A turf war has broken out between two underworld dons in Mangalore, Karnataka, and both are trying to fuel communal tension to strengthen their network and expand their business in the city, said the Mangalore police.
The murky operations of the underworld have shifted from Mumbai to Mangalore, say the police, as the financial capital has now become the hotbed of terror and the police have cracked down underworld gangs.
Though Mangalore was known as mini-Mumbai, communal rifts surfaced in the coastal city after the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. New battle-lines were drawn in the underworld between the so called 'patriotic dons' and 'traitor dons'.
On April 9, 2009, lawyer Naushad Kashimji was murdered. Kashimji was representing Rashid Malabari, the man who had been sent to India by underworld don Chota Shakeel to kill Bharatiya Janata Party leader Varun Gandhi.
Ravi Poojary, another don, claimed responsibility for Kashimji's death, declaring that the lawyer had been killed as he was defending an 'anti-Hindu' man. The police are yet to track down Kashimji's killers.
Exactly a year after that incident, 12 men were detained on the charges of conspiring to kill a Hindu lawyer. Yusuf Nadar, an upcoming don, reportedly hired some henchmen to carry out the murder.
The underworld dons shifted to Mangalore as most gangs already had the basic infrastructure -- to carry out a variety of illegal acts -- in place in the city, which was already a smuggling haven.
The lucrative real estate market in Mangalore is another major attraction for the criminals.
"There is a lot of interest in the field of real estate in Mangalore. The prices have touched a new high. The booming real estate prices have attracted the underworld to Mangalore and automatically the cases of extortion too have gone up," says senior advocate Vikram Hegde.
According to the police, a well-organised criminal network in Mangalore collects information on people who can be targeted for extortion. The number of such cases has been steadily rising, say the police, adding that in the last three months, 14 people have been arrested on charges of extortion.
Both the Ravi Poojari and Chota Shakeel gang are involved in extortion activities, say the police.
The police are also wary of Mangalore being used as a base to carry out terror activities, After the serial blasts in Delhi in September 2008, some of the terrorists responsible for the attack were traced to Mangalore.
The consignment used by the terrorists was smuggled from across the border and eventually landed in Mangalore, before being ferried to Manipal.
The dons operating in Mangalore have not taken their battle for supremacy to the streets, as they don't want to antagonise the locals. Both the powerful dons are playing the communal card, and attaching a religious connotation to every murder, warn the police
While one faction seeks support from elements from areas like Bhatkal and Kasargod, others rely on political patronage to further their agenda. The trend of underworld dons actively fuelling communal tension to control their strongholds is dangerous, warn the police. In a communally sensitive town like Mangalore, both gangs are exploiting simmering communal feelings to carry out subversive activities, according to the police.