Former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar has said the then prime minister Narasimha Rao backed his decision to reject 1993 Mumbai blasts mastermind Dawood Ibrahim’s conditional offer of surrender, a statement that comes at a time when authorities are making fresh efforts to catch the fugitive gangster.
In his memoir, On My Terms: From the Grassroots to the Corridors of Power, the former Union minister also claims that the Pakistani military had instructed their collaborators in Mumbai to “eliminate” him because of his success in preventing communal riots in the city following the deadly bombings that killed over 350 people.
Two days after the blasts, Rao called up Pawar, who was chief minister at the time, and advised him to upgrade his personal security as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had intercepted conversations in which a Pakistani army officer was instructing a henchman in Mumbai to kill him, the NCP chief says.
Pawar has also pointed fingers at the Congress “first family” for instigating a section of party men to speak up against him, thickening the “cloud of suspicion” about his links with the underworld kingpin, India’s most-wanted man, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Congress spokespersons refused to comment on the charges.
However, former party leader and Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told HT, “I don’t know what he has said about Dawood Ibrahim but his claim that he was denied prime ministership in 1991 by Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi because she did not want someone with an independent mind is far-fetched. She was neither an MP nor a member of the Congress party then. She did not even come to the party office. It’s silly to say that she influenced any decision then.”
The book was released on Thursday at a function to felicitate the Rajya Sabha member on his 75th birthday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were among a galaxy of leaders present on the occasion.
According to Pawar, when he was chief minister, former BJP leader and lawyer Ram Jethmalani had come to meet him with Dawood’s proposal— purportedly made over the phone from London— to surrender and face trial provided the Indian government agreed to his “conditions”.
Claiming that he had no role in the bomb blasts, the mobster wanted to be kept under house arrest and not in jail over fears of being “bumped off”.
He also had apprehensions about being subjected to third-degree torture in police custody.
“I then took up the issue with Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and he, too, concurred with our view. Since there was complete unanimity against entertaining Dawood’s pre-conditions, the issue did not go any further,” the NCP chief says in the memoir.
The probe into the blasts had produced “irrefutable evidence” about Pakistan’s involvement and Pawar disclosed the information at a meeting of the Congress party, of which he was a member at the time.
The next day, the Pakistani high commissioner called a press conference and levelled “wild allegation” about the CM’s “links with the underworld”.
Pawar writes that the cloud of suspicion seemed to swell as a section of Congressmen in Maharashtra came out against him openly. Among them was Sudhakarrao Naik who succeeded him as chief minister.
“Later, he (Naik) confessed to me candidly that the ‘higher ups’ in New Delhi had pushed him into saying and doing many things against me at the time,” Pawar says in the book.
“…all power within the Congress was traditionally centered around the First Family, the party president and the Prime Minister, in that order. If the moves against me were instigated there, what was the point in seeking ‘justice’ from the party high command?”
As Pawar has spoken of the then PM and Congress president Narasimha Rao in glowing terms in the autobiography, there is little ambiguity over who he meant were the “instigators”.