Remember Sanjay Dutt, the film star? If you do, you may also remember that in late 2006, he was found guilty under the Arms Act, the charge being possession of a deadly weapon. This was at the end of the trial of the accused in the bomb blasts of March 12 1993. Dutt was first arrested in April 1993, after investigations into the blasts had thrown up his name.
Consider three excerpts from news reports of the time about the investigations and Dutt's arrest:
* "Top stars, MLAs got arms from Dawood" (Afternoon Despatch & Courier, April 12 1993): "The Bombay Police have stumbled upon the names of several film personalities, MLAs and corporators, who owned illegal arms allegedly supplied by the underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim. The arms were either gifted by Dawood or sold to these persons at cheap rates. 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 his henchmen. The arms were mainly sophisticated revolvers, valued at Rs 1.5 lakh each, according to police sources."
* "Sanjay Dutt arrested" (Indian Express, April 20 1993): [Chief Minister Sharad Pawar told the Maharashtra Legislative Council that] "the suspect who named Sanjay had during the interrogation revealed several other names including that of [Shiv Sena MLA] Madhukar Sarpotdar. But we have not pressed charges against all."
* "Sanjay Dutt held under TADA" (Times of India, April 20 1993): "Sanjay came under a cloud when his name cropped up during the interrogation of two film distributors. Samir Hingora and Hanif Lakdawalla … had reportedly indicated that one of the three AK-56 assault rifles they had procured had been sold to Sanjay. ... [They] earlier had mentioned various names, including that of Mr Madhukar Sarpotdar, Mr Pawar said [in the Legislative Council], but Mr Sarpotdar's house was also not searched."
So let's get this straight: Madhukar Sarpotdar was named in the same investigation that revealed Sanjay Dutt's name, by the same people who named Dutt, for the same act of buying arms from them. And this was announced in the state Assembly by none other than the then-Chief Minister of the state.
Despite this, Madhukar Sarpotdar was never charged for violating the Arms Act, as Sanjay Dutt was charged, tried and convicted in 2006.
Consider next what Sarpotdar was doing on the night of Monday January 11 1993, two months before the blasts. In their essay "A City at War With Itself" from the book When Bombay Burned, Clarence Fernandez and Naresh Fernandes wrote these lines:
* "[T]he Army detained the Shiv Sena MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar in the troubled suburb of Nirmal Nagar late on Monday night and searched his car to find two revolvers and several other weapons ... Travelling with Sarpotdar was his son Atul, carrying an unlicensed Spanish revolver. Though Sarpotdar had a license for his gun, he too was breaking the law by carrying it during the riots. Also in the car was one Anil Parab. [T]he police commissioner [refused] to indicate whether this man was the notorious gangster of the same name, the hitman of the Dawood gang."
So not only did Hingora and Lakdawalla say they had sold guns to Sarpotdar, but during the riots, Sarpotdar was actually detained by the Army while he was carrying guns about in a riot-hit area. Now because of the rioting, the entire city had been declared a "notified area" at the time. The mere possession of an unlicensed weapon in a notified area was an offence under Section 5 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, then in force.
Despite this too, Sarpotdar was never charged for this either, whether under TADA or under the Arms Act.
But there's more. There are wheels and more wheels within, never doubt it. In November 2006, the Mumbai Sessions Court awarded life imprisonment to a man who, in 1984, had shot a witness dead in a court in Andheri. Two other bullets he fired left two policemen in the court injured, and he was also accused of other crimes, including the murder of his own wife.
Here's an excerpt from a report about his 2006 sentence:
* "Justice delayed, but delivered!" (Afternoon Despatch and & Courier, November 7 2006): "[I]n 1985 [he] got out on bail to gain in stature as a dreaded gangster whose name figured in many deadly crimes. He escaped to Dubai sometime in the late 80s and was heard of having become the mainstay of the Dawood gang. He was also seen on television with Dawood and Sharad Shetty. However, in late 1990, he fell apart with Dawood. ... [He was found] guilty of charges under Section 307 IPC read with Section 3, 25 (1-B) (a) of Indian Arms Act, sentencing him to life imprisonment."
Who was this man? Anil Parab. Yes, the same name the man the Army found with Sarpotdar in Nirmal Nagar on January 11 1993.
Both in 1996 and 1998, Sarpotdar ran for election to the Lok Sabha from the Mumbai Northwest constituency. Detained by the Army with arms he might have been, but a MP he became, winning both times. During his term, he testified before the Srikrishna Commission that was inquiring into the riots. One day in 1996, I was in the High Court listening to his testimony, growing steadily more sickened by his responses to the judge. At the lunch break, I couldn't help myself. I walked up and tapped Sarpotdar on the shoulder. "I am ashamed," I told him, "to have you as my MP."
Sarpotdar's face twisted in fury, as did those of several of his aides, who surrounded and harangued me. When he could speak again, Sarpotdar fired these words at me: "Just come outside, I'll see about you!"
Now I don't mean to suggest that Sarpotdar did not face the long arm of the law. He did. He was charged, under Section 153A of the IPC, with inciting violence during the riots. On July 9 2008, a city court found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to a year in prison.
But within days, he had secured bail. He never served that one-year sentence. In Hinduja hospital on February 20, 2010, Madhukar Sarpotdar died.
The wheels of Indian justice. Seventeen years, going nowhere.