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I read news today, oh boy...

It was not Sanjay Dutt alone who was found concealing firearms. There were others too who were caught in the act but got away unscathed, writes Dilip D'Souza.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2006 03:19 IST

The things you learn by reading the papers... Film star Sanjay Dutt was arrested in April 1993, after investigations into the bomb blasts a month earlier had thrown up his name. Consider three excerpts about him from press reports that month:

‘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’ (The 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’ (The 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, proprietors of Magnum Video, had reportedly indicated that one of the three AK-56 assault rifles they had procured had been sold to Sanjay. ... Those who were arrested 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.”

After a trial lasting 12 years, the Tada court trying the 1993 bomb blasts case has just found Sanjay Dutt guilty under the Arms Act, of the charge of possessing a deadly weapon. He was not found guilty of being involved in the bomb blasts conspiracy. (In fact, the judge explicitly told Dutt that he was not a terrorist).

With that in mind, consider now what those news reports tell us: that Madhukar Sarpotdar had been named in the same investigation that uncovered Sanjay Dutt’s name. That he had been named by the same people who named Dutt, for the same act of buying arms from them. That we were informed about this in 1993, on the day of Dutt’s arrest, by no less an authority than the then Chief Minister of this state.

Consider that despite all this, Madhukar Sarpotdar has never been tried, as Dutt has been tried and now found guilty.

Why would this be?

Frankly, I have no idea. But what was Sarpotdar upto on the night of Monday, January 11, 1993, two months before the bomb blasts, three months before the news reports excerpted above? Taken from A City at War With Itself by Clarence Fernandez and Naresh Fernandes, in the book When Bombay Burned, here’s a reminder:

“[The] 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 company was one Anil Parab. [The] police commissioner [refused] to indicate whether this man was the notorious gangster of the same name, the hitman of the Dawood gang."

Consider again, that Sanjay Dutt's offence, for which he was tried and has now been found guilty, was his possession of an AK-56 in a notified area. Consider that Sarpotdar was actually detained by the army during the riots and found in possession of a gun: the same offence Dutt was accused of. That is, not only did the men under investigation say they had sold guns to both Dutt and Sarpotdar; but during the riots, Sarpotdar was actually detained by the army while he was carrying guns about in public.

Yes, Sarpotdar has never been tried. Add one twist to all this. In early November this year, the Mumbai sessions court awarded life imprisonment to a certain man. In June 1984, this man had walked into the metropolitan magistrate’s court in Andheri and shot a witness dead. Two more bullets he fired injured two policemen who were present in the court. He was also accused in various other cases, including the murder of his own wife.

Here’s an excerpt from a report about his sentence:

‘Justice delayed, but delivered!’ (Afternoon Despatch and &Courier, November 7, 2006): “[In] 1985 [he] got out on bail to gainin stature as a dreaded gangster whose name figured in many deadly crimes. He escaped to Dubai sometime in the late Eighties 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 the Indian Arms Act, sentencing him to life imprisonment.”

And what was the name of this man who was convicted only weeks before Sanjay Dutt was? Anil Parab.

Yes, the same name as one of the men in a vehicle near Nirmal Nagar during the riots in early 1993. The things you can learn from the papers.

Dilip D'Souza is a former computer scientist and author ofThe Narmada Dammed

First Published: Dec 11, 2006 03:19 IST