Dons such as Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan continue to control operations in Mumbai from foreign countries, but no longer recruit or nurture loyal henchmen, say the police.
Instead, like all savvy multinationals, they have taken to outsourcing some of their work.
"Gangs are increasingly hiring mercenaries to execute murders," said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. "They are more ruthless than loyalists because they do not know the stature of their targets."
These shooters accept relatively small sums of money and do not even know the dons who have issued the contract. They also mostly do not have a criminal record when the begin, say the police. "So tracking them down becomes a challenge," said Himanshu Roy, Mumbai's joint commissioner of police for crime.
For example, Santosh Shetty, a narcotics trafficker, outsources his killing to such men through an agent called Abbas, who is based in Uttar Pradesh and used to undertake killings for Chhota Rajan, the police said.
This change has come about not only because the dons wanted it but also because their rank and file got tired of facing both police action and the wrath of rival gangs' while their bosses sat safe in foreign countries, said a gangster who is out on bail.