Muthappa Rai, who breathed his last on Friday, was not a garden variety mafia don. The man who had presided over Bengaluru’s underworld for over 30 years was sophisticated, educated and charming. He was in his late 60s. Unlike his predecessors like MP Jairaj and Kothwal Ramachandra, Rai was from a good family background near Mangaluru.
A commerce graduate, he had started his career as an officer at Public Sector Undertaking Vijaya Bank and was a shy man. In the late 1980s, Rai came in contact with Bengaluru’s underworld and became an overnight sensation after he bumped off the then don of Bengaluru, MP Jairaj, in broad day light in 1990. That murder elevated him to the “post” of a mafia boss and he never looked back.
Surviving two serious attempts on his life, Rai managed to consolidate his hold over the land mafia of the city which was witnessing a huge boom in real estate post economic liberalisation of 1991. There was also an attempt on his life at a city court in Bengaluru, when he was brought there for a routine appearance. Five bullets hit him, but he survived.
In 1994, during Karnataka Assembly elections, a Youth Congress leader Jayanth Rai was shot dead at his office in Puttur. That murder shook the state, which was not known for political killings. He was Muthappa Rai’s right hand man. That incident shook Rai and he moved all his activities to Bengaluru after that.
Sauvé Rai was from a landed, upper caste Bunt community in Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district. The same community has produced Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty and Suniel Shetty. There is a saying that “Bunts are everywhere, from Miss World to Underworld”. It explains the community’s enterprising skills and huge risk-taking nature.
Rai came in contact with Dawood Ibrahim’s right-hand man, Sharad Shetty, who was also a fellow Mangalore Bunt in the 1990s. Sharad Shetty was handling D company’s affairs from Dubai and was in charge of cricket match fixing and betting business. He gave shelter to Rai in Dubai and took care of him.
Sharad Shetty was bumped off in early 2000s in Dubai and Rai fled the Gulf. Rai was accused of snitching about Shetty who had given him shelter in his difficult times.
Muthappa Rai was engaged in a pitched battle with another mafia man Sridhar in the 1990s in Bengaluru. There was an attempt on Sridhar’s life, in which his driver got killed. A “reformed” Sridhar now runs a Kannada tabloid “Agni” and is in the filmmaking business.
Rai, who was wanted in several cases, was brought back to India from UAE in the early 2000s and was made to spend a few months at the central jail. Subsequently, he was acquitted of all charges.
A free man, Rai moved into a fortress like mansion in the outskirts of Bengaluru, controlling the levers of underworld from there. In the last 15 years, he had also donned the role of a Kannada activist by launching an outfit called “Jaya Karnataka”. The organisation was a regular feature at usual protests in the city. Many of its activists were into small time extortion.
Rai used to claim that he had helped India’s external espionage agency Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) in Afghanistan and he was given a safe passage back home because of that.
A few months ago, making his debilitating health public, Rai had said that he was a patriot and had served India’s interests abroad. Twice married, Rai leaves behind a wife and two sons.
According to some of his close aides, he leaves behind landed properties worth several hundred crores across Karnataka. Some senior police officers in Karnataka maintain that most stories about Muthappa Rai are exaggerated and he was just a land grabber who wore the mask of an activist or a sophisticated man.
Since organized mafia is almost dead in Bengaluru, perhaps Muthappa Rai was the last to rule the underworld in India’s IT city.