By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai: As India prepares to observe next week the fifth anniversary of the assault on Mumbai by 10 Pakistani terrorists that killed 166 people and jolted the collective pscyhe of a nation, few would care to remember that tomorrow also marks the first death anniversary of the lone terrorist who survived that day’s battles – Ajmal Amir Kasab.
Exactly a year ago Nov 21, India heaved a sigh of relief when Kasab was secretly hanged in Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail.
The hanging was the culmination of a four-year long trial, perhaps one of the most followed by the world, in which he was given full opportunity to present his side of the story and defend himself.
“All the legal procedures in the 26/11 terror attack case were completed. He was sentenced by the trial court. The sentence was upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court, and his mercy plea was rejected by the president. Accordingly, Kasab has been hanged this morning at 7.30 in Yerawada Central Jail,” a calm Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil said soon after the hanging.
From the early morning of Nov 27, 2008 when he was arrested near Chowpatty Beach till he finally wore the noose, Kasab was privileged to access all Indian legal remedies available to defend himself.
These included the service of lawyers from a government panel, all rights to appeal in various fora — the Bombay High Court, the Supreme Court and then the Indian president.
Patil said the final punishment meted out to Kasab was a “true tribute” to the victims and martyrs of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and an end to one of the most gruesome militant chapters in recent Indian history.
The image of the boyish-faced Kasab, caught by mediapersons during that chilling night, became the haunting face of the terror attack as he and his accomplices moved from place to place in south Mumbai, in an area of 4-5 square km.
Charged with 86 serious offences, including waging war against India, the young Pakistani remained unrepentant for his acts as became subsequently evident during the four years of trial.
Marked by a series of bizarre twists, the trial started with a sensational claim by Kasab that he was a juvenile.
The dramatics continued later – he would smile, feign illnesses, giggle and laugh, cry and weep, discard the prison food to demand mutton biryani, once spat at the camera on which he was being beamed live to the courtroom from his high-security cell. A stunned nation watched in disgust.
Though he confessed to the crimes, he later retracted his confession claiming he was just an innocent youth smitten by Bollywood glamour and wanted to act in movies.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had realized during the early stages that pinning Kasab was not going to be easy and remained ever alert – expecting the unexpected from the young undertrial.
Nikam already had successfully cracked the trial of the serial bomb explosions in Mumbai in March 1993 in which he had succeeded in sending many to jail, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt.
But investigations proved that behind the fake dramatics was a ruthless killing machine well-trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and former Pakistani military personnel.
Along with Kasab were his nine accomplices who were equally adept at creating mayhem for the 60 hours that left Mumbai paralysed, the country numb and the world horrified.
They had sneaked into Mumbai from the virtually unguarded Arabian Sea route to land at Colaba in south Mumbai in a rubber dinghy that night after travelling from Karachi for days, hijacking an Indian fishing boat – and in a warm-up exercise, killing its crew.
Shortly after landing, they divided into groups of two-three and mercilessly started attacking their targeted locations with precision, catching the victims and security agencies totally off-guard.
Their targets included a world heritage railway terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the iconic Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, Hotel Trident, a Jewish worship centre, a restaurant popular among foreigners and a hospital among others — locations to get maximum mileage in the media.
“It was only after he breathed his last on Nov 21, 2012 that the nation breathed easy and the families of victims and survivors felt that justice had been done to them,” said Nikam.