Sharad Pawar had lied. And he lied quite blatantly. When the serial blasts went off in Bombay in 1993, he told reporters there had been 13 blasts, instead of the 12 we had located. We kept chasing our tails to find evidence of the 13th blast at Masjid Bunder as he had claimed but were distracted by the other follow ups in the aftermath of the blasts.
It was almost a decade later, after he ceased to be chief minister when he admitted to me, in an interview to the Hindustan Times, that he had lied to prevent a conflagration. He did not choose Masjid Bunder without reason and he dropped ample hints, before the police cracked the case a few weeks later that 'it looks like the handiwork of some Sri Lankan terrorists'. That was to defuse the attention of Hindu extremists, notably the Shiv Sena, who might have targeted the minority community, as they had done soon after the demolition of the Babri masjid leading to one of the country's worst riots in December 1992 and January 1993. By the time the police discovered the hand of Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon behind the blasts, tempers had cooled and the city had limped back to normalcy. One must credit Pawar for his farsightedness and for saving innocent lives that might have otherwise been lost in another conflagration.
So while I have been a bitter critic of Pawar's politics over the years, if I have to choose between him and the word of a defender of killers, assassins and rapists, I would rather go for the former.
For, Ram Jethmalani was being disingenuous when he attempted to put Pawar in the dock over Dawood's offer to surrender after the 1993 serial blasts. Jethmalani was clearly attempting to advance the common perception that Pawar had a motive in protecting Dawood and not allowing him to come to India to face trial.
I buy Pawar's explanation that he could not have accepted the conditions of the surrender--that Dawood should not be thrown into jail but allowed to stay at home. Given the atmosphere prevailing then, can one not imagine what would have happened if Pawar had accepted those terms of surrender?
He was already facing much disrepute for allowing two criminals to travel in his official aircraft from Bombay to Delhi when he was Union defence minister. Add to that the fact that he had given Congress tickets to two criminals, Pappu Kalani and Hitendra Thakur. When they were caught by the police, Pawar had called then CM Sudhakarrao Naik asking him to restrain the cops from giving them the third degree.
Under the circumstances had he given Dawood those soft terms, Pawar could have been crucified by all and sundry.
Pawar's problem has always been one of articulation--he is not nuanced when he speaks either English or Hindi. I remember how the story about his being soft on Dawood came floating around. I was present at his press conference at Varsha where a reporter asked him if Dawood's properties would be attached by the government pending his deportation to India. "There are no properties to attach,'' he said in English. What Pawar should have stressed is that all of Dawood's properties were benami and there was no legal means of seizing them. But that cryptic one-liner got him into trouble with the media going to town with the impression that he was protecting the don.
Pawar has never been able to overcome that reputation. And Jethmalani was only milking it for all it was worth.
The views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @sanandan.)