Editor’s note: This March 2007 article has been republished from the Express Archives following the TADA court’s verdict convicting six of the seven accused, Friday afternoon.
Badshah Khan may not have the trappings of his Bollyood namesake, but he is a hero in no lesser sense. Today, he might be seeking a living selling sheekh kebabas and parathas in suburban Versova, but had it not been for him, the investigations into the March 12, 1993 blasts would have taken a different course.
It’s been 14 years since then, but Badshah Khan, now 40, still lives with fear and anxiety. “My family and children still face threats. The government has done nothing to help me,” says the man who spilled the beans and diverted the course of action into the blasts. (The lack of a Witness Protection Programme in the country is what dims the possibility of having more Badshah Khans come to the fore.)
Back in 1993, despite the scores of arrests, the conspiracy part of the blasts could not be concretised until Badshah Khan came into the picture. Rakesh Maria the cop who investigated the case is still impressed with Khan’s sharpness and memory. While Maria’s skills are his investigative powers he commends Khan for his memory, who put together all the pieces of the puzzle—from the diversion of the Islamabad-bound PIA flight to Lahore for an ailing passenger to recollecting the exact names, numbers and graphic details of the blast kingpin and Tiger Memon’s gameplan.
“The incident is still fresh and vivid in my memory as if it happened yesterday,” says Maria, who was 35 at the time and held forte as a deputy commissioner of police (DCP), zone-IV. He was initially drawn into the investigation by sheer coincidence but his skills soon got him the top job. Rakesh Maria had unravelled the blasts conspiracy in no time.
The case was cracked in 48 hours flat courtesy an unexploded scooter at Dadar and an abandoned Maruti van at Worli.
However, Maria chooses to be modest, “I was plain lucky”. The Mumbai police needed the same luck when he was summoned exactly after a decade to investigate the twin blasts of Zaveri Bazar and Gateway of India in 2003. Maria cracked it once again with the same chutzpah and panache.
At 49 now, Maria’s skills are misplaced as the special inspector general of police (IG) — training, biding his time in constabulary recruitment in the state police. Since the investigations, Maria got 2 promotions and 5 transfers.
In retrospect, Maria feels that the Muslim youths who take to terrorism are a misguided lot. “We should send across a message to them —that a single mindless act is enough to shatter the lives of their family too.”
The CBI eventually took over the investigation and cut down the paperwork to expedite the trial. “The Mumbai police had made a list of over 3,500 witnesses, while we pruned it to 686, which is less than one-fifth of the total number. If it took 14 years with these many witnesses; the trial could have continued for 70 years if we had gone ahead with the original list,” observes DSP in the Special Task Force of the Central Bureau of Investigation Raman Tyagi.
Another factor that cut down the trial time was a prudent decision taken by STF CBI, chief, Omprakash Chatwal. Instead of proving the death of 257 people and injuries to 713 people, Chatwal cut down the number to 2 deaths and 2 injured per site. In cases such as this — proving every death becomes a long winding process. This not only facilitated prosecution but also expedited the trial.