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INTERVIEW

I intend to quit in two years
Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam took up the 1993 blasts case as a challenge to deliver justice to the victims and prove his mettle. It culminated in a historic trial, the world’s biggest and longest, which he says was a turning point in his life. But speaking exclusively to Sudhir Suryawanshi and Santosh Andhale, Nikam dropped a bombshell saying he will give up legal practice in two years
After the end of the blasts trial, who was the first person to call you? My wife, to congratulate me. She was quite emotional. She was relieved that I was able to ensure justice for the blasts victims after 13 years of hard work. In fact, throughout the trial I used to get letters and phone calls every day from people appreciating me for presenting the case with confidence and without fear. Were you threatened during the blasts trial? Yes, several times. But I call it a professional hazard. It is bound to happen if you are fighting such cases. When the film fraternity decided to stage protests in support of Sanjay Dutt, you said it would amount to contempt of court. What happened after that? A senior film-maker had a word with me and agreed to withdraw the campaign. These Bollywood guys should understand the difference between love and law. Did anyone from Dutt’s family contact you before or after the trial? No. But on the last day of the trial, when police were taking Dutt to Arthur Road jail, he told me, “Nikamsaheb, police ko bolo, mujhe khecho mat (Mr Nikam, please instruct the policemen not to drag me unceremoniously)”. His eyes were full of tears. Have you watched ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’? Yes. It is an okay film. Frankly, Munnabhai MBBS was better. It was a wonderful comedy film, which even had a social message for the people. I like Dutt as an actor but it does not mean he will go scot-free after committing a heinous crime. Will the Supreme Court grant bail to Dutt? It is totally up to the apex court. What did you feel when the trial ended? Relief. After 13 years of hard work, great relief. I took up this case as a challenge. Since I am from Jalgaon, a small town, many people described me as a village guy and predicted that I would not be able to fight such a complex case involving gangsters and other underworld characters of Mumbai. Initially, I suffered from an inferiority complex. For one, I was not fluent in English. But I worked on it and groomed myself to face the unrelenting scrutiny by mediapersons. It was a Herculean task but I proved my mettle through hard work, with the help of Mumbai Police and the unrelenting support of my family. Can you tell us of any memorable incident? On the first day of the trial, when I came to file the chargesheet, at least 100 mediapersons were waiting at the special TADA court in Mumbai. I felt like the prime minister of India. It was an experience that I can never forget. Never had I seen so many journalists coming to cover a case I was fighting. I felt proud to be handling such an important trial. What next? I plan to give up legal practice in two years. I have been working in the legal field for 25

years. I have ensured punishment for several criminals and justice to victims. I am satisfied with my work but now I feel like changing to another totally different field where I can work for the larger interest of the people. I will use the next two years to complete pending cases, including the Pramod Mahajan murder trial and the Gateway of India blast. What do you plan to do? It will not be right to disclose it now. I will announce my choice at the appropriate time. But I can assure you, I will continue to fight for the larger interest of the common people. Sounds like you plan to join politics. I have not decided yet. There are a couple of fields in my mind. You always stayed in a hotel when you came for hearings in Mumbai. Didn’t you consider buying a flat? Did the government offer one? I cannot afford a flat in Mumbai. Considering the length of the blasts trial, the government should have provided me a flat in Mumbai. They have a quota for sportspersons, journalists, artists and those who have made an exceptional contribution to the state. I have won many court cases. I deserve a flat from the government, but it is up to them. What has been the effect of the blasts trial and the constant travelling on your family life? Fortunately, I have a mature and understanding family. My wife and two children never complained. Therefore, I was able to devote my time to study court cases and ensure justice to people. I missed my children a lot in the last 25 years. I feel bad that I could not give enough time to them. Every week, I try to spend at least one day with them. The constant travelling has, however, affected my health. I suffer from an upset stomach frequently due to eating outside food. Hence, for the past 4-5 years I have been carrying homemade wheat flour, which I give to cooks in the hotels I stay in to prepare rotis for me. I love green vegetables and seafood. What is your daily schedule? I generally get up at 4 am, exercise till 6 and then study cases, brief police officers, take notes and prepare for cases till 10 am. I am in court from 11 am to 5 pm. Between 5 and 7 pm, I read newspapers and watch TV to keep myself updated on current affairs. I am in bed at 10.30 pm. I do not attend late night parties. Some important cases? I was special public prosecutor in the trial of exconstable Sunil More who was accused of rape, the Kothewadi Khatla case (in which an entire village was robbed) in Ahmednagar district, three women who used children for begging and then murdered them in Kolhapur district, Rathi family murder case in Pune, Amruta Deshpande murder case in Sangli. How many death sentences and life imprisonments have you ensured in your practice of 25 years? Death penalty for 26 people and life imprisonment for 605. Who would you credit for your success in the blasts trial? Mumbai’s former joint commissioner of police M N Singh, who believed in my ability and called me from Jalgaon to take up this case, my security guards who travelled with me day and night without giving me any reason to complain and my family. I feel very proud that a person from a village could rise to the occasion and handle such a big case. I was born and brought up in a village, and always desired to showcase my skills on a bigger platform. This case has made me world famous.