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'Kasab's mood has changed on seeing the evidence'

By Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
June 18, 2009 14:47 IST
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For more than a decade, television cameras and the media have been following legal eagle Ujjwal Nikam. He has been the public prosecutor in many celebrated cases including the Mumbai serial blasts of March 12, 1993. He has successfully fought many serious criminal cases to ensure more than 600 life sentences and 30 death sentences for the accused, including terrorists and dreaded criminals.

Once again, the media-savvy lawyer is in the limelight because of the case related to the terror attacks in Mumbai last November. Nikam's prime aim is to make sure that Pakistan-born Ajmar Amir Kasab, the lone arrested terrorist, is proven guilty and awarded the harshest punishment under Indian law.

He spoke to's Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai recently.

How important is this case for you?

This case has international ramifications because the terrorists came from Pakistan. They had undergone all kinds of military training when they attacked Mumbai with certain objectives. So I am fully conscious that every Indian is eagerly waiting the outcome of this case. It is a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy. I will discharge my duty honestly and as per my ability.

Legally speaking, how strong is your case?

I take it as a challenge. I am not only establishing that Kasab killed many innocent people, but that the attack was due to a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan. I will like to establish with the help of irrefutable inference, logical deduction and other documentary evidence that certain groups in Pakistan are still plotting terrorist activities in India.

You faced a setback when (Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder) Hafez Saeed was released recently in Pakistan.

Saeed's release was not a setback for us. He has not been deported to India. If he would have been discharged by an Indian court then the matter would have been different.

He has been discharged in Pakistan and I am unaware what kind of evidence was produced by the Pakistan government. But we have substantial evidence to establish his involvement and links with Kasab.

But the charge-sheet does not have substantial evidence against Saeed except Kasab's confession which he has retracted.

Of course there is evidence in the charge-sheet. There is some evidence I would not like to disclose now. Besides the judicial confession of Kasab, we have other evidence to show that these terrorists came from Pakistan.

We have intercepted certain conversations and the transcripts have been authenticated and it clearly establishes who is the mastermind of the attack. Kasab's retraction hardly makes any difference. We have evidence that would establish that his retraction is an afterthought.

How does your evidence connect to Hafez Saeed?

Since the matter is sub judice I would not like to talk about it. I would like to present it in court.

What was your first reaction when you got this job?

I came to know about appointment through the media. Normally, the government takes consent before announcing it. For the first time in history my name was announced in the Maharashtra assembly.

I am not boasting, but the chief minister, home minister and even Opposition leaders agreed on my appointment. All politicians know that I am not going to bow down to any pressure.

I will stick to evidence. I don't like to fabricate evidence. I go by the facts of the case only.

In Mumbai people are aware of the Kasab trial. Many residents think you have an easy job because so many people saw Kasab killing innocent people.

I don't know why people say that it is an open and shut case. People said the same thing about Pravin Mahajan's case (Pravin Mahajan killed his brother, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pramod Mahajan). The prosecutor has to prove guilt with the help of circumstantial and documentary evidence.

See, Kasab took a stand that he is a juvenile. I had to prove him wrong with the help of medical evidence and other tests. Even though he was caught red handed it doesn't mean that it is an open and shut case.

We have to establish not only how Kasab killed but we have to establish how he is a party to the big criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan.

Since there are so many eyewitnesses, many thought you may not have to toil hard.

My job is not only to prove the guilt of the accused. I am representing society at large. I am not the spokesman of the police. My duty is to assist the court in the administration of justice.

Being a responsible public prosecutor it is my duty to assess the evidence collected by the investigating agency, to submit before the court and to find out what is the truth.

In the process if I find that there is something lacking in the investigation then I can instruct the investigating agency to probe the matter further.

When did you first see Kasab?

I saw him in court. He was laughing at that time. He perhaps must have recognised me. Then, I went near him and introduced myself. I told him, 'I am the public prosecutor. You are an accused. These are the charges that you are facing.' I talked to him in Hindi. He said, 'haan saab mujhe pata hai (I am aware, Sir)'.

I asked him if he has any problem with my appointment. He said he doesn't have any problem.

Kasab's physical appearance doesn't match the grave charges against him. Right?

He is a trained professional. He is an actor. He was trained by professional agencies. If you read his confessional statement, he has said he was trained by certain intelligence agencies. Now, he is pretending in court. He knows he can't behave rudely in the court room. He wants sympathy.

If you see his photograph taken at the CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus)then you will find what his real face is. Then he was in action. See those pictures and then, you will realise how Kasab has changed his face now.

How is this case different from the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts?

Both are quite different. In 1993, RDX was used for the first time. The major difference is that in 1993 the accused involved were Indians. Here the main conspirators are from Pakistan.

Isn't it quite different to have a Pakistani sitting in the box?

No, no. I don't make any distinction between a Pakistani and Indian. That Kasab is a Pakistani and so I am opposing him is an absolutely wrong notion. I only see if the accused has committed a crime or not irrespective of his nationality, his religion or his caste.

I only see if he has committed a crime or not and whether sufficient evidence is there or not. I am a public prosecutor. I don't get swayed away by any emotional or other hypocritical things.

Without sounding emotional we want to ask you that if one understands Islamic jihad and Al Qaeda in the region don't you think Kasab is a small pawn?

I agree that some people are deliberately brainwashing youth in Pakistan and they are targeting innocents. This is happening in Pakistan because of illiteracy and poverty. And it is done by some persons who hate India.

But, you see, I don't say that Kasab is only an instrument. Because, if you think of all that acts committed by Kasab and if you see his confessional statement where he says that on his own he would like to do these activities.

The defence lawyer (S G Abbas Kazmi) complains that many times he is not given enough time. Many times you object to his taking time.

I am sorry that this type of feeling is there in the mind of the defence lawyer. The court has given sufficient time to the defence lawyer.

The court has even adjourned the matter when the defence lawyer has wanted. On the contrary I never thought that the defence lawyer will dispute formal documents like the panchanama and post-mortem notes.

The deaths of people at the Oberoi and Taj hotels are not in dispute. But it is surprising that the defence lawyer didn't accept these formal documents.

But you know well that in the Afzal Guru case, the Supreme Court had said that at the level of the trial court itself formal documents should have been questioned.

You have misconstrued the law as laid down in the Parliament attack case. The Supreme Court has said that the defence lawyer accepted the formal documents. (His clients were the accused in that attack).

Kasab has not participated in the Oberoi or Taj attacks. There is no harm at all in admitting the formal documents of the Taj or Nariman case.

Do you want to say that people didn't die at all at the Oberoi or Taj? I can understand if the defence lawyer disputes his client's authorship of the crime but he is also disputing formal documents.

Now I am under constraint to examine all formal witnesses. We have examined more than 55 witnesses, I would like to examine 100 more witnesses. The crime branch of the Mumbai police is efficiently assisting me. I am happy to see that all the witnesses are ready to come forward and give evidence in court.

Let me tell you that there is no ill will in the minds of any of my witnesses against any accused. They say that if Kasab has committed a crime he must be punished.

In the 10,000-page chargesheet, what do you think is the clinching evidence that can nail the case?

Oh, there are so many facts and technical details. The GPS data retrieved by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other intercepted conversations and so many eye-witnesses. We have legal provisions to intercept the conversation.

How are the people of Mumbai reacting to the case?

When I go for my morning walk, common people whom I don't know tell me, 'Nikamsaab, namaskar! Case achcha chal raha hai! (The case is going on well).' That when I get job satisfaction.

Let me assure you that I will complete this trial in the next four to five months! I read the case files every day between 4 AM to 6 am. Then I go for my walk. Again from 9 am to 10.30 I meet police officers to discuss the case. In the evening, I watch television to see coverage of the case and also keep in touch with international developments.

Can we say that in this case there are not many legal issues but it is all about human emotions?

Absolutely wrong. You wait for my final arguments. You will realise the legal importance of the case. Emotion is a small part; I don't like to argue on emotional points.

I argue with help of the law and facts. Even new legal issues are there in the case. The use of satellite phones, global positioning system, and intercepted international conversations are new techniques that we are bringing as evidence. There are certain shortcomings and challenges to fight the case, but let the case get over then I will talk about it.

Do you find any change in Kasab?

Kasab is a very dramatic person. Initially when he appeared in court he was joyful and hearty. Now when I produce hard evidence against him he is feeling that it will be difficult to escape from it. Now, his mood has changed.

What is the message this ongoing trial gives?

I will comment on it after the case is over. But certainly I will say that terrorism is a global problem. We should unite to fight it.

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Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai