MUMBAI Jun 13 Hitmen shooting police
informers, mafia bosses collecting protection money from
Bollywood actors and producers -- it could be a movie script.
But the rise in criminal activity in India's financial hub
is all too real and it has police and other officials worried
that India's notorious mafia gangs have regrouped.
Over a decade ago, police eradicated mafia gangs from
Mumbai after a series of bombings in the city in 1993 -- blamed
on the underworld -- killed 257 people.
But judging from a spate of recent crimes -- including the
shooting of a police informant in a crowded bar two weeks ago
-- the mob is back.
This time it appears to be a new generation of young mob
bosses bent on making a name for themselves who are trying to
cash in on a property boom in Mumbai and a cash-flush
Bollywood, the world's largest film industry by ticket sales
which is headquartered in Mumbai.
"The level of underworld activity has gone up in the past
few months," said S. Hussain Zaidi, who authored a book on the
1993 serial bombings.
Besides known mafia dons who terrorised Mumbai in the past,
younger gangsters have risen to fill a vacuum created after a
determined campaign by police forced the old mob to lie low.
Now, Mumbai's notorious mafia -- said to be remote
controlled by bosses based in Dubai, Karachi and Malaysia -- is
reviving itself, police say, as gangs find it difficult to
resist the spoils of India's booming economy.
Mumbai has been in the thick of a national real estate
explosion with new shopping malls, apartment blocks and
entertainment plazas being built over the last three years.
For Bollywood, the past two years have been its best ever
with filmmakers making huge profits and actors bagging enormous
Last month, a mob boss boasted on a national television
channel that three Bollywood personalities, including two top
filmmakers, were on his hit list because they were refusing to
pay him protection money.
Police say they have arrested at least five assassins on
contract killing missions in recent months and received an
increased number of complaints of extortion calls.
Two weeks ago, a young man was shot dead in a crowded bar,
the latest among several police informants killed recently.
"Let's not generalise, but there could be some more
instances of criminal activity than the previous years,"
Mumbai's police chief, D.N. Jadhav, told Reuters. "There are
some particular cases where the underworld activity has come to
In the 1990s, Mumbai, then known as Bombay, faced a tide of
mafia killings, abductions and extortion demands with rich
builders and Bollywood being the prime targets.
But during a decade of violent confrontations, police
busted hideouts and shot dead at least 350 suspected gangsters,
breaking the back of gangs and sending mobsters on the run.
This time, the problem has compounded because younger
gangsters are increasingly trying to establish their turf and
grab a share of the booty, Zaidi said.
"They want publicity. They want people to know them, fear
them. And they are preparing to take on the bigger dons."
While the Bollywood set has always been an easy target,
gangs are now attracted by Mumbai's property business, one of
the hottest in the world where real estate prices equal those
in New York or Tokyo.
The mafia's nexus with Mumbai's builders and Bollywood is a
badly kept secret.
While some builders turn to gangsters to secure prime real
estate, settle disputes and even bump off rivals, many
Bollywood producers have borrowed money from the mafia and even
used it to entice box-office actors to perform in their films,
Realising the kind of big money involved in both the
construction and the movie industry, the mafia has even began
The police began cracking down on Mumbai's mafia after the
1993 bombings in Mumbai, India's worst, which were blamed on a
Muslim crime boss and India's most wanted man, Dawood Ibrahim.
The bombings, police say, were to avenge the demolition of
an important mosque by Hindu zealots and the subsequent riots
between Hindus and Muslims.
After the attacks, Mumbai's authorities hit back, giving a
free hand to a specialised team of crime-busters who worked
informers and wielded their guns to administer justice.
But police raids have lessened in recent years following
allegations that some specialist crime-busters took mob money
and routinely killed gangsters, often claiming the killings
happened during non-existent gun battles.
Some officers were suspended, investigations were launched
against others and shootouts were discouraged.
"An officer will now think twice before firing," said a
crime branch officer who did not want to be named.
"This has emboldened criminals."