August 5, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Bad Company

As my mom said, the shadow of Shani Maharaj is cast over the film industry. If the underworld-filmwallahs nexus wasn't bad enough, we now have scions of an eminently respectable film house being convicted for murder. On July 31, Ketan and Vivek Anand, sons of the late Chetan Anand, were given life imprisonment for their role in the brutal and premeditated slaying of former actress Priya Rajvansh in March 2000. The detailed judgment will be given on August 6, after which, the sentenced duo can approach the Mumbai high court to appeal against the decision. Which they probably will. But the thing is, no one's interested.

If Dev Anand and Vijay Anand had so wished, they, too, could have herded filmi activists for demonstrations outside the jail, proclaimed their nephews' innocence in carefully arranged press conferences -- even while declaring to "react and speak only after the judgment" -- and made political capital out of the pair's plight. In the pressurising department, Devsaab is no lightweight, believe me. But have you heard a word from them about their nephews' culpability in the last two years? Any sob stories in the press about "incurable scars on his psyche"...? Therein lies the difference.

When Ketan and Vivek were taken into custody, and throughout the 5 months they spent in jail before getting bail, do you think that reporters did not hound the senior Anands for quotable quotes? Was the case not sensational enough?? A body in the blood-splattered bathroom, a former actress of great beauty, her liaison with an acclaimed film-maker, a property dispute, prosecution witnesses like director Shashi Ranjan, the erstwhile maharaja of Bhavnagar, and television producer Siddharth Kak -- the case had it all! So why is it that Ketan and Vivek's trial remained in the domain of the judiciary, while Sanjay Dutt's became a free-for-all?

Now we've been admonished that Sanjay's shouldn't become a trial by media. Fair enough. But who brought in and encouraged the media in the first place? Was it the police who tipped off the media to cover, photograph and publicise the Anupam Kher-led demonstrations outside Arthur Road Jail...? Who used the pressure factor of the media? Who linked TADA with Sanjay and motivated the human rights activists to use him as a weapon against the Act? The government??

Who... how can I put it delicately..."pressurised" the politicians of the day? The Indian Express of September 9, 1999: "Dutt's closeness to the Thackeray clan -- Bal Thackeray had played a vital role in bailing TADA's most famous detenu Sanjay Dutt out of prison -- is reportedly keeping the rest of the pack away." The Tribune of February 24: "Mr [Sunil] Dutt has, by his action, done a good deed to the Sena, in gratitude for that party having bailed out his son Sanjay Dutt when he was involved in the serial bomb blast case in Mumbai in March 1993."

Wanna hear of the scars on my psyche? How my mother was a battered wife? How she nearly lost her youngest son from the blows to her stomach? How my elder brother used to be tied and beaten as a child? How we never had the protection a father affords? How, even as infants, we never had a mother at home because she was out working? It's all old hat. Moreover, it's common hat: Too many people, even among the affluent and educated families, have such terrifying experiences. But few wear it on their sleeves, and fewer still sink to the depths Sanjay Dutt did. His father's psychobabble nauseates me.

Sanjay Dutt was 20 years old when his mother died, shortly after his debut in Rocky in May 1981. Are we to believe that his "psyche" wasn't formed by then...? The loss of a beloved mother to cancer, do you have any idea how common that is -- even for children not yet in their teens? tells us, "The day Sanju's mother died, Sanju was high on drugs." Wonderful. Here's a near-adult with a veritable hit, who, instead of being at his mother's bedside to alleviate her pain with his good fortune, gives in to an inherent flaw in character -- and his father passes all of it off as "incurable scars on his psyche" (The Times of India, August 1).

Dutt's spin doctors were already at work before that. In the ToI of July 29, one asserted, "[Rocky] released to howls of derision from the critics, too bent upon turning out a clever phrase to spare the boy and spoil the review. At that point of darkness, heroin seemed to be the only escape." Other evocative phrases used in the shine-up: "Prince of Darkness," "destiny's favourite whipping boy," "diabolic Greek tragedy," "a haunted man." Meaning, the rich and famous are never to be held responsible for their own actions; it's all dem bad gods up there pulling dem strings.

On July 31, the special MCOCA court of Justice A P Bhangale restrained the media from publishing any unauthorised documents or material submitted as evidence in the Bharat Shah case; he has also stopped the media from passing any comments on evidence produced in that court. The judge gave perfectly valid reasons for his decision. Nevertheless, what I do not understand is, why did Bharat Shah move the court against dissemination of the transcripts when it was his lawyer, Kapil Sibal, who first read them out in court...? Mid Day of July 19, 2001, states: "On Monday, advocate Sibal, while arguing the case said, 'Dutt has directly spoken to Karachi-based Chhota Shakeel over the phone several times. Police even have a recording of the conversation. Yet he is a witness and Shah the accused'." Wheels within wheels, all beyond my ken.

Lawyers and the technicalities in their arguments, are equally beyond my ken. For instance, Dutt's lawyer Farhana Shah told The Asian Age that Dutt did not violate the condition the TADA court applied when granting him bail -- that he would not contact any absconding accused of the Bombay blasts case. Chhota Shakeel, indeed, is not an accused in that case. When Dutt sought permission from the TADA court to shoot in Mauritius, the court instructed him not to contact any absconding accused of any other case, as well. Farhana Shah again claimed a non-violation on the grounds that the court had instructed Dutt not to talk to any absconding accused of any other case "only when he is travelling abroad." Besides which, "No one has confirmed that the voices are of Chhota Shakeel and Sanjay Dutt." Ergo, Dutt's done no wrong.

But what is the TADA suit against Dutt, anyway? Following is a summary of the developments till now, all culled only from verifiable news reports:

The prosecution's story is that, following the Babri demolition, communal riots broke out in Bombay in which many Muslims died, and 172 accused persons hatched a conspiracy, within India and outside, to serial bomb-blast Bombay in order to shatter the Indian economy and avenge the demolition and deaths. The police contend that two of the accused, who turned approvers in June 1995, disclosed in detail how the conspiracy was hatched and revealed that some of the accused were taken to Pakistan, via Dubai, for arms training. They divulged that Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon had masterminded the blasts, for which arms and ammunition were smuggled in from Pakistan, the consignment landing at Shekhadi and Dighi coasts in Raigad district. A portion of this consignment was taken by film producer Samir Hingora, Ibrahim Moosa Chavan and Abu Salem to Sanjay Dutt's house.

In early 1991, Samir Hingora had teamed up with Hanif Kadawala to form the audio company, Magnum. They also took to producing films and purchasing video rights of movies. When the duo were arrested in April 1993, they confessed that they had gone to Sanjay Dutt's bungalow to deliver the weapons in January, and that Dutt had kept one AK-56 rifle and returned the rest of the weapons. This piece of evidence attracted Section 5 of TADA, which banned possession of terrorist weapons in a notified area. Besides, the instructions given by Dutt to his security guards -- to move outside his bungalow to facilitate the delivery of arms -- was indicative of his intention to participate in the conspiracy, the CBI submitted.

(Aside: One of the approvers in the case, Usman Jan Khan, had named both, Hingora and Kadawala, as those who had threatened him in jail to withhold evidence in the case. Both were in custody for nearly five years, till 1998. On February 5, 2001, Hanif Kadawala was shot dead by two unidentified persons at his office in Bandra. The assailants fired at him from point blank range. The police suspect Chhota Rajan.)

Based on Hingora's and Kadawala's confessions, the Crime Branch arrested Sanjay Dutt after his arrival in Bombay from a shooting in Mauritius in April 1993. He was taken to his friend Yusuf Nalwala's house in Dongri on the same day. A woman who answered the door informed the police team that Nalwala was already in the custody of Dongri police station in connection with another case. Yes, another case.

While he was shooting in Mauritius, Sanjay Dutt had allegedly telephoned Nalwala at his residence and asked him to destroy the AK-56 rifle. In his confession, Nalwala stated that the rifle was taken to his friend Kersi Adajania's foundry to be dissembled and melted. The police said that during a raid, they recovered the spring and rod of the destroyed rifle.

The defence's story is that there is no evidence to suggest that Sanjay Dutt conspired with the 172 accused to commit terrorist acts. In written submissions, Dutt denied the charge that he had accepted an AK-56, its ammunition, a 9mm pistol, its cartridges and hand grenades. He denied that he retained one rifle and returned other weapons. He also denied that Hingora and Chavan had visited his residence in a Maruti laden with arms and ammunition. He said the prosecution was relying only on his confession and those of the co-accused -- which had been retracted and hence could not be accepted without corroboration. Even assuming that he accepted a weapon from the accused, it was for self-defence and not for creating terror, Dutt said. At the maximum, he could be tried under the Arms Act and not under TADA.

Sanjay Dutt denied he had asked Yusuf Nalwala to tell the police about the weapons and ammunition. He denied that Nalwala had taken him and a police team to Kersi Adajania. He denied knowledge about Kersi's producing a spring and rod and handing them over to police. He denied knowing about Kersi's confessional statement of handing over the 9mm pistol and its cartridges to his friend Russi Mulla.

Sanjay Dutt alleged he was shown other accused in the case being subjected to third degree methods and threatened with similar treatment unless he signed the confessional statement prepared by then Deputy Commissioner of Police K L Bishnoi. When he was produced before Bishnoi on April 26, 1993, he had never consented to make a statement that he possessed the guns, as later claimed by police. Bishnoi had falsely deposed against him for supporting the false case made by police; the panchas and constables, too, had falsely deposed against him for strengthening the case. Above all, Sanjay Dutt denied having any links with underworld personalities. And all these denials is the package we have to buy...

Varsha Bhosle

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