Dial D For Don (Penguin India) by Neeraj Kumar, former Commissioner of Police Delhi, re-opens the case files of some of the most notorious criminals and terrorists in India. These include Abdul Latif, the illicit liquor mafia boss from Gujarat who died in a police encounter on November 29, 1997. Latif went missing after the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai, in which he was accused of supplying weapons, but was eventually nabbed in Delhi after a complex telephone tapping operation. Kumar provides a stirring sketch of Latif’s early years and his initial enmity and eventual friendship with the mobster with whom he was often compared – Dawood Ibrahim. Shah Rukh Khan’s new movie Raees is reportedly based on Latif, a claim denied by the filmmakers.
Most, who have lived in Gujarat during the ’80s and ’90s of the last century, will have heard of Abdul Latif. A gambler, bootlegger, kidnapper, extortionist, hired assassin and mobster par excellence, the mere mention of his name was enough to send shivers down the spine of businessmen, rival gang members and politicians. His notoriety spread beyond the borders of Gujarat, particularly to Rajasthan, Daman, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karachi and Dubai. He seemed beyond the reach of the law.
Abdul Latif was born on 24 October 1951 to impoverished parents living in Kalupur, a Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad. His father, Abdul Wahab Sheikh, was a tobacco seller bringing up seven children in a cramped hutment.
Unable to find any respectable vocation, he took to crime in his early twenties. He began working with Allah Rakha, a bootlegger, who also ran a gambling den. Latif soon became an expert gambler himself and a card sharp.
Manzoor Ali, who ran a rival gambling den, was quick to recognize Latif’s talent and asked him to join his gang. Latif became the supervisor of Manzoor’s den on a monthly salary. After a couple of years, having been accused of pilferage of money, Latif left Ali’s gambling den in acrimony and bitterness.
He then drifted into the trade of illicit liquor and joined a gang of liquor smugglers. Gujarat was—as it continues to be even today—a state under prohibition, where the illicit demand for alcohol had given rise to liquor mafias. Illicit liquor was brought from different parts of neighbouring Rajasthan and sold at a premium. The trade required a vast and intricate chain of suppliers, transporters, distributors, retailers and the support of corrupt excise and police officers, as well as their political masters.
Latif cut his teeth in organized crime, grasping its basic concept of running a hierarchy of criminals, where every level of operatives played its allotted role, maintaining utmost secrecy and fair distribution of the loot among gang members. The glue that bound them was the quick gains they made regularly on account of the illicit demand that existed and the fear of severe retribution if they broke the omerta. Latif quickly established his supremacy, given his penchant for violence and bloodshed, and soon came to head an elaborate gang of his own. Several cases of murder, kidnapping for ransom and extortion were registered against him in different police stations across Gujarat. His ruthlessness and daredevilry were to make him a gangster difficult to pursue and apprehend.
The new partners in crime from Mumbai
Latif ’s first brush with the Mumbai underworld took place when he was introduced to Amin Khan Nawab Khan, Alam Khan Jangrez Khan of the Pathan gang of Mumbai by one Ramzan of Viramgam, Gujarat. The Pathans disclosed that following a quarrel with the Dawood Ibrahim gang over a consignment of gold, they had killed Dawood’s elder brother, Sabir Ibrahim, in Mumbai in 1981. Ever since, the Pathans had been on the run. Latif gave them shelter in Ahmedabad and, unwittingly, became aligned with the Pathan gang headed by two brothers, Alamzeb and Amirzada.In 1983, Alamzeb was returning by car to Ahmedabad from Surat with his associates Liyaqat Master and Iqbal Bhupat. They had a chance encounter near Baroda with Dawood and his aides, who were travelling by car as well. One of Dawood’s aides fired at Alamzeb but he escaped unhurt.
Latif himself would have a few encounters with Dawood. Detained in Sabarmati Central Jail, Ahmedabad, under COFEPOSA (an anti-smuggling law), Dawood was being produced in a Baroda court. He had won over the armed police team, headed by Sub-Inspector Bishnoi, which was tasked with escorting him from jail to court and back. During these trips the escort party allowed him, for a consideration, to visit a hotel off Narol Highway for relaxation and entertainment. One day Latif was tipped off about Dawood’s movement. He, with his team, followed the vehicle in which Dawood and his close associates were travelling with Sub-Inspector Bishnoi. At Jamalpur, on account of a traffic jam, both cars had to stop. Liyaqat Master, Latif’s hitman, got off the vehicle, fired several shots at Dawood, quickly climbed back inside and managed to flee from the spot with Latif. Dawood escaped unhurt but two of his associates were injured.
Thereafter, a bloody war ensued between the two gangs, with Latif on the Pathans’ side. In September 1983, Dawood’s hitman David Pardesi killed Amirzada in court in Mumbai. David would meet his nemesis in Ahmedabad some years later in the form of Latif’s shooter Sharif Khan.
Thus a habitual recidivist who had cut his teeth on smalltime gambling and bootlegging rose to script a story of an audacious and fierce underworld don. He began to exhibit ruthless control over the levers of his gangdom, which spread across India and beyond its borders as well. He had several run-ins with rival gangs and the law. Meanwhile, his bootlegging business and his gang activities continued to flourish. He built a Robin Hood type of image for himself in his community by helping the needy and the poor. In early 1987, lodged in jail, he contested the Ahmedabad Municipal elections from five wards and won in all five. Hugely popular in his community, Latif had become a role model for the younger lot. By the late 1980s, his ultimate ambition of becoming the Dawood Ibrahim of Gujarat had been realized in substantial measure.
A friend request from Dawood Ibrahim
Things, in fact, began to turn around in dramatic fashion and Latif’s clout in the underworld soared. Now even Dawood thought it prudent to make peace with him. In November 1989 Latif received a message from Dawood to come to Dubai along with his cronies. A maulana administered an oath to Dawood and his men on one side and Latif’s men on the other. All of them swore by the Holy Quran to be friends and work with each other. That was the coming together of two dreaded criminal gangs now ready to play complementary roles. Dawood advised Latif to quit the illicit liquor business and join him in the smuggling of gold and silver. Latif got into the gold trade with one Mamumiya Panjumiya, a notorious smuggler of Gujarat. In the interim, he also had to take on one Shahzada of Mumbai, who had become his arch-enemy. In a series of gun battles, several gangsters on both sides were killed.
Then came the infamous Radhika Gymkhana case, which would set a new benchmark in the history of crime in Gujarat. Suspecting one Hansraj Trivedi, an Ahmedabad-based bootlegger and owner of gambling dens, to have given shelter to hired killers sent by Latif’s Mumbai rival Shahzada, Latif decided to take revenge on Trivedi. On 3 August 1992, acting on a tip-off, Latif sent a team of shooters to Radhika Gymkhana in the Odhav area of Ahmedabad to target Hansraj Trivedi, who was playing cards there with eight of his friends. The shooters, unable to indentify Trivedi for certain, called Latif on the phone and informed him of their problem. Not known to deal in half-measures, Latif played the hand he and his boys were dealt—he ordered his shooters to kill everyone present. With the ferocious and blood-curdling burst of an AK-47—the first time that a Kalashnikov was ever used in Gujarat—all nine people, including Trivedi, were killed.
Following the Radhika Gymkhana episode, Latif was on the run. With the police on his heels, in sheer desperation, Latif approached Hasan Lala, a childhood friend and president of the Gujarat Youth Congress, for help. Lala expressed his inability to be of any assistance as a former Rajya Sabha MP, Rauf Waliullah, was gunning for Latif. Rauf would not allow any relief to be given to him. Reportedly, the former MP was going to publicly raise the issue of the deteriorating law and order situation under the then chief minister of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel, and the enormity of Latif’s unchecked criminal activities. The insinuation clearly was that Latif enjoyed the chief minister’s patronage. Lala suggested that Waliullah be eliminated first before expecting any powerful person to come forward to help Latif.
Meanwhile, Latif escaped to Dubai on the advice of Dawood Ibrahim and entered his protection. From Dubai, Latif ordered his trusted lieutenant Rasool Patti to kill Rauf Waliullah. On 9 October 1992 Hasan Lala tipped off Rasool Patti about the presence of Waliullah at a photocopying shop near the Town Hall, Railway Under Bridge, Ahmedabad. Rasool sent two shooters, Sajjad aka Danny and Mohammad aka Fighter, who gunned down Waliullah in broad daylight. Under political pressure, the Rauf Waliullah case was transferred from the Gujarat Police to the CBI, and was handled by a branch with which I was not associated.
Latif, a dreaded household name in Gujarat, had, meanwhile, moved with Dawood to Karachi and was an honoured guest of Taufiq Jallianwala, a Karachi-based gold and silver smuggler. Taufiq was a partner of Dawood and Tiger Memon in their smuggling business and together they had planned and executed the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993. Latif, too, had played an important role in the conspiracy. He had received a consignment of arms and explosives that landed at Dighi Port in Maharashtra on 9 January 1993 and distributed it to other conspirators. The arms and ammunition that reached film star Sanjay Dutt, who is doing time at Yerwada Jail now, were part of this consignment.
When news of the Mumbai blasts came on the afternoon of 12 March 1993, Latif was with Dawood and Taufiq in Karachi and exchanged congratulatory messages with the two masterminds of the terror attack. He continued to stay in Pakistan and all law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in the country believed that Abdul Latif, the Dawood of Gujarat, was in hiding in Karachi, until one day the ATS of the Gujarat Police got a specific bit of information on him.
Excerpted with permission from Dial D for Don, Neeraj Kumar, Penguin Books India.