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People behind the scene tried to delay trial: Nikam

May 03, 2010 11:18 IST
"Don't force me to spell out who prompted Kasab to retract his statement," Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam tells Sheela Bhatt.

Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam has been the one-man-army inside the 26/11 courtroom who fought for the 170 people killed in the three-day massacre in November 2008.

On Monday, May 3, all his efforts will reach a pinnacle as the judge will announce the verdict in the 26/11 case on which Nikam has spent all his days and nights for over a year.

Surely, the fight for justice was not easy for Nikam; there were many delays, denials and retractions.

"There were people who were working behind the scene to delay the trial," Nikam says.

According to Nikam, Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist arrested in the attacks, changed and retraced his statements in the court not on his own, but according to instructions from elsewhere.

"Don't force me to spell out who prompted Kasab to retract his statement," he adds.

When pressed for details, he says, "We know the reason behind it. We also know who is behind the curtain (in prompting Kasab to withdraw his confessional statement)."

Immediately, tightening up, he adds, "Why should I reveal? I won't share. It's a part of the investigation."

Kasab and two other Indians -- Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed -- are being tried in a Mumbai court for waging war against India.

When asked if Kasab's instructors were from Pakistan, Nikam responds, "Pakistan is far away. Those who were interested in dragging the trial and wanted to delay the case against Kasab were behind it. You may search yourself."

When asked about the controversy behind the removal of Kasab's lawyer Abbas Kazmi, he says, "If someone wants to delay the trial then, what do you do?"

What if Pakistan thought that Kasab did not get a fair trial? To this, Nikam loudly declares, as if arguing in a courtroom, "This is absolutely wrong to say! We wanted a fair trial so we kept it open."

"If we would have gone for an in-camera trial, there could have been (such a) question. On what basis can they say that it is not a fair trial? Neither Kasab nor his lawyers have complained that it is not a fair trial. It is wrong to create a baseless allegation," he says.

Nikam, who hails from a small town in Maharashtra, is one of the most successful lawyers today.

While he practices law in Mumbai, he has lived in a hotel all along.

When asked about his experience of prosecuting the case against Kasab, Nikam says, "I have handled the Mumbai bomb blast case (of 1993), (BJP leader) Pramod Mahajan's murder, the Gateway of India blast case; totally 620 people have got life imprisonment and 35 people have got death penalty (due to my prosecution)."

"This case was different because the accused is a Pakistani national and the conspiracy was hatched outside India. In this case my entire thrust was to establish the criminal conspiracy behind the attack."

The case did have many challenges, Nikam adds.

"The case was tried under the Indian Penal Code so there were no different standards for this case. The evidence in this case was a bit complex. In a sense, we have provided evidence to prove that there was a conspiracy against India. Secondly, we have relied upon eyewitnesses' accounts and third, we have enough circumstantial evidence and fourthly, we have technical and scientific evidence."

The evidence provided by America's Federal Bureau of Investigation was one of the clinching evidence, Nikam feels.

"The FBI provided one of the important evidence in the court -- they showed how the terrorists came from Karachi to Mumbai. Also, the ballistic expert's evidence was important. The bullets in the bodies of the victims and the bullets belonging to the AK-47 rifle used by Kasab were matching and we proved it in court."

"The third most clinching evidence was the footage captured on closed circuit television before Kasab fired inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station. We also produced a photograph of Kasab in action. That photograph shows his real face," Nikam explains.

The high-profile trial has been mired in controversies. Many believe the local involvement in the Mumbai attacks was never investigated properly. Will these allegations make the case incomplete?

Nikam retorts, "You are absolutely wrong. There was no local angle. Those involved locally are the two accused Indians, Fahim and Sabahuddin, who are already facing trial. Ten terrorists had attacked Mumbai on 26/11. The Mumbai police and Kasab have said this, and the recorded conversations between the attackers and their mentors also prove this."

Nikam says the possibility of involvement by more Indians is hypothetical.

"Fahim and Sabahuddin are Indians. There may have been more Indians or there may not have been, but that is a hypothetical question. You can run the case only on the basis of evidence found during investigation. There are technologies like Google Maps that can be used to know the geography of places. They took advantage of it."

The prosecutor is enraged when asked about Pakistan's demand for more evidence from the Mumbai police.

"Inka rona-dhona bilkul jhuth hai (The complaints by Pakistan are false). What kind of evidence can we give? The evidence is in Pakistan because the conspiracy was hatched there. This makes us doubt if they are serious in fighting terrorism. We have evidence of the attackers because we have captured one of them. If Pakistan cannot collect the evidence, they should send us the eight accused (asked by India) to us. We will carry the trial against them. This (talk of lack of evidence) is all part of the game," Nikam says.

There are other sides to this seasoned lawyer -- he enjoys media attention and is very comfortable before the camera as seen in the last one year. Nevertheless, that does not take away the hard work he has put in along with the Mumbai police team in collecting evidence.

It is hard to imagine that this lawyer may have undergone emotional moments during the trial. However, he says, he did.

"It was natural to get emotional during this trial. I had witnesses whose parents were killed at the CST station. I examined a wife whose husband was killed. I also met people who still have bullets inside their bodies, as doctors felt it was risky to take them out. There are many such cases. The terrorists attacked Mumbai, but only those who suffered know the pain."

"When asked if his views on Kasab had changed after his daily meetings with the accused in the courtroom, Nikam responds, "He is a very well-trained commando. He has been trained how to behave and how to talk if he was captured. He is behaving as per his training. He has a cunning mind."

Image: Ujjwal Nikam

Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai