In what is to be one of the country’s most controversial executions, Yakub Memon is scheduled to be hanged on the 30th of July. Yakub Memon is the lone conspirator of the 1993 Bombay blasts to be caught alive by the Indian authorities. His plea to the Supreme Court seeking ‘extra indulgence’ of the Apex Court will be heard on the 27th of July. People across the spectrum have come out and criticized both the judgement and the death penalty being awarded to him.
If one seeks to educate themselves about the facts of this case keeping ethics out of the picture, journalist Hussain Zaidi’s books are a good source. They give us a clear picture of the on-goings behind the scenes. Most of us perceive the Mumbai blasts as a component of the larger Hindu-Muslim conflict. There is no doubt of the fact that these were in fact a section of the Muslims taking revenge on the Hindus, but that is only a part of it.
The Babri masjid demolition happened on 6th December 1992. Almost immediately, large scale protests erupted in the City of Bombay. Muslims protested against the BJP and the ultra-Hindu nationalists Shiv Sena, whose cadres had been part of the demolition. Soon, the protests turned violent. The Hindus led by the Shiv Sena retaliated and riots ensued until January ’93 killing around 900 people. As Zaidi points out, the climate was ripe for Pakistan to intervene. The ISI had always waited for such an occasion. They brought several Muslim dons from around the world together to carry out this operation. This included Dawood Ibrahim, Mohammad Dossa, Tahir Merchant and Tiger Memon. They wanted to strike as fast as possible, so that the link of these attacks to the Babri masjid demolition didn’t fade away in time. Tiger Memon, who had set up a smuggling empire based out of Bombay, recruited thirty Muslim youths and sent them to Pakistan for warfare training. Meanwhile with Dawood Ibrahim’s logistical support, Tiger smuggled eight tons of RDX, thousands of grenades and Kalashnikovs into India.
Tiger’s brother Yakub Memon was a chartered accountant by profession. Yakub Memon claimed he earned his living in a clean way, unlike his brothers who were floating in ill-gotten wealth. Among the many accounts that Yakub’s firm handled were those of his family members. Yakub oversaw ISI money being deposited into Indian accounts, and being distributed among the other accused in the blasts case. Yakub also oversaw the transferring of his family’s wealth into foreign accounts as they prepared to leave the country. Had Yakub been a clean chartered accountant who stayed away from his brothers’ activities, he wouldn’t have had to flee with them. But he did.
On the morning of 12th March 1993, the Memon family packed their bags and fled to Pakistan. In the afternoon, ten bomb blasts ripped through Mumbai. They all happened in crowded areas killing over three hundred and fifty and injuring over twelve hundred. This was considered the biggest terror attack ever on a city. Among several clues that helped the police pinpoint the culprits was a scooter. It was parked clumsily in Dadar, as if somebody had left it there in a hurry. It belonged to Yakub Memon.
According to Zaidi, Dawood was not aware of the extent of damage the blast would cause. Almost overnight, Dawood was hailed as a traitor all across India when all he had done was to provide logistical support. His calculation all along had been that the attacks would put the Memon family in such a legal tangle that they would have to flee Mumbai. This would help his syndicate consolidate their power in Bombay. But this did more harm to him than good. Meanwhile the Memon family were camped at the home of Taufiq Jaliawala, who had also played a major role in the blasts. Jaliawala owned a construction business in Karachi, which was actually a front for other illegal businesses. He was the one who had coordinated on the behalf of Pakistani authorities and chosen the blast sites. Soon, the Memon family built their own costly bungalow in Karachi and moved there.
Many accounts tell us Yakub Memon later wished he hadn’t left Bombay that morning. Many accounts (including Zaidi’s) also tell us that he surrendered to the Indian authorities in the Kathmandu airport in July 1994. Yakub himself claims to have surrendered to absolve himself and other members of the Memon family who were not involved. This is in fact, a lie. That the entire surrender story is fabricated came to the fore in an interview of Justice P.D. Kode to India Today’s Gaurav Sawant. Kode was the Apex Court judge who awarded Yakub the death penalty. According to him, the prosecution had established Yakub was arrested by them. This was backed up by the testimony of certain witnesses who played a role in his arrest. Some belonged to the Indian Intelligence. The defence cross examined them but could not come up with anything. He went on to say, “Yakub Memon was advancing a theory of his surrender. However, as I recollect, not an iota of evidence has surfaced in the trial regarding his surrender.” When asked if he had heard about a deal between the Indian authorities and Yakub about his life being spared if he surrendered, he said nothing of that sort was reported to the court. So there was never any doubt about the fact that Yakub, an absconder in the ’93 blasts case, was picked up by the Indian authorities.
The problem with the view that the blasts were simply the culmination of a domestic religious feud is that the brain behind it was the ISI. Once the ISI’s role was established, the blasts were no longer an attack on Hindus but on India. It is absurd to think that Yakub Memon is being sent to the gallows for being a Muslim or for being a part of the Memon family. He is being hanged because he was part of a conspiracy against India, masterminded by Pakistan. He played his role in causing terror and killing innocent civilians.
Some feel that he’s being sent to the gallows because India was incapable of capturing Tiger. That’s not how the judiciary works. The judgement was delivered after a trial that lasted for eleven years and in which six hundred and eighty four witnesses were examined. Out of the hundred and seventeen charge-sheeted for the blasts, fifty two turned approver and witness against Yakub Memon. Yet in the fool’s paradise that some people live in, nothing, absolutely nothing, would be enough to send him to the gallows. But if an IC 814 type incident were to happen again and Yakub Memon were made to walk free, the same people would cry hoarse. They could never get used to the fact that sometimes it is good to get rid of some people.