MUMBAI: Shiv Sena's chief spokesperson and party's Member of Parliament Sanjay Raut has triggered a controversy by claiming that the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, used to go and meet yesteryear's gangster Karim Lala in Mumbai.
"There was a time when Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Sharad Shetty used to decide who would be Police Commissioner of Mumbai and who would sit in the `Mantralaya`. Indira Gandhi used to go and meet gangster Karim Lala. We`ve seen that underworld, now it`s just nothing,'' Raut said late on Wednesday.
The outspoken Shiv Sena made these remarks while speaking to a news channel during an award function. Recalling days of the underworld in Mumbai, Raut said gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and Sharad Shetty used to control the metropolis and adjoining areas at one point of time.
"When Haji Mastan used to come to 'Mantralaya', the entire 'Mantralaya' would come down to see him. Indira Ji used to come to meet Karim Lala at his residence in Pydhonie (in south Mumbai)," Raut claimed.
"Those were the days of the underworld. Later, everybody (dons) fled the country. Now there is nothing like that," the Shiv Sena leader remarked further. Late gangster Karim Lala operated liquor dens, gambling and extortion rackets in Mumbai between the 1960s to 1980s. He died in 2002.
When quizzed if had photographed underworld dons, Raut claimed that he clicked pictures of many gangsters, including Dawood Ibrahim, who is key accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case.
The Sena leader also claimed that he had once rebuked Dawood - believed to secretly residing in Pakistan now. "I have seen him, I have met him, I have spoken to him and I have also admonished him," he added.
It may be recalled that Raut's party led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is running a coalition government along with the NCP and Congress in Maharashtra. Raut's remarks on Indira Gandhi has not gone down well within the Congress party, which has severely criticised Shiv Sena leader for his remarks and demanded an explanation.
Facing criticism from Congress, Raut later retracted his statement. ''Our friends from Congress need not feel hurt. If someone feels that my statement has hurt the image of Indira Gandhi Ji or hurt someone's feelings, I take back my statement,'' Raut said.
Meanwhile, the main opposition party in the state - BJP - has called for a thorough probe into Congress-underworld nexus. BJP's Ghatkopar MLA Ram Kadam has filed a police complaint in this regard.
Former Maharashtra Minister and BJP leader Ashish Shelar had attacked Congress after Raut's statement and alleged that the national party has always had a nexus with underworld dons and gangsters. Shelar also demanded a CBI probe into the claims made by Sanjay Raut regarding Indira Gandhi's alleged meetings with late gangster Karim Lala in Mumbai.