Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, talks about how she got the case from Hemant Karkare, the NIA’s message from higher-ups and her despair.
Since when have you been handling the Malegaon blast case of 2008?
I have been representing the state of Maharashtra since day one, when the case was being investigated by Hemant Karkare as chief of ATS. There was a notification put out appointing me as special public prosecutor immediately after the blast. After 26/11, NIA was constituted and the case was handed over to it. Before that the chargesheet against the 12 accused had already been filed. They also gave in writing that I should continue after NIA took over.
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Given that you had resigned from being a public prosecutor in 2007, how did you come to represent the government in this 2008 case?
It was on Hemant Karkare’s insistence. When he called me to take over, I told him that I had just given this up after seven years and I was fed up. But he said, “No madam, you go through the papers.” His voice was shaking and he sounded very disturbed. Then I heard that the accused were all Hindus and I was surprised… From morning to evening I read the papers. I was shocked. I started crying and got emotionally upset. In that matter I also got to know about Samjhauta and Modasa. I started to talk to Karkare and was with him till 7 pm on 26/11 after deciding on the next day’s meeting too.
Long after his death, we were all very upset. Then one day I went to ATS and shouted at the police — what are we doing, we have to make that soul happy, let us go ahead. I told the officers, one thing we are going to do — not a single drop more or less — we have to be very impartial in the chargesheet. Rarely would you come across such a chargesheet, so tough, so complicated and intricate. Only later did we understand the story; initially we were not understanding.
What was in the case papers that was so shocking?
There are conversations, kept in the laptop of Shankaracharya (Sudhakar Dwivedi). He used to record the conversation in secret meetings on his laptop, sometimes visuals too. I asked Karkare, why is he recording? He is a plant. He wants to show it to someone, a conspiracy hatched in the dark. From those conversations we got to know the actual story, they wanted a central Hindu rashtra, they don’t recognise the Constitution of India, had their own constitution written, their own flag — even their Bharat Mata was an armed one.
How has the case progressed?
Till now the various bail applications, application of MCOCA was on. Finally, two months ago it was decided the case should be transferred to a special court with a special judge. So back to square one — very haphazard order. Now NIA needs to appoint a special judge and the specially constituted court and the trial will commence.
When did you get the feeling that you are being asked to go slow?
Last year I got a call from one of the officers of the NIA, asking to come over to speak to me. He didn’t want to talk over the phone. He came and said there is a message that I should go soft. I told him I will always support the cause of justice. Then, when we got our date for the MCOCA hearing. A day before our day when Mr Mariar Puttam, a senior counsel, was to appear for us, an additional general from the state of Maharashtra came and said, “You cannot appear for us.” He started nudging Mariar.
Then another additional general for the state, Anil Singh, came and said he will appear for the state and Mariar cannot. Both started to nudge Mariar — in the open court, both were nudging him. I am sitting behind him. I told Mariar not to appear. It was so insulting. Mariar finally got up and said to the judge, “Your lordship may decide. This is my instruction. I may be allowed to go out.” The judge said you have been here for many months, we would like to hear you. He was heard, our affidavit taken. But the way NIA and the state of Maharashtra nudged him showed something very fishy. If they were treating a senior counsel like that, I knew then something was seriously wrong. Ultimately the order came, the judgment given. It was horrible; after the order came no one called me. NIA hasn’t called me till today to discuss. They were so unhappy because MCOCA was retained.
Then on June 12, the same officer came and said there are instructions from higher-ups; someone else will appear instead of you. I said very good — I was expecting this, was waiting for this, good you told me up front, please settle my bills. You brought the notification, I didn’t ask, I did it all free. Now get me denotified so that I can appear against NIA in future in other matters. He must have conveyed this but not heard from them; I am now waiting. They haven’t yet taken me out of the notification appointing me special pubic prosecutor for the state of Maharashtra.
Who was the NIA officer who met you?
I would not like to name him. He is very senior. But I have nothing against him. He is just the messenger.
Have you seen a clear shift since the new government came in?
Yes, yes, throughout.
Why would they do this?
If you see my record, all favourable orders for the state. Hardly any gone against, except for these few bail applications… So the meaning very clearly was, don’t get us favourable orders. Unfavourable orders invited — that goes against society. I have a reputation; it’s not my baap ka raj. It’s an onerous duty.
When is the next hearing?
I don’t know about the next hearing. I did not appear. Don’t know what happened, this hearing was just for a date and that the matter should come before a special court. They may want everything new, a new prosecutor, that’s their headache.
Did the earlier government exert pressure on you?
P Chidambaram has seen every paper of the case but never pressurised anyone. But he was following — he used to call for papers, I used to send him notes; he himself is an advocate. I never met him.
Why are you asking to be denotified?
I want to come out clean. I don’t want any pressure. I have no inclination towards any party, any politician. I am a pucca Hindu. Hindu means what? You should be straight, not have bias against anyone — Hindus, anyone who commits an offence, is an offender. I am now in the midst of the Mulund blast – three matters clubbed together and 141 witnesses (examination) now over — in that, all are Muslims. Same with the Ghatkopar blasts. I have been appearing in blast cases from the beginning because I was with TADA and MCOCA Even for the (Lt Col) Purohit hearings the judge in the high court would be very careful — when I argued the case, he would drive everyone away, ask the clerk to shut the door. The Ulema had also engaged an advocate to see whether I am okay or not. Finally when they heard my arguments, they said they were happy and didn’t want to add to that.