While we will know about those things when the movie finally releases, the other aspect that is getting attention is the real life character, upon whose life the movie is based. And that character is underworld don Abdul Latif, who was as ferocious and dangerous as Dawood Ibrahim, though not as popular in common knowledge.
And the story of Latif is very interesting as it plays an important role in the decline of Congress and growth of BJP in Gujarat, the state from where the don hailed.
Abdul Latif was born in Kalupur area of Ahmedabad in 1951 in a poor Muslim family. One of seven children of his father, he couldn’t get a decent upbringing and struggled to finish school. He was soon employed by his father at his shop, where he sold tobacco, but he started fighting with his father for more money. After getting into his 20s, he decided to go his own way.
To make quick money, he entered the world of illicit businesses and joined Allah Rakha, a bootlegger who also ran a gambling den. Latif was first employed at the gambling den. He then left Allah Rakha and joined a rival gambler, but parted ways with him too after being accused of theft.
He then became a bootlegger himself, and that’s where his journey into the world of crime, politics, and terrorism started. As a bootlegger, he established contacts and relationships with smugglers, criminals, policemen and politicians who helped and allowed this illegal business to flourish.
In the process of growing his clout and illicit business, Latif became involved in other crimes like extortion, kidnapping and even murders. He developed contacts in Pakistan too. He formed his own gang, and at one point of time in the early 80s, he was indulged in a gang-war against Dawood Ibrahim.
It is reported that Latif’s gang was almost exclusively made up of Muslim members only, which was not the case of other criminal gangs in those times. Perhaps he did it to cultivate a Robinhood type of image among poor Muslims – a community he was born in. And it worked. Latif could win in five municipal wards in local body elections of Ahmedabad in 1986-87. He was in jail at that time.
Although his political career was cut short as he was disqualified from the post, he could show that he commanded popular support among Muslims. As a result, he was increasingly used by politicians, especially those belonging to the Congress party, to win elections and to settle scores with political rivals. His proximity with the Congress party was evident as Hasan Lala, President of Gujarat Youth Congress in those times, was his childhood friend.
In the mid 80s, when anti-reservation protests (a prelude to anti-Mandal protests that India will see later) erupted in some parts of Gujarat, especially Ahmedabad, it is said that the then Congress government used Latif to target the protesters, which caused the anti-reservation protests to turn into communal riots. Many other communal skirmishes and riots in Ahmedabad saw active participation of Latif’s gang in this duration. Hindus of Gujarat, especially those in Ahmedabad, started looking for a saviour who will save them from Latif.
Meanwhile seeing the growing clout of Latif, even Dawood Ibrahim decided to make peace with him in the late 80s. In November 1989, Latif is reported to have received a message from Dawood for a meeting in Dubai. There, a maulana made both Dawood and Latif swear on the Holy Quran not to fight against each other and work as a team. And that was the beginning of Latif’s entry into the world of terrorism.
In August 1992, Ahmedabad saw AK-47s being used in a gang-war that left 9 people dead in Radhika Gymkhana. Latif’s gang members had gone there to kill one Hansraj Trivedi, but since they didn’t recognise him, they killed everyone. The orders to kill all came from Latif. The city was shocked at this naked display of terror.
In the coming years, Latif became synonymous with crime and Islamic terrorism in Gujarat as he joined hands with Dawood, who by then had started planning the Mumbai blasts of 1993. Latif was also seen as the product of the policy of Muslim appeasement by the Congress party, which allowed such criminals to grow for petty political gains.
BJP made the arrest and downfall of Latif an election issue and it is said that it played a very vital role in the growth of the party in the state, especially in Ahmedabad.
In 1995, BJP formed its own government in Gujarat and the same year later Latif was arrested in Delhi following a two month long operation led by the Anti Terrorism Squad of Gujarat Police. Latif was lodged in Sabarmati Jail of Ahmedabad subsequently, and two years later, he was killed in an encounter when he tried to flee from the police custody.
The arrest and end of Latif’s terror was seen as a promise kept by the BJP and is seen as a major factor of why BJP’s popularity and political power kept growing and Congress could never come back to power in Gujarat.
Now it is to be seen how Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming movie Raees portrays Abdul Latif. Will he be portrayed as the communal gangster turned terrorist that he was, or will there be some whitewashing of his deeds?
(pieces of information in this article are sourced from the book “Dial D for Don” by former Commissioner of Delhi Police Neeraj Kumar)