I don’t think there was a single Indian who did not want Ajmal Kasab, the lone captured terrorist from the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, to be hanged. But India is neither Pakistan nor a banana republic. It is not even one of those Latin American or Southeast Asian nations where you could be executed after a summary trial. The wheels of justice may grind slowly here but they do grind surely. In Kasab’s case there was never any doubt that he had been involved in the attacks and would be held guilty.
So I wonder why the public prosecutor (PP) in the case, Ujjwal Nikam, had to attempt to influence the minds of the judge and the public with a cooked up statement that Kasab had asked for mutton biryani in jail. We all bought into that falsehood, so much so that ‘biryani’ has now become synonymous with a Pakistani terrorist.
I must admit I too was outraged and had then suggested that rather than biryani, Kasab should be fed sorpotel on a Friday instead. The idea was not original; Israelis regularly feed their Muslim terrorists pork chops to deliberately violate their dreams of attaining jannat.
But now Nikam says that Kasab had never made such a demand, he just made up that story to divert the minds of the people. Divert from what? There was no Indian who had wanted Kasab spared and I have no doubt that the Pakistani terrorist got a fair trial: The case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court but every judge held him guilty. Had it not been such an open-and-shut case, Nikam could well have been accused of bringing his prejudices to bear on the trial and that is the most awful thing for a PP to be.
The case was first offered to Rohini Salian, one of India’s finest PPs, who had by then tried several terrorist-related cases, including those of Bollywood stars hobnobbing with dons/terrorists. She had been relentless in her trials and spared no one. But she turned down the Kasab trial because she had stood on the streets of Colaba and watched the attacks on Leopold Cafe and Chabad House and had been hopping mad at what she had seen. She did not want that prejudice to influence the trial and the case went to Nikam.
Now she describes his confession about making up the biryani story as “even more stupid” than the original lie for this would surely lead to a loss of credibility — the trial is over and Kasab has been justly hanged, so a judicial reprimand is unlikely. But judges in Bombay have known about Nikam’s hunger to win every case and now they are unlikely to take his exhortations seriously. Even court reporters are now beginning to put two and two together and sharing notes on how Nikam allegedly planted juicy titbits on them not just in the Kasab case but even in the Shakti Mills rape case where he tried to influence the victim to remove her chappals and beat up the accused in court. He even allegedly tried to have her flimsy slippers replaced with sturdy shoes for better impact. But she was too afraid to do that and Nikam lost an opportunity to appear on TV again.
Nikam has always been a publicity hound, politically influential and opinionated. But what shocks me now is that as a PP he would so brazenly violate the Constitution to influence cases that are important for India. Kasab had to be hanged, the Shakti Mills rapists too needed exemplary punishment. There was no room for doubt in both; so why did he try to influence their outcome? But now Nikam, who probably made the biryani confession out of another bout of hunger for publicity, seems to have shot himself in his own foot. Who will ever take him seriously again?