By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jan 16 (IANS) Hours after Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut retracted his comments on the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi having met mafia don Karim Lala, his kin as well as those of Haji Mastan on Thursday revealed that politicians and top film stars of the era and the much-dreaded underworld dons had enjoyed a great rapport.
Salim Khan, the grandson of Abdul Karim Sherkhan alias Kalim Lala, said not only Indira Gandhi but even other leaders like Bal Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, and Rajiv Gandhi used to meet him frequently in Mumbai or New Delhi.
“Though it is wrong to say that Indira Gandhi came down to Pydhonie (south Mumbai) to meet my grandfather, it’s well known that they had met in New Delhi, there are pictures available,” Salim Khan told IANS.
On the kind of discussions, he said Karim Lala was the leader of the Pathan community from the then North West Frontier Province (now Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Mumbai and other places and was very close to Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.
“Whenever there were problems concerning the Pathans, they would discuss and attempt to get them sorted out with the help of the leaders,” Salim Khan said.
He categorically rubbished Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ statements questioning whether the Congress took muscle-power or funding from the so-called underworld to win elections.
“My grandfather was a businessman, with the Pathan community’s interests at heart and was never interested in politics. He was too modest to finance any politician or a political party… Sanjay Raut’s comments have been completely twisted out of context,” Salim Khan emphasised.
Another reformed don-turned-politician, Mastan Mirza alias Haji Mastan, was much sought after by politicians and film stars alike, said his adopted son Sunder Shekhar.
“He had floated a political party, which is now called Bharatiya Minorities Suraksha Mahasangh. I am the President now. People like (now Union Minister) Ramdas Athawale and Dalit leader Jogendra Kavade were regulars at our home,” Shekhar told IANS.
He recalled how Athawale was “a very poor, simple boy then, and many times went hungry… wanted work, and the kind-hearted Haji Mastan used to help him and many other youngsters like him”.
“Haji Mastan and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray were buddies, born in the same year, just two months apart. They had frequent rendezvous at their favourite eatery in Juhu, Bagur Hotel, with fine beverages and dining. Balasaheb used to be accompanied by his close aide, Babban Salvi,” Shekhar added.
Reminiscing further, he said that besides Bal Thackeray, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Sushilkumar Shinde, Vasantdada Patil, Murli Deora also used to meet Mastan regularly, and that he had “personally witnessed many such meets”.
On Raut’s statements which he was forced to withdraw, Shekhar said that while the Shiv Sena leader was not off the mark, but opposition politicians and sections of the media have misinterpreted him.
“We must understand the good old days of the 1970s-1980s, people were more humane, caring, there was a huge level of trust among the leaders and the common people. But in recent years, we are witnessing the poor are being harassed and looted, and feel deeply insecure. In those days, the common people might have been poor but they were happy and felt secure,” averred Shekhar.
He added with a laugh that his father and many politicians used to eat and drink heartily, enjoyed gossip/jokes, and discussed political matters, especially during elections, but trashed suggestions of “financing any political parties” or “influencing government decision-making” of any kind.
Karim Lala’s grandson-in-law Jahanzeb Khan said that even Giani Zail Singh had met Karim Lala, but this was also due to the close bonds all the political leaders of the era had for the towering Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.
“People now call Karim Lala and others as ‘mafia dons’, but show one case or conviction against them… Raut rightly tried to portray the difference between the politicians, and underworld in those days and how they slid after the 1980s, but some people have misinterpreted his remarks,” Jahanzeb Khan said.
He recalled an instance of Indira Gandhi once meeting Karim Lala along with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan at the Mayor’s Bungalow, but otherwise mostly they met in the national capital.
All the three lamented that the modern-day politics and the so-called underworld has changed, the great leaders of that era never “discriminated” against anybody on religion or caste, while Shekhar said there can be “no leader like the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri” in recent years who can be called “honest”.