Mumbai, Nov. 28: Sanjay Dutt’s long nightmare in the Bombay blasts case began with a midnight knock on film producer Hanif Kadawala’s doors.
A month had passed after the March 12 explosions and police had by then realised that the big fish had got away.
On April 11, routine questioning of suspect Baba Musa Chauhan threw up the names of Magnum Video owners Kadawala and Samir Hingora and their links with Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees.
Grilled by the police, the producers mentioned Sanjay’s name and provided a purported account of how an AK-56 rifle had been delivered to him by Abu Salem in January when Mumbai was in the grip of communal riots.
The next day, the then city police chief, A.S. Samra, stunned the nation by saying Sanjay would be questioned.
Sanjay was in Mauritius to shoot for Sanjay Gupta’s Aatish when he got a whiff of the Mumbai developments. On April 13, he called Samra and offered to cancel the shoot and rush to Mumbai. Samra advised him to finish his schedule.
Sanjay was detained as soon as he arrived in Mumbai on April 19. A day later, he allegedly confessed to obtaining an AK rifle and 9mm pistol from Salem after speaking to Anees, but insisted that they were meant for self-defence.
He explained he had been worried about the safety of his family, particularly his actor-MP father Sunil Dutt, during the December-January riots. Congressman Sunil and his neighbour, actor Dilip Kumar, had sheltered riot-hit Muslim families at their Pali Hill bungalows. Some Right-wing groups had branded Sunil “pro-Muslim”, threatened him and tried to attack him.
“When I sought help from the police, they were not co-operative,” Sanjay said.
He claimed that after the riots had ended, he tried to return the AK-56 to Kadawala and Hingora but they were reluctant to take it back.
Sanjay was arrested under the now-repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and spent 15 days behind bars before getting bail on May 5. The arrest brought Bollywood under suspicion of underworld links. The Shiv Sena and the BJP burnt Sanjay’s effigies and stalled the release of his film Kshatriya.
What added fuel to the fire was the pre-release publicity of Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak in which Sanjay played a baddie.
After getting bail, Sanjay returned to finish his incomplete films that were worth Rs 70 crore. The blasts probe was soon transferred to the CBI.
In June 1994, the hearings began in a makeshift courtroom inside Arthur Road jail. On July 4, designated Tada judge J.N. Patel cancelled Sanjay’s interim bail, and the actor spent over a year in jail.
A Tada review panel set up by the Sharad Pawar government recommended that the conspiracy charges against Sanjay and four of his friends be dropped.
In December 1994, Sunil turned to Bal Thackeray for help. In August 1995, the CBI said it had no objection to Sanjay getting bail but judge Patel would not relent.
Sunil moved the Supreme Court which, on October 16, 1995, ordered Sanjay’s release. Two days later, when the actor finally left Thane central jail for home, he didn’t forget to stop at Matoshree and touch Thackeray’s feet.