'Their conduct is as if they have come to arrest some dacoit.'
'They behave with everyone in this manner, whether it's Manish Sisodia, Anil Deshmukh or anybody else.'
'It is as if they are ambassadors of god and we are satans.'
'This is solely due to the sections in some laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.'
This is a cruel law. In fact, the death penalty is better.'
Sanjay Raut has been a Shiv Sena member of the Rajya Sabha since 2004.
Raut is also the executive editor of Saamana, the Shiv Sena's daily newspaper.
In the first of a multi-part interview with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Neeta Kolhatkar, Raut reveals the reasons for his arrest in July 2022.
"They (BJP leaders) were angry with me because they felt I was the person from the Shiv Sena who was interested in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. I was seen as the main person who was driving a coalition against their party."
When you were arrested, were you mentally prepared? Did you see a narrative being planned against you?
Yes, absolutely. I was confident this government would arrest me. Prior to this, they had tried to drag my name in various matters.
The government got false witnesses, placed false evidence and made members of the Bharatiya Janata Party say things against me.
The BJP created a separate team to damage my reputation and get me arrested. But I stood against them because I have been firm about one thing.
I may be a politician, a Rajya Sabha member, but most important, I am the editor of a leading newspaper.
If I inspire others to fight back, then I should also do the same.
I cannot afford to bow before these people and if I were to do so, how would I set an example to the public?
When finally the government got nothing concrete against me, they dug out a loan taken 14 years ago.
I had revealed all these details in the affidavit which I filed at the time of my Rajya Sabha nomination.
Why do you think you were targeted by the government?
There were political developments taking place in Maharashtra at that time.
First, they were angry with me because they felt I was the person from the Shiv Sena who was interested in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, the tri-party alliance between the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena.
BJP leaders from Maharashtra and Delhi had informed their central leadership that I was the leader who wanted the MVA alliance.
I was seen as the main person who was driving a coalition against their party.
Do you remember the day you were arrested? Can you describe how it unfolded for you?
Of course, I remember it distinctly. The previous night someone told my brother, who is an MLA, something big is cooking and the authorities are going to act.
We had just returned from the Ayodhya yatra and I had money donated by people.
I had kept the bills and cleared the account to the last paisa of all the donors and the amount they had contributed.
In fact, even Eknath Shinde's name was in this list of donors; he too had contributed.
This wasn't my money. My brother told me not to keep this money in the house.
I protested, why should I not? I hadn't stolen this money, they were contributions made by people and I was to submit this Ayodhya yatra accounts to the party.
I insisted it should remain in the house. Later the agency made an issue of this, saying they had found Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) in my house.
There was a paper of minute accounts on top of this money; I had kept it together.
I keep accounts of every paisa that is collected for party activities.
Then at 7 am Sunil (Raut, his brother) knocked on my door. We live in a joint family. He informed me that the ED (Enforcement Directorate) team had come home.
Now, these ED officers behave as if it is their father's property.
They don't bother about their conduct in front of women folk. They forcibly enter and ransack the premises.
I told them to wait as I had to go about my activities and bathe.
I woke up the family. Then they (the ED team) demanded to search the house. I told them to go ahead and asked if they had a search warrant.
They went to every nook and corner, went on the terrace. One man was asked to even search inside our water tank!
They wanted to check if we had stashed money inside our water tank. They looked under the staircase.
I have been an MP for 22 years and my brother has been a legislator for two years from this constituency. Most of all, I am an editor.
We have some status. Their conduct is as if they have come to arrest some dacoit or criminal.
They behave with everyone in this manner, whether it is Manish Sisodia, Anil Deshmukh or anybody else.
It is as if they are ambassadors of god and we are satans.
This is solely due to the sections in some laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).
This is a cruel law. In fact, the death penalty is better.
You completely disregard the prestige a person has earned over many years.
They (the ED team) moved around like they owned our house, and these are lower ranked officers.
They show their authority here, but I have seen in court, they have no standing.
I told them I know you have come to arrest me, do it, but leave my family members, don't harass them.
I told them I will go with them at that moment.
They promptly informed me they didn't have an order to arrest me at that time.
I told them I am aware you will get this order at 4 pm.
I told them leave my mother who is aged.
I told them to leave my wife and two young daughters because they were upset.
They barged into my mother's prayer room, searched the drawers, ransacked the tins where we store flour and food grains.
Prior to that, those who had been given contracts for my daughter's marriage, they saw the receipts of the florists, the lady who drew mehendi.
These ED officers went to the homes of these professionals and asked them how much we paid them.
Is this how agencies function in a democracy? I asked them to take me immediately, but they arrested me at 5 pm.
These officers kept telling me to speak to a 'higher level'.
I said I would not speak with anyone.
I told them if they have found any evidence, then record it.
Despite that if they want to arrest me, then do it, I am prepared to go to jail.
I will not speak to anyone. By then, thousands had congregated outside my house.
They (the ED team) got upset and instructed me not to answer any call.
I dismissed their authoritarian attitude. I told them I was still inside my house ani shahanpana karayacha nahi (There was no need for them to throw their weight around).
You haven't still shown my arrest warrant. They said they were searching my house.
I said, go ahead, who has stopped you. My supporters gathered and tried to prevent my arrest, but I went happily with the ED officers.
I had categorically told them to take me before late night because I sleep by 10.30 pm. They finally showed my arrest at midnight.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com