November 22, 2005

Gotta love it

Went to vote last Saturday, an election made necessary by the death of my MP, Sunil Dutt, some months ago. Running this time was his daughter, Priya, who has since won. Campaigning for Priya was her film-star brother, Sanjay.

Sanjay is, of course, under trial in the 1993 Bombay bomb blast case. And with this election and the recent arrival in Bombay of Abu Salem, another man charged in that case, Sanjay's role in the blasts got a lot of attention. Priya and her campaigning colleagues got queried about it over and over.

The man who didn't get queried about what he did in 1993 was Priya Dutt's major opponent, Madhukar Sarpotdar of the Shiv Sena. Here's a post-election reminder.

On January 11, 1993, he was seized by the Indian Army.

Yes, the Army. On that January night, when riots were raging all over this city, an Army column on patrol stopped a jeep in Nirmal Nagar, one of the worst-hit parts of the city. There were seven men in the jeep: Sarpotdar and his son Atul were two. The jeep also contained two hockey sticks, two choppers and two other sticks. There were also three revolvers. Two were unlicensed.

At the time, the mere possession of an unlicensed weapon in a so-called "notified area" was an offence under Section 5 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, better known as TADA, then in force. Because of widespread rioting, all of Bombay had been declared a notified area. For just carrying those unlicensed weapons, Sarpotdar should have been arrested and punished under TADA.

That didn't happen. The Army turned him over to the police, who released him.

On March 12 1993, bomb blasts went off around the city. In the course of their investigations into them, the Bombay Police examined various suspects over the next few weeks. On April 12 1993, the newspaper Afternoon reported:
    The Bombay Police have stumbled upon the names of several film personalities [and politicians] who owned illegal arms allegedly supplied by the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. ... Interrogation of suspects in connection with the bomb blasts has thrown up names of film personalities such as Sanjay Dutt ... The suspects have also named Shiv Sena MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar among nine politicians who acquired arms from the D-gang or its henchmen. The arms were mainly sophisticated revolvers, valued at Rs 150,000 each, according to police sources.

On April 19, Sanjay Dutt was arrested under TADA. That day, then Chief Minister Sharad Pawar broke the news of Dutt's arrest in the Maharashtra Assembly. The Indian Express (April 20) reported that Pawar told the Assembly:
    The suspect who named Sanjay had during the interrogation revealed several other names including that of Madhukar Sarpotdar.

The Times of India put it this way:
    Those who were arrested earlier had mentioned various names in their statements, including that of Mr Madhukar Sarpotdar, Mr Pawar said.

Aside: Appearing before the Srikrishna inquiry into the riots, Sarpotdar commented on things discussed in the Assembly. From Justice Srikrishna's report: "[Sarpotdar] claims that once [an issue] was raised on the floor [of the Assembly] there was no need to give any evidence as it is considered to be authentic."

Thus by his own submission, we must accept as authentic what Pawar had to say about him in April 1993. End of Aside.

Sanjay Dutt was arrested and charged under TADA, and has spent the last decade being tried in the bomb blast case. The man named in the same investigations as Sanjay was, a man apprehended earlier for his doings during the riots, has not had anything like that happen to him. Instead, he won election to Parliament in 1996 and 1998, and has just run for election to Parliament again.

***

Also held on Saturday was another election, to the Assembly, in Malvan. This one became necessary because the incumbent, Narayan Rane, switched parties some months ago. He left the Shiv Sena and joined the Congress.

Campaigning for this election was filled with violence and threats. Which is only about what you might have expected, given the people involved. Rane has also since won the seat, by a huge margin. The Shiv Sena candidate, Parshuram Uparkar, totted up about a fifth of Rane's votes and lost his deposit.

Yet should this be cause for jubilation for the Congress and its faithful? Hardly. As a Shiv Sainik, Rane was an accused in the murder of a Congress worker called Sridhar Naik in 1991. While he was later discharged in this case, he has never shaken off the persistent questions about it and other cases. (See here for a brief examination of all this).

As Govindraj Ethiraj wrote some months ago here, citizens of this city need greater protection from Mr Rane and his family members rather than the other way round.

***

Indian democracy. The great fight against terrorism. Gotta love it all. I'll hold the applause, thank you.

1 comment:

Nikhil said...

Could not have said it better. However what are people like Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam - die-hard Shiv sainiks doing in the 'secular' congress. Both these worthies have not quit the Sena because of its communal nature but due to other factors. But they seem to have become secular all of a sudden. This is what I called 'secularism' going berserk.
Moreover how can one talk of rule of law when people like Sarpotdar and Rane are running for office?