In 2008, after he was provided access to “reformed” mafia boss N Muthappa Rai at his sprawling mansion on the outskirts of Bengaluru, journalist Scott Carney wrote an article in Wired magazine calling Rai “The Godfather of Bangalore”.
Rai (68), a former bank clerk from Mangaluru who was one of the most notorious mobsters in the annals of crime in Bengaluru and Mangaluru, died after a battle with brain cancer on Friday. He was extradited from Dubai in 2002, and acquitted in over a dozen cases in Karnataka in the subsequent years.
“After a prolonged illness and hospitalisation, we regret to inform the demise of 68-year-old Mr Muthappa Rai… Manipal Hospitals expresses condolence to his entire family,” said a statement from the hospital where the former underworld boss died.
It was never quite clear whether Rai, who donned the garb of a real estate businessman with interests in hotels and nightclubs, had really exited the crime world. Despite the clean record after his acquittals and the nurturing of a benevolent image of a man more interested in the good things in life — horse racing, gambling, protection of local language and culture (like the Kambala cattle races)— there remained constant whispers of the presence of “MR”, as he was known among his associates, in real estate deals.
At the final rites conducted for Rai at his estate at Bidadi, on the outskirts of Bengaluru on Friday, a few of his associates fired rounds in the air to pay tribute, resulting in a case over illegal use of arms.
On of his most recent brushes with the law was on April 16 when the police questioned him over a statement made by underworld operative Ravi Pujari on the killing of realtor Subbaraju in 2001. Pujari was absconding when Rai was acquitted in the case.
Rai rose to notoriety after he left his job as a bank clerk and ventured into the nightclub and hotel business in Bengaluru in the 1980s. He got involved with the mafia bosses of the time—Kotwal Ramachandra, M P Jayaraj and Oil Kumar alias Boot House Kumar.
He was accused of being involved in eliminating the three, establishing himself as the top dog in subsequent years.
With his connections to the Mumbai underworld, Rai was often accused of bringing the gun culture to Bengaluru, where crimes featured only knives and sickles till the late 1980s.
After Rai’s acquittal in all cases, gang wars had abated with the groups allegedly deciding to split the spoils of illegal activities in order to maintain peace in Bengaluru.
However, the former mafia bosses have remained key figures in settling realty deals and disputes in Bengaluru—with some issues reportedly landing at Rai’s doorstep when the local gangs were unable to resolve them.
Since January 2020, many of Rai’s close associates began distancing themselves from him as news of his battle with cancer spread, say associates. “There is no one who can replace him from within the outfit… Most of his associates will go their own way,” said an advocate associated with Rai’s cases.
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