The activities of gangs in Mumbai in the 1970s and ’80s were centred around smuggling, and the two chief gangs involved in this were the Haji Mastan gang, headed by the docks smuggler, and the Pathan gang of Karim Lala, Arvind Dholakia and Sukhar Narain Bakhia.
While Mastan’s gang was active in Mumbai, the Pathan gang mainly operated at the ports in Gujarat, Daman and Diu.
The main items smuggled in were imported textiles, gold, silver, Swiss-Japanese watches and electronics equipment.
The gangs’ need for ‘protection’ of the smuggled consignments during transit, that is, after the items had been brought out of the docks, resulted in the rise of other small but highly organised gangs.
Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Shabbir headed one such gang that carried out its activities in south Mumbai, chiefly in Bhendi Bazaar and Nagpada and the stretch from Dongri to Crawford Market.
Dawood’s gang, which provided protection to Mastan’s vehicles, came into direct conflict with the Pathan gang which engaged hardened criminals such as Ayub Lala, Alam Zeb, Saeed
Batla, Jaffar Siddiqui and Mehmood Kalya in the protection business. Periodic clashes between the gangs were reported as the Pathan gang was also operational in the Mazagaon, Byculla and JJ Hospital areas, where Dawood’s men were active.
Vardarajan Mudaliar then dominated the illicit liquor trade from his stronghold of Dharavi-Matunga and made the most of the prohibition era.
Country liquor, brewed from his makeshift breweries, was supplied not only all over Maharashtra but also to neighbouring states.
In the mill districts of central and south-central Mumbai, the matka business was flourishing, and various small gangs, including those led by Rajan Nair (Bada Rajan), Rama Naik and Manya Surve, entered the trade.
Dawood’s gang was on good terms with Varda and provided protection to the latter’s stock of illicit liquor when it was transported out of Mumbai.