How did Justice Katju save the life of an Indian Godfather?

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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How I saved the life of an Indian Godfather

Mukhtar Ansari

By Justice Markandey Katju

Mukhtar Ansari ( 1963--) has been one of the biggest gangsters of India, a veritable Al Capone, Carlo Gambino, or the fictional godfather Don Vito Corleone.

The irony is that he comes from an illustrious and esteemed family. His paternal ancestor was a sufi saint who had migrated from Herat to India at the time of the Moghul Emperor Babur. His paternal grandfather was a distinguished medical doctor who gave his all for India's freedom struggle, and was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1927, having served several times earlier as General Secretary of the AICC (he was also Chancellor of the reputed Jamia Milia University, Delhi, which he helped create)

Mukhtar Ansari's maternal grandfather was an Indian army brigadier, and his uncle was a Judge of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Asif Ansari. His relative is the former Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari.

Despite this illustrious background, Mukhtar Ansari became a gangster and leader of a huge gang of criminals whose criminal activities stretched all over India, including even south India. He entered politics and was elected 5 times as a member of the UP Legislative Assembly.

Ultimately he was arrested, tried, and convicted for his numerous crimes, and he has been in jail for the last 20 years.

Now I will narrate an incident relating to him.

I was a lawyer in the Allahabad High Court for 20 years (before becoming a Judge of the High Court in 1991).

One evening while I was sitting in my lawyer's office in Allahabad, my clerk told me that a lady wants to meet me. Thinking that she had come to consult and perhaps engage me in connection with some case, I invited her in.

On entering and being seated, she started crying and told me that she was the wife of Mukhtar Ansari, who was in jail. She said she had reliable information that the police was planning to kill her husband in a fake 'encounter', and sought my help.

Though I had heard that Mukhtar Ansari was a mafia-type gangster, I had always been of the opinion that fake encounters by the police were illegal. If a person was accused of an offence he must be tried in a court of law and given opportunity of defending himself before imposing any appropriate punishment.To bump him off without a trial was cold-blooded murder, and that too by people who were supposed to uphold the law. In fact when I later became a Judge in the Indian Supreme Court I held that policemen who commit fake encounters must be given the death penalty, treating it to be in the category of 'rarest of rare' cases.

After hearing the lady, I told her to stop crying and then telephoned the Home Secretary of UP in Lucknow, who had been my friend in the Allahabad University where we had been students. I told him about the matter, and asked him to instruct the police not to do any fake encounter on Mukhtar Ansari. I said that if any such fake encounter was done I would personally file a criminal case against the UP Chief Minister, Home Minister, Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, Director General of Police and the Inspector General of Police of the range where the 'encounter' had been done.

My friend ( the Home Secretary ) laughed, and said '' You will not even spare me ? ''.

I replied '' Certainly not. Friendship is friendship, but murder is murder ''.

He then assured me that he was giving immediate instructions to the police in this regard.

And that is how I saved the life of an Indian Godfather.

(Justice Katju is a former Judge, of the Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

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