indira Gandhi used to visit Karim Lala. those were the days of the underworld dons. Today Mumbai is not like that,” said Raut.

His remark soon invited criticism from the Congress which asked Raut to withdraw his “ill-informed” statement. The Shiv Sena leader soon withdrew his statement saying, "If someone feels that my statement has hurt the image of Indira Gandhi or hurt someone's feelings."

So, who is Karim Lala

Karim Lala, born as Abdul Karim Sher Khan in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, was a notorious underworld don who operated liquor dens, gambling and extortion rackets from the sixties to the early eighties. He was the leader of what was called the ‘Pathan Gang’ and held a significant clout over the city of Mumbai.

“I don’t think she (Indira Gandhi) met him because he was an underworld don. Lala was a respected figure in the Pathan community. Therefore, Pathans across the country used to come and meet him. And so did leaders and prominent personalities,” Raut said. He even claimed Jawaharlal Nehru had met Karim Lala.

Karim started his life in Mumbai, then Bombay, in 1920s as an ordinary worker, but later joined a gang of ethnic Pathans working as illegal recovery agents. His death in 2002 marked the end of the underworld mafia rule Mumbai had witnessed for decades.

The other two 'mafia dons of Mumbai' were Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar. The three dons agreed to a pact to divide Mumbai into three parts, one for each to avoid conflict with each other.