Until 5 am Thursday, two hours before he went to the gallows on his 53rd birthday, Yakub Memon was hopeful. The staff at the Nagpur Central Jail say the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict was counting on clemency.
By then, Yakub’s brother Suleman and cousin Usman, who met him for a few minutes on Wednesday afternoon and again in the evening after the Supreme Court rejected his petition, had already given up. They had returned to their hotel room, his words ringing in their ears: “Agar woh mujhe mere bhai ke gunahon ke liye sazaa de rahe hain, toh mujhe kabool hai. Par agar unko lagta hai ki mein gunehgar hoon aur sazaa de rahe hain, toh yeh galat hai. Main bekasoor hoon (If they are punishing me for the sins of my brother, then I accept this verdict. But if they are punishing me because they think I was guilty, then it is wrong. I am innocent).”
At 2 am, a constable knocked on the doors of Suleman and Usman’s hotel room. He handed a letter — it was the official intimation of the execution scheduled for 7 am.
In New Delhi, the Supreme Court was being opened in the dead of night to hear a final plea for a stay on the execution.
Still awaiting word, the jail staff began the process. At 3 am, duty personnel went to Yakub’s cell to wake him up for a bath. He was already up, sitting and waiting.
Not more than 10 officials — these included the jail superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, medical officer and the hangman — were present in the section where he was to be hanged. An executive magistrate, deputed by the district magistrate, too was there, co-signatory to the death warrant.
Yakub knew he was to be hanged when the magistrate spoke to him — what was said is still not known. Around 4 am, he was served upma for breakfast but, sources said, he did not touch it. A birthday cake his family had sent never reached him. He then read the Quran.
At 6.10 am, his plea dismissed, he was taken to the gallows. In accordance with jail manual guidelines, the rope drop was fixed at 7 feet.
Exactly at 7 am — not a minute earlier, an official said — Yakub was hanged.
The medical officer pronounced him dead and the body was taken for a post-mortem examination. The entire execution exercise was videographed.
At 8.40 am, the body was handed over to his family. It was flown to Mumbai on an IndiGo flight around 11 am — two jail officials, a police inspector and constable accompanied Suleman and Usman.
On Wednesday, as he ran out of options, Yakub looked to Rashtrapati Bhavan for a last-minute reprieve. “He stood in the visitors’ hall, discussing the legal recourse still available to him. He asked to include a fresh ground — of surrender — in the mercy plea to be filed before the President. He kept discussing this detail during the meeting with his family and lawyer,” a relative said.
“He kept repeating he had wilfully surrendered, that the CBI had taken undue credit for it. He kept saying that former R&AW officer B Raman’s account was true, that it needed to be appended to his plea. It was on his insistence that stories and press clippings found space as annexures in the plea. That was his way of telling the President his side of the story,” the relative said.
Suleman and Usman met Yakub for a second time Wednesday. For 10 minutes in the evening after the Supreme Court order. But he was not willing to “confront reality”.
“They told him it was the end of the road for him. He kept repeating he was innocent, that legal options were still available, that he had not lost faith in the judiciary,” a source said.
Hours after his execution, it was learnt that Yakub bequeathed his share of the Memon ancestral property and his earnings before 1993 in equal parts to his wife Rahin and daughter Zubeida. Jail authorities said a letter written in English by Yakub is his written will, the last document exchanged between him and his family.
It also emerged that while a last-ditch bid was being made in the early hours of Thursday in the Supreme Court to stay his execution, phones kept ringing in the jail.
Earlier, in the countdown to the execution, calls had been exchanged between the office of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Director General of Police Sanjeev Dayal and Mumbai Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria.
With the body to be handed over to the family after the execution, the chief minister’s office asked the police top brass to make plans for the funeral procession and burial. One official said final changes to the security protocol were suggested by the Chief Minister himself. The state set aside Rs 20 lakh for the execution exercise, including airfare for family members and funeral arrangements.
A constable was asked to take Yakub’s measurements for new clothes. “On Wednesday, after the Supreme Court turned down his final plea and cleared the way for the execution, a new set of white kurta-pyjama was bought by the jail staff. We knew the size and a constable was told to purchase the clothes from a local shop,” an official said.
The hangman, it was said, had been conducting rehearsals for the hanging for two days.