It was probably the most difficult moment of his life. A moment when he stood on a one-way street. There was nothing, nothing at all that he, Sunil Dutt, could do to save his son Sanjay Dutt from being arrested. The Mumbai Police had found that the actor had acquired deadly AK-56s from Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees Ibrahim, and had even had one destroyed after the serial blasts in Bombay that left 257 people dead.
At that moment, there was only one thing Sunil Dutt could do. He picked up the phone and informed the then Police Commissioner AS Samra that his son was returning that night — April 19, 1993 — from Mauritius.
The police picked up Sanjay from the airport, allowed him to sleep on the sofa in one of the officers’ rooms, and at 10am the next day, the then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) MN Singh and his deputy Rakesh Maria started the interrogation. Sanjay broke down and narrated the entire story. The same evening, Sunil Dutt and his daughter Priya Dutt met Sanjay in the presence of the police officers. Sunil Dutt was still not ready to believe that his son could have been involved in the blasts conspiracy. Maria told Sanjay to tell his father the truth, and Sanjay conceded that he had been in possession of an assault rifle and some ammunition that he had got from Anees Ibrahim. Sunil Dutt wanted to know the reason why. He was not prepared for the answer: “Because I have Muslim blood in my veins. I could not bear what was happening in the city.” A crestfallen Sunil Dutt left the police headquarters. It was a moment almost worse than the shock of the previous day.
Quite in contrast to what he felt in 1993, Sanjay’s forehead was smeared with a long red tilak on judgement day — November 28, 2006. The air inside the TADA courtroom was heavy with tension and fear. An ashen-faced Sanjay sat head down next to his friend and co-accused Yusuf Nullwala, whom he had called from Mauritius and asked to destroy one of the AK-56s in his possession. A few rows behind them was 64-year-old Zaibunissa Kazi, another co-accused.
Thirteen years after he was arrested on charges of acquiring three AK-56 rifles, nine magazines, 450 cartridges and over 20 hand grenades — weapons and explosives associated either with terrorists or counter-insurgency forces — the fate of the filmstar was finally to be decided and Sanjay was nervous. Judge PD Kode walked in to a packed courtroom and first summoned dismissed customs officer SK Thapa to the witness box. As customs officer, Thapa had winked while a cache of arms and explosives was smuggled into the country in 1993 for acts of terrorism. Thapa, the judge said, had been found guilty under different sections of TADA — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, passed in 1987 to counter acts of terror.
Kode then called out Zaibunissa Kazi’s name. Two of the three AK-56 rifles, some ammunition and 20 hand grenades returned by Sanjay had been kept at her house for a few days. The judgement was as severe as the previous one. She was held guilty under Section 3(3) of TADA. The sub-section defines a convict as one who “conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites or knowingly facilitates the commission of a terrorist act or any act preparatory to a terrorist act.”
Tension was visible on the face of Satish Maneshinde, one of Sanjay Dutt’s key lawyers. He was later to say this to a Tehelka spycam: “The moment she was convicted, I thought Sanjay too would be convicted under TADA.” (See box) He had reasons for admitting this. Unlike his client Sanjay, who had asked for the weapons, stored them, asked for them to be destroyed and even admitted to his association with Anees Ibrahim, Zaibunissa Kazi had only stored them for a few days. Her role was in no way comparable to Sanjay’s and nobody knew it better than Sanjay’s lawyer.
A day earlier, another co-accused Manzoor Ahmed had similarly been held guilty under Section 3(3) of TADA. Manzoor’s role too was clear in Maneshinde’s head: he had been called by gangster Abu Salem — like Manzoor, also from Azamgarh in UP — and the two had driven to Sanjay’s house to pick up the bag that was then kept at Zaibunissa Kazi’s house. Both she and Manzoor face the prospect of spending a minimum five years in jail, if not a life term.
A day after Sanjay’s verdict, two other co-accused, Samir Hingora and Baba Mussa Chauhan, who were part of the chain that delivered weapons to the filmstar’s house in Mumbai’s Pali Hill, were convicted under Sections 5 and 3(3) of TADA — which deal with conspiracy and possession of prohibited arms in city limits — besides being held guilty under different sections of the Arms Act and the Explosives Act. The nature of the charges and the evidence against Chauhan and Sanjay were similar. Chauhan, like Sanjay, had in his possession three AK-56 rifles, some cartridges, magazines and hand grenades. Both Sanjay and Chauhan had the arms delivered to them by the same person — Abu Salem, who after the serial blasts of 1993 escaped the country and carried out criminal activities in India from abroad before being extradited in 2005.
For those present in court, Sanjay’s conviction under TADA seemed a fait accompli. But, in what must have been a huge relief for Sanjay and his battery of lawyers, he was convicted under the Arms Act and is thus now in a position to even seek probation which, if granted, will not see him go to jail at all.
No one knows the anomaly of the judgement better than Maneshinde. On the spycam, he says, “When I will be asked by the Supreme Court why everyone else has got TADA and my client only the Arms Act, I will have no answer.” The statement speaks volumes coming as it does from Sanjay’s own lawyer. Why is the lawyer worried?
SANJAY DUTT: THE CENTRAL FIGURE
Maneshinde and most lawyers familiar with the case know that Sanjay Dutt was the central figure in the plot. Soon after the verbal order on November 28, 2006, eminent lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, who had also initially defended Sanjay, wrote in Tehelka that the other accused had not had the benefit of what — in Sanjay’s case — he called the “benign judicial eye”. After all, Sanjay was the one who had asked for lethal weapons from his friend and gangster Anees Ibrahim, who along with his brother Dawood, is among the main conspirators of the 1993 blasts. It was Sanjay who had retained one AK-56 and some ammunition while returning two assault rifles, hand grenades and ammunition. In Manzoor’s case, his car had been used to bring back a part of the consignment from Sanjay’s residence. As for Zaibunissa Kazi, she had allowed her house to be used as a transit point. The weapons were meant neither for her nor for Manzoor. The evidence on record shows that their offence was minor when compared to that of Sanjay who kept three AK-56s and hand grenades for close to a week and continued to retain one assault rifle for almost a month after serial blasts rocked Bombay. Apprehending his arrest, Sanjay had the weapons destroyed and, quite unlike Manzoor, he made seven calls to Anees.
THE MYSTERIOUS SANJAY-ANEES PHONE RECORDS
The crucial information that Sanjay had been calling Anees came from the filmstar himself. Says MN Singh, who headed the investigation, “He himself said that he had made the calls. This information came from him and only then did we get the supporting mtnl printouts.” The printouts showed that seven calls had been made to Anees’s number at White House in Dubai. The police also took a sworn affidavit from the Indian Embassy in Dubai saying that the Dubai number to which the calls were made by Sanjay was indeed that of Dawood’s brother. The police also procured the Dubai telephone directory which mentioned the same number against Anees’s name. Only a few of the over 150 accused in the serial blasts case had been in touch with either Dawood or Anees while the blasts conspiracy was being hatched. Sanjay was one of them. All these records were handed over to the CBI. However, when the time came to pin Sanjay down in court, the CBI chose to omit the record related to the telephone calls in its final submission against Sanjay before the TADA court. The prosecution’s submission, a copy of which is with Tehelka, reveals that the CBI has not brought the telephone conversation-related evidence on record. Sources in the CBI said that since the court had not accepted the telephone records as evidence against Sanjay, they decided to delete them from their written submission. Maneshinde also revealed that the calls “have not come on record”.
In what appears to be a dilution, the CBI also failed to press the charge of destruction of evidence against Sanjay in their written submission. Initially, when the Mumbai Police filed the chargesheet, a copy of which is with Tehelka, they had slapped Sanjay with that charge. Nullwala, who destroyed the weapons on Sanjay’s instruction, has been convicted under the Arms Act. Commenting on the disparity, he told Tehelka, “This will always happen… this is nothing new… See this thing… politicians… they do every possible thing… nothing happens to them… Why? It comes in the paper… it comes on the idiot box every single day… but what happens… it’s always people like us, we have to suffer… you know, we are the example for the world…”
Despite the dilution in the CBI’s written submission, there was enough evidence on record. Abu Salem, Baba Mussa Chauhan and Magnum Video owner Samir Hingora — all of whom went to Sanjay’s house to deliver the consignment of arms — have each confirmed the following: one, that he was speaking to Anees when they arrived there; and two — and this is crucial — that Sanjay was eagerly awaiting their arrival. He personally supervised the consignment — aks, hand grenades and ammunition boxes — being taken out from the cavities of the Maruti van in which they had been concealed. He also provided the toolbox to prise out the arms from the places where they had been hidden. Before that, he asked the constable stationed at his mp father’s house to move away from his post. Abu Salem too was not unknown to Sanjay. Both Hingora and Chauhan describe how he “warmly hugged” Salem.
SANJAY HANDLED WITH KID GLOVES?
Faced with so much incontrovertible evidence, it can safely be said that Sanjay Dutt, son of an illustrious film personality and parliamentarian, was given special favours. First by a section of the Mumbai Police and later by the CBI which took over the investigation.
The Mumbai Police did not raid Sanjay’s house despite being told of the presence of a weapon on the premises, and thus let go of clinching evidence. Chauhan was the one who squealed on Sanjay when arrested. He told Rakesh Maria, “Why do you take on small guys like me when big and powerful people are involved?” This was on April 3, 1993, and Sanjay was in Mauritius. Maria sought permission to raid the Dutt house to recover the weapon, but was not given the go-ahead by the then Mumbai Police chief Samra.
A few days later, a story appeared in a local paper — attributed to police sources — that the cops had come to know about Sanjay being in possession of an AK-56 and some ammunition. Sanjay called up Nullwala from Mauritius and told him to collect the weapon and ammunition from his bedroom and destroy them. Accordingly, Nullwala collected one AK-56 rifle, two empty magazines, 250 rounds of ammunition and one 9mm pistol from the Dutt residence. He took the weapons to a friend, Karsi Bapuji Adajenia, who was in the steel fabrication business. Adajenia melted down the AK-56 with the help of a gas cutter. Nullwala threw the pieces into the sea in front of OberoiTowers, Nariman Point. Subsequently, the police recovered AK-56 cartridges from the boulders at Marine Drive. But, apart from its spring and rod, the melted-down remains of the AK-56 could never be recovered.
After his arrest, when Sanjay was repeatedly refused bail both by the TADA court and the Supreme Court, a quasi-judicial committee of bureaucrats and police officers, set up to review the status of TADA detainees, granted Sanjay bail. He came out after spending just 16 months in jail while others, such as those who delivered the arms to him, were behind bars for more than five years. Manzoor Ahmed and Baba Mussa Chauhan spent five years each in jail before they were let out on bail. Similarly, Hingora and Hanif Kadawala, who had shown Abu Salem the way to Sanjay’s house, were also denied bail for more than five years. While out on bail, Sanjay continued to remain in touch with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang members. The Mumbai Police recorded a telephone conversation between him and Dawood’s key lieutenant Chhota Shakeel in 2003. Sanjay and his friends were heard telling Shakeel to straighten up actor Govinda. Still, the police did not register an offence. Neither did the prosecution approach the court for the cancellation of Sanjay’s bail.
NOVEMBER 28, 2006: JUDGEMENT DAY
On November 28, 2006, at 12.40pm, Judge Kode called for Accused Number 117. Sanjay Dutt walked to the witness box. Sanjay faced several charges under TADA — for conspiring in the serial blasts of 1993, for aiding it, for being in possession of prohibited arms and for intending to use them to commit terror. He was also charged under the Arms Act for the possession of lethal weapons. One by one, Sanjay was absolved of all the charges levelled against him under various TADA sections. The judge said, “Considering the confession of the accused and other evidence, it is accepted that the arms were for self-defence. Hence (he is) not guilty for possession of arms under Section 5 of TADA.’’ Section 5 attracts five years to life imprisonment.
Kode further said, “The CBI was unable to establish that the arms that had reached Dutt’s house were from the cache of arms smuggled into India for the blasts.” Hence the judge acquitted the actor of the charge of aiding the blasts under Section 3(3) of TADA that also attracts five years to life imprisonment. The court had convicted Zaibunissa Kazi under the same section a while ago, but Sanjay was held guilty only under Sections 3 and 7 of the Arms Act. Sanjay and Maneshinde heaved a sigh of relief. Conviction under TADA would have meant immediate arrest. Conviction under the Arms Act allowed the court to give him time to surrender. It also allowed his lawyers to file for probation.
What happened in court on November 28 was scandalous. The verdict reeked of double standards, one for the privileged and another for the not-so-fortunate. But was what happened in court just a pre-meditated climax? Had the script been written long in advance? Kode said the CBI could not link the arms in Sanjay’s possession with those smuggled in for the blasts. The truth is the CBI never attempted to link them with the main consignment smuggled in for the serial blasts.