Teetering on the edge of collapse every second day due to one row or the other, the fragile political alliance of Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) narrowly avoided another major controversy after Shiv Sena parliamentarian Sanjay Raut’s remarks on close connections between the Mumbai underworld of the 1980s and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
"When (underworld don) Haji Mastan came to Mantralaya, the entire secretariat would come down to see him. Indira Gandhi used to meet Karim Lala in Pydhonie (in south Mumbai),"
Raut said during an award function of Lokmat Media on Wednesday, as per the Press Trust of India (PTI).
Although Raut withdrew his remarks soon after the Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam took strong objection to them, the fact remains that the Shiv Sena leader has opened a pandora box, as leader of opposition in Maharashtra assembly Devendra Fadnavis has demanded answers from top Congress leaders, including party president Sonia Gandhi, general secretary Priyanka Gandhi and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, on Raut’s claims.
So, who really was Mastan Mirza aka Haji Mastan?
One of the three supposed underworld dons who called the shots in the then rapidly booming metropolis of Mumbai, Mastan Mirza was born in 1926 in a Muslim family in Panaikulam in modern-day Tamil Nadu. A November 2015 profile of Mastan in the Times of India said that he migrated to then Bombay at the age of eight, going on to rule the underworld from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The TOI profile of Mastan claims that he was among the two Tamilian migrants, the other being Varadarajan Muniswami Mudaliar, who went on to become dreaded figures in the coastal metropolis.
Biographical sketches of Mastan portray him as the Robinhood of the slums, mainly Dharavi, who endeared himself to the poor due to his involvement in charity work. Mastan spawned a massive gang empire that was financed by extortion, bootlegging and black marketing of movie tickets. Somewhat true to the claims made by Sanjay Raut on Wednesday, he had close connections in the police and politics alike, which smoothened his passage in carrying out the illegal activities he was involved in.
However, Bollywood seemed to be his first love. After he established himself as the undisputed powerbroker of the Mumbai underworld, accounts depict that he wanted to be seen primarily as a movie distributor and financier. Known to be an ardent fan of Madhubala, Mastan married a lesser-known actress Sona, which many accounts say was due to her resemblance with Madhubala.
True to the way he has been depicted in popular culture, Mastan was fond of the colour white and drove around the streets of Mumbai in a Mercedes car, all decked up in immaculate white clothes. Perhaps, Ajay Devgan-starrer Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, released in 2010, is the closest Bollywood has got in portraying the story of one its most passionate admirers.
His biographical accounts also claim that he was inspired by the ideals of Jayaprakash Narayan and he was briefly jailed during the Emergency for opposing it tooth-and-nail.
After being released from jail, he floated his own political party All India Dalit Muslim Suraksha Mahasangh, whose main agenda was that of Dalit-Muslim unity.
India Today has reported that fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim first came in touch with Mastan after Dawood reportedly had a tiff with the gang-members of Mastan's gang.
Though they had differences initially, the two mobsters are set to have joined hands in taking on a rival Pathan gang, mainly comprised migrants from Afghanistan. Dawood reportedly took over the operation of the Mastan gang after latter floated his own political party.
It is unclear if Mastan approved of Dawood's involvement in the 1993 blasts, a series of 13 bombings across Mumbai that led to at least 317 deaths.
Haji Mastan's death
An India Today article dated July 31, 1994 reported that Mastan died at Mumbai's Breach Candy Hospital due to cardiac arrest. He was 68 at the time of his death.
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