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The Rediff Interview/Criminal lawyer Niteen V Pradhan
'My country doesn't deserve this'
July 24, 2006
Niteen V Pradhan is an angry man. One of India's leading criminal lawyers, he has mailed a letter to the 18 core accused in the March 12, 1993 bomb blasts case, telling them he will not fight the case for them any more.
In conversation with Sumit Bhattacharya, Pradhan says July 11, 2006 was a "day of reckoning" for him, and he felt he was "defending the wrong cause."
The first instalment of a two-part interview.
There is a bit of a history. Initially some other lawyers were appearing for the bomb blasts accused. Those lawyers expressed their no-confidence in the then presiding officer of the court. The accused retracted and said, 'We want this judge.' The judge directed that these lawyers should not come within the precincts of the court.
There were 48 prime accused. The series of charges against them included smuggling RDX (Research and Development Explosive), transportation of RDX, hatching conspiracy in Dubai, having conspiratorial meetings in India, storage of RDX, preparing vehicular bombs, planting those bombs and detonating them on March 12, 1993.
These 48 persons were left high and dry by the order of the judge.
The judge appointed me and Mahesh Jethmalani as amicus curae (friend of the court, who assists the court to come to the right conclusion) in July 1994.
The day after, representatives of three Muslim organisations met me. They said, 'We don't want you to appear as amicus curae. We want to pay your fees and we want you to act as a professional defence counsel.'
I was reluctant. I made enquiries.
They (the community leaders) said, 'We don't want Mahesh Jethmalani because his father was vice-president of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).'
I apprised the learned judge of the meeting. The judge said, 'I don't have any objection.'
In the first meeting, I asked them, 'Why do you want the community to pay?' -- they said my fees would be paid by the community. I asked them, 'Why is the community trying to identify with those who are accused of killing people mercilessly with vehicular bombs?'
It was the first time something like that had happened in India, and I was surprised (with the community identifying with the accused).
They said the community is offended because of the application of Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code -- which means waging war against the country. Under English law, it meant the offence of treason.
They said, 'We are not traitors. And if our community has been accused of being traitors, we feel the entire community has been accused of being traitors.'
I agreed with them. Because according to me, the bomb blasts had nothing to do with waging war against the government. The bomb blasts had something to do with the Ayodhya issue, December 1992 riots and the January 1993 riots (in Mumbai). It was arising out of the communal frenzy.
I felt this community is not a traitor. They love India like any other person. It is not that Hindus love India more than the Muslims, or the Christians, or the Sikhs, or any other community or religion in India.
I defended them. My submissions were accepted by the judge and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) also. M Natarajan, the senior advocate appearing for CBI, made a bold statement. He said that I am legally correct in my submissions. Ultimately he conceded that this charge of Section 121 should be dropped. The matter (case) went on.
Finally these 18 persons, the core accused, I defended them as a matter of professional duty. I was told the money for my fees was being collected during the Friday sermons. After my appearance in 1994, when I came out of the matter in 1995, several bomb blasts took place in Bombay -- Ghatkopar, Vile Parle, Gateway of India, etc.
The biggest one was the recent one -- July 11. I was extremely perturbed because (despite) whatever I had been told by the so-called leaders, those leaders have not come out against these bomb blasts, or the carnage of tourists in Srinagar. They have not come out in support of the Kashmiri Pandits living in refugee camps.
At least one Muslim leader should come out and say, 'I don't stand by the so-called jihad, so-called pious duty they are talking about. That Islam they are talking, that Islam they are preaching, that Islam they are executing, that is not my Islam. I feel ashamed if they belong to my community, my religion.'
Nobody said this. Nobody came out. I am not talking just about the leaders who came to meet me. I am talking about community leaders from the film world, the industry, from the commercial establishments, from educational institutions, from politics. None of them came out saying that 'I want to collect money for Kashmiri Hindus. I want to come out in support of these victims.'
After 1993, Bombay is by and large calm. There is no communal frenzy here. The loss of faith in each other, which happened in 1992, has been now retrieved. What is the occasion for all these bomb blasts, particularly July 11?
The 1993 bomb blasts -- I am not justifying it, it is no doubt beyond justification -- were the aftermath of the Ayodhya issue, the December 1992 riots and January 1993 riots (in Mumbai). What has happened now? Who has committed atrocities, even allegedly?
I am convinced now that all these terrorist activities, all these bomb blasts are aimed against Hindus. They want to kill Hindus at random and as many as possible.
This is the same impression I have mentioned in my letter to the accused. I said, 'My community and my country do not deserve this. My community and my country, despite being ruled by Muslims for a thousand years, despite the atrocities, have accepted them as brothers.'
But we have seen people like Shah Rukh Khan condemning the blasts.
Tell me, is this the same Shah Rukh Khan who refused to touch the feet of Lata Mangeshkar saying his religion does not allow him to touch someone's feet? How much money has he paid to Kashmiri Hindus? Has Shah Rukh Khan defended Feroze Khan for what he said in Pakistan?
How many of them have defended Feroze Khan, who told the truth -- that Pakistan is a failed State; that minorities in India are far better treated than the minorities in Pakistan? Did Shabana Azmi support him? Did Javed Akhtar support him?
Don't miss the second part of the interview on Wednesday where Niteen Pradhan dissects the now-defunct Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The Rediff Interviews