MANGALURU:The coastal region of Karnataka has been a source of steady supply of operatives for the once-feared Mumbai underworld. From Sadhu Shetty to Ravi Poojary, mafia elements from the region have played a stellar role in gangs that struck fear on the streets of the country’s financial capital.
While the region continues to be a breeding ground for gangsters, who align with various mafia gangs operating from outside the country, there has also been a steady stream of dons with coastal roots who have tried to meddle in political activities back home. The threat call to two Karnataka ministers from an alleged underworld operator over the murder of Bajrang Dal activist Prashanth Poojary is the latest example.
The caller claimed to be Ravi Poojary, a don said to be based in the Gulf. The region became a target of the underworld operators as early as late 1980s when Sadhu Shetty, who was with the Chhota Rajan gang then, extorted Rs 1 crore from a prominent hotelier in Mangaluru. This began an era of extortion and triggered proliferation of underworld dons from coastal areas.
Most of them aligned with gangs based in Mumbai and some struck out on their own later. Shetty was also the first mafia don from Mangaluru to enter politics. The gangster, who returned to his hometown after being hounded out of Mumbai, started a political party, Tulunada Sene, and contested the Assembly election from Kaup constituency while he was still in jail, serving term in a case of attempt to murder. He lost the election, but ran the party till he was shot dead in Navi Mumbai in 2002.
Another don to nurture political ambitions is Muthappa Rai, who has publicly renounced violence and has been acquitted in all cases he has faced. Hailing from Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district, Rai now heads an organisation called ‘Jaya Karnataka’. It was launched to protect the interests of Kannada and Karnataka, but is slowly acquiring political colours.
Bannanje Raja, a gangster arrested in Morocco in August this year, was a smalltime politician before he took to underworld. The threat calls to ministers Abhayachandra Jain and Ramanatha Rai could be an attempt by Ravi Poojary to meddle in communally motivated local politics, and exploit the situation to his advantage.
With the BJP in power in Maharashtra and at the Centre, the gangster may be trying to earn the sympathies of Hindu fringe groups. Bajrang Dal activist Prashanth Poojary was killed by a gang on October 9 in Moodbidri, a Congress bastion, and Hindu outfits have accused the Congress ministers of shielding the accused. According to people watching developments in the underworld, dons from coastal areas have begun to distance themselves from the mafia gangs that are said to be working against India’s interests after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
They may now be turning their attention to coastal Karnataka, which with its brand of communal politics, could prove to be an ideal ground for such elements.