Don Karim Lala (left) seen with musician Harindranath Chattopadhyay (centre) and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (right). (Photo: India Today)
Karim Lala had no political ambitions and he had met former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi only when he tagged along with a Padma Bhushan awardee. That was the only time Karim Lala, a well-known underworld don from the 1940s to 80s, met Indira Gandhi.
Veteran crime journalist Baljeet Parmar, who has spent years crisscrossing police stations and speaking to criminals, has now spoken about Karim Lala and the underworld don's connection with Indira Gandhi which has become an ugly rhetoric between the BJP and Congress - both accusing each other of having underworld connections.
Baljeet Parmar had first met Karim Lala at the Dongri Police Station where the underworld don was being interrogated by the police for setting a stable on fire so that a building could be constructed there by a businessman.
There does exist a picture of the meeting between Indira Gandhi and Karim Lala. It is a black-and-white picture in which Indira Gandhi is seen with Padma Bhushan recipient Harindranath Chattopadhyay and Karim Lala.
In the early 1970s, it was well-known that Karim Lala had a big hold on the unorganised Bollywood that was flourishing with his help.
His kangaroo courts sorted out financial and even personal issues for many Bollywood personalities and that is probably why there are pictures of Karim Lala with veteran actors such as Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Shashi Kapoor and many others.
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Karim Lala always wore the Pathania suit. He had told Baljeet Parmar that even though there were many pictures of him with Bollywood celebrities, he never watched films as sitting for three hours at one place was not possible for him.
BOLLYWOOD CONNECTION THAT HELPED LALA-GANDHI MEET
Baljeet Parmar recalls that he had gone to Karim Lala's office in Dongri to meet him where he saw a big album that had Karim Lala's pictures with Bollywood celebrities and one with Indira Gandhi too. When Parmar asked him about it, Karim Lala told him that since he had not seen the Rashtrapati Bhavan or ever met a prime minister, he tagged along with Harindranath Chattopadhyay when he was awarded the Padma Bhushan.
In 1973, Harindranath Chattopadhyay was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his immense contribution to cinema. It was here that Harindranath Chattopadhyay introduced Karim Lala to Indira Gandhi.
"Lala was introduced as a leader of Pathans in India and he, in his typical Pathani style, had said to Indira Gandhi, 'if you come to Mumbai, remember me'. It was reciprocated by Indira Gandhi as well. But this was the only time that the two had met," Baljeet Parmar said.
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Unlike other underworld dons, Karim Lala did not go to jail during the Emergency.
Karim Lala, according to Baljeet Parmar, had been in and out of police stations many times because of his illegal activities. But during the Emergency, when many underworld dons like Haji Mastan and others who were operating in Mumbai were sent to jail, Karim Lala was spared. This too had fuelled the fire about his connection to the Congress.
However, according to Baljeet Parmar, Karim Lala was spared only because he was not a smuggler, unlike other underworld gang leaders who had their income coming from smuggling gold, silver and other valuable materials.
"Karim Lala used to run liquor and gambling joints. There was prohibition in Maharashtra around that time. His work stretched on for four decades because there was no other competitor before him but he did not have any other illegitimate business," recounts Baljeet Parmar while stressing that it was the only reason why he was spared during Emergency.