When the police first heard Sanjay Dutt's name in connection with the Mumbai blasts, the first reaction was disbelief.

Babri Masjid and Mumbai blasts How the cops zeroed in on Bollywood star Sanjay DuttPTI
Features Book Excerpt Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 11:10

By Yasser Usman

On 6 December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. There were large-scale protests across the nation, some peaceful, some violent. The demolition changed Mumbai forever. It triggered communal riots – mobs were on the rampage with the intent to kill.  The riots took place in two phases: from 7 to 27 December 1992 and then, after a brief lull, from 7 to 15 January 1993.

Sunil Dutt, then a Lok Sabha MP from the Mumbai North West constituency, was involved in the relief work. The Dutt house was turned into a kind of relief centre from where trucks laden with food and medicines would be dispatched to people in need. But Sunil’s efforts were being undermined by his political rivals, especially the Shiv Sena. ‘People claimed Dad was only helping Muslims; and so gave his work a communal slant. But it wasn’t true,’ recalled Priya. ‘We started getting threatening phone calls. The situation got worse by the hour.’ Sanjay later said that he would sit up all night with a gun, waiting for a mob to arrive, and that their complaints to the police were of little help.

When the Congress government of Maharashtra was unable to control the violence, Sunil Dutt, a Congressman himself, protested by resigning from the Lok Sabha in January 1993. But his resignation was not accepted. Instead, Sunil’s opposition backfired and strengthened his political opponents in the Congress. For years to come he would be looked at with suspicion by fellow Congressmen. Ironically, it was during this period that Sunil would desperately need political clout to help his son.  In 1992–93, Sanjay was at the peak of his career. Friday is an important day in the film industry, the day of the week that new films are released. It is often said that a Friday can make or break a star’s career.

Friday, 12 March 1993, would turn out to be the darkest, worst day of Sanjay’s life – though he didn’t have a release that day. Mumbai was struck by a series of devastating blasts that Friday. Sanjay was in Jaipur with Priya, shooting for Sultan Ahmed’s dacoit drama Jai Vikraanta. It was there that they heard about the serial blasts – twelve bombs had exploded within a span of two hours and ten minutes, bringing Mumbai to a stop. 

The city was torn apart – 257 people lost their lives and 713 were injured. Sanjay and Priya frantically called up family and close friends to make sure everyone was all right. After their stay in Jaipur, Priya went back to Mumbai. On 2 April 1993, Sanjay left for Mauritius to shoot the climax of Sanjay Gupta’s Aatish. Meanwhile, Mumbai was in utter chaos. The police were desperate to crack the conspiracy that led to the blasts.

Inquiries and arrests were being made every day. Investigations soon revealed that the brutal attacks had been planned by Dawood Ibrahim, India’s ‘most wanted’ fugitive living in Pakistan. How did Dawood do this? By shipping consignments of RDX, AK-56 rifles and hand grenades into the city to build bombs and arm petty criminals. Anis Ibrahim played an important role in arranging the safe landing of RDX in India.

Dawood was also aided by his trusted associate Tiger Memon. All of the main accused escaped either to Dubai or Pakistan before the blasts. On 11 April 1993, the police for the first time got wind of the fact that the conspiracy was also linked to Bollywood. The names of film producer duo Hanif–Samir cropped up in relation to the blasts. Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora used to run a company called Magnum Videos, which would buy rights to films and release them on video tape.

Later, the duo also entered film production and worked with Sanjay Dutt on Sanam, where he was cast opposite Manisha Koirala. Mumbai Police got to know that Hanif–Samir were linked to Anis. That night Hanif was called in for questioning to the Mahim police station, where he was grilled about his involvement in the blasts conspiracy. Hanif, at first, flatly denied playing any part in it.

Later, under persistent questioning, he made a shocking revelation: ‘You policemen always go behind small fish. Nothing can happen to people with means.’ ‘What are you saying?’ asked the police officer.  ‘If you really want to know something, then grab Sanjay,’ said Hanif.

‘Sanjay? Who is Sanjay?’ ‘Sanjay Dutt.’

The first reaction of the police, including lead investigating cop Rakesh Maria, was disbelief. How could Sanjay Dutt, a Bollywood superstar whose father was a popular politician of the ruling party in both Maharashtra and at the Centre, be involved in the violence that ripped Mumbai apart? What was the extent of his participation? The interrogations of Hanif, Samir and, as mentioned earlier, Baba Chauhan, suggested that Sanjay might have played some part in the blasts.

Their statements hinted at Sanjay’s proximity to Anis Ibrahim. Sanjay was perhaps aware of the fact that the arms and ammunition used in the serial blasts were being smuggled into the country. This was serious, and Sanjay owed an explanation.

On the evening of 12 April, at a press briefing on the progress of the case, Commissioner of Police Amarjeet Singh Samra told the media that the police had new leads. He said that Mumbai Police suspected the involvement of some people from the film industry. Samra, however, didn’t take Sanjay’s name. But the media knew that Hanif–Samir had been detained for questioning and that Sanjay was working with them on Sanam.

The next question from the press contingent was: ‘Is Sanjay Dutt also involved with Hanif–Samir?’ Samra perhaps hadn’t expected this question. In a controlled voice he said he couldn’t reveal much more as the police was yet to investigate Sanjay’s role. The next day, newspaper headlines highlighted Sanjay’s possible involvement in the blasts.

The country was abuzz with theories about Sanjay’s role and his meetings with Dawood and Anis in Dubai. Questions were also being raised on whether the police would be lenient with Sanjay given his father’s connections. Stories on the film industry and its links with Dawood Ibrahim and the underworld were also carried in the press. At that time Bollywood hadn’t yet been corporatized.

The impact of the underworld loomed large and films were funded in a big way by the ‘bhais’ or their cronies as a means to launder money. A large chunk of this business was remote-controlled by underworld dons from overseas. Sunil Dutt was in Hamburg, Germany, when the devastating news broke. He phoned Sanjay, who was still in Mauritius, and asked him if there was anything he needed to come clean about. Sanjay vehemently denied any involvement in the blasts.

Sunil then advised Sanjay to ‘come back immediately. He also asked me to call up Mr Samra,’ recalled Sanjay. As mentioned earlier, Sanjay called Samra and told him that he could cancel his shoot and come back immediately if needed. ‘Mr Samra told me no need to hurry. You finish your shoot and then come. I said I really mean it but he said come whenever you’re scheduled.’ Away from the mayhem, Sanjay was getting restless and his fear was beginning to show.

Early in the morning on 14 April, Baljeet Parmar, a crime reporter with the Mumbai tabloid Daily, received a call from Sanjay Dutt. Sanjay wanted to know about the police case against him. Baljeet recalled, ‘I told him that his friends Samir Hingora and Yusuf Nulwala had squealed on him. “Oh, my God,” said Dutt, and disconnected.

Two hours later, he called Sanjay Dutt again, wanting to know what was in store for him if he got caught. 'I told him that if he surrendered with the weapons, he would be charged under the Arms Act and could get bail. But if the police arrested him and recovered the weapons, he could be charged under Tada – without bail.’ Sanjay couldn’t concentrate on filming the climax of Aatish any longer. The news coming in from Mumbai was making him jittery.

On 16 April 1993, Daily carried an article by Baljeet Parmar that created a sensation with the headline ‘Sanjay has a gun’. The story revealed that Sanjay had acquired an AK-56 rifle from the D-Company and that he still possessed it. Parmar recalls, ‘The same evening I received a Rs 1 crore legal notice from Ram Jethmalani’s office, asking me to prove the facts or face consequences.’

Just when Sanjay had crossed the one crore signingamount mark with Khalnayak, his life and career were in serious jeopardy. Sunil Dutt rushed back to Mumbai on 17 April and told the police that Sanjay would be back on 19 April. 

Excerpted from ‘Sanjay Dutt The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy’, by Yasser Usman, published by Juggernaut in March 2018.

You can buy the book here.


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