NEW DELHI: A voice from the past, and this time of former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat B.Raman,who handled the case, has given the ‘hang the man’ brigade advocating the death of Mumbai bomb blast accused Yakub Memon, pause for thought. This has also come in the midst of strong advocacy by national and international human rights groups against the death penalty.
In a second wind, the Supreme Court has now decided to hear Memon’s petition challenging his death sentence on July 27. Clearly upset at what he and his lawyers have been describing as a travesty of justice Memon sought the commutation of his death sentence into life imprisonment, claiming that due procedure was not followed. He is scheduled to be executed on July 30, that also happens to be his birthday.
Raman’s article that has been published now by Rediff.com almost eight years after it was written, and after the intelligence officer well regarded for his integrity has passed away. It tells a story very similar to that narrated by Memon. The difference is that while Memon insists that he was not involved at all in the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai, Raman who dealt with the external intelligence of this case at the time is certain that he was guilty. But from then on the stories merge into similarities in the telling with the officer worried that the prosecution had not taken note of the mitigating circumstances in the case.
In his letter to the Chief Justice of India Memon just a day ago described himself as a “good citizen” of India who tried to help the government in whatever little way he could. This has in a sense been born out by Raman’s narrative, at least for the post 1993 Memon.
In a quick reconstruction of the pre-blast story, Yakub Memon was the younger brother of Tiger Memon, a well known figure in Mumbai’s underworld and said to be close to Dawood Ibrahim who was seen by Indian intelligence as the coordinator of the 1993 March bomb blasts. Yakub Memon became a chartered accountant, and did exceptionally well. However, he left with his family for Dubai just two days before the blasts, a movement seen as ‘suspicious’ by the investigators later. Information here had him shuttling between Dubai and Pakistan for a while. Except for the reasons why he left, Memon’s story till here tallies with that of the intelligence agencies more or less.
According to his version he went to Nepal as he was fed up with Pakistan’s intelligence agency and was by then keen to return to India provided he was given amnesty of sorts in return for his cooperation. The Indian prosecution insisted he was arrested from New Delhi Railway station while Memon till today insists he surrendered in Nepal. Raman’s article sheds important light on this, despite the risk of revealing more perhaps than he would have liked to.
For journalists conversant with Indian intelligence methodology clearly contact had been established with Memon, and he was brought to India with the assurance that his family too would be allowed to join him. It is a matter of conjecture as to what other promises were made, or conditions set, but Raman’s article establishes the truth of Memon’s claims.
At one point the intelligence officer writes: “I was disturbed to notice that some mitigating circumstances in the case of Yakub Memon and some other members of the family were probably not brought to the notice of the court by the prosecution and that the prosecution did not suggest to the court that these circumstances should be taken into consideration while deciding on the punishment to be awarded to them. In their eagerness to obtain the death penalty, the fact that there were mitigating circumstances do not appear to have been highlighted.” It is the same eagerness that has been on display in this last act before the gallows for Memon.
In these “mitigating circumstances” probably lies the key to true justice for Memon.
Raman wrote: “I have been going through a moral dilemma in my mind ever since I read in the media about the sentencing of Yakub Memon to death by the court, which tried the accused in the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, and his tantrums in the court after the death sentence was pronounced.”
Moral dilemma clearly arose from the facts that Raman knew, but was not able to state under the Official Secrets Act. But points to the fact that the case was not as the prosecution stated it to be, but had many wheels within that led the seasoned officer to write the article for Rediff.com and yet hold it back for fear of transgressing what he believed to be his duty as a loyal officer.
However, Raman even in this article makes it clear that Memon was not wrong in maintaining that he came through Nepal. He wrote: “the prosecution was right in saying that Yakub was arrested in Old Delhi. Yakub was right in claiming that he was not arrested in Old Delhi. In July 1994, some weeks before my retirement, he was informally picked up in Kathmandu, with the help of the Nepal police, driven across Nepal to a town in Indian territory, flown to Delhi by an aircraft of the Aviation Research Centre and formally arrested in Old Delhi by the investigating authorities and taken into custody for interrogation. The entire operation was coordinated by me.”
Raman said that Yakub Memon had come to “Kathmandu secretly from Karachi to consult a relative and a lawyer on the advisability of some members of the Memon family, including himself, who felt uncomfortable with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, returning to India and surrendering to the Mumbai police. The relative and the lawyer advised him against surrender due to a fear that justice might not be done to them. They advised Yakub to go back to Karachi.
Before he could board the flight to Karachi, he was picked up by the Nepal police on suspicion, identified and rapidly moved to India.”
Raman has recorded in this article Memon’s insistence “right though the trial” that he was not arrested in Old Delhi but in Kathmandu. Noting, that “this was disputed by the prosecution, which asked for the severest penalty against him and others, who were sentenced to death” Raman wrote of his dilemma.
“I have been repeatedly asking myself: Should I write this article? Would I be a moral coward if I did not do so? Would the entire case get unravelled if I wrote it? Would the undoubtedly guilty escape punishment as a result of my writing it? Would my article be adversely viewed by the court? Would I be committing contempt of court? It is impossible to have definitive answers to these questions. Ultimately, I decided to write this in the belief that it is important to prevent a person, who in my view does not deserve to be hanged, from going to the gallows,” he wrote with considerable passion, for an official who was largely distant and almost clinical in his writings. Raman was at that time the head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
Memon has been insisting that he cooperated fully with the Indian authorities, a claim that has been pooh-poohed not just by the prosecution but even sections of the all knowing media. Raman’s article verifies Memon’s claim. He wrote: “he cooperated with the investigating agencies and assisted them by persuading some other members of the Memon family to flee from the protection of the ISI in Karachi to Dubai and surrender to the Indian authorities. The Dubai part of the operation was coordinated by a senior officer of the IB, who was then on deputation to the ministry of external affairs. Neither the R&AW nor I had any role in the Dubai part of the operation.
The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented.
There is not an iota of doubt about the involvement of Yakub and other members of the family in the conspiracy and their cooperation with the ISI till July 1994. In normal circumstances, Yakub would have deserved the death penalty if one only took into consideration his conduct and role before July 1994.
But if one also takes into consideration his conduct and role after he was informally picked up in Kathmandu, there is a strong case for having second thoughts about the suitability of the death penalty in the subsequent stages of the case.”
The dilemma that Raman referred to was the sharing of information about Memon and his cooperation with the investigating agencies. An indicator that Memon was cooperating as promised came in the decision to allow his family to return to India. They met him in jail now, his wife, daughter, brother-in-law Rahil and two other relatives. Rahil told reporters after the meeting in a rather telling revelation, “Yakub surrendered to police as he was told by the then home minister that he will not be punished with capital punishment. The family was waiting since last 23 years and they didn’t expect death sentence. Yakub gave them a lot of information on the blast. There should have been some sympathy from the government. He has not acquired any bad habits in the jail.” Shankarrao Chavan was the Home Minister, and PV Narasimha Rao the Prime Minister.
“Later, Yakub told us that he still has faith in Allah and things will happen as per destiny. This was the first time I saw Yakub stressed in all these years. He was not expecting death sentence. He said he is facing this fate because he is brother of Tiger Memon. He says the country should make use of his skills. He wants to open a school. With his help 5 people in jail have cleared their SSC exams. Yakub has a written acknowledgement of this work.”
And again Rahil repeated what Yakub Memon has been saying, “He wants to work for India. He believes and he can be of use to his country. He said he is not a family man anymore because his youth has been spent in jail, at least he can make use of the time left and serve others.”
He further added, “Yakub surrendered to police as he was told by the then home minister that he will not be punished with capital punishment. The family was waiting since last 23 years and they didn’t expect death sentence. Yakub gave them a lot of information on the blast. There should have been some sympathy from the government. He has not acquired any bad habits in the jail.”