Pune: Ujjwal Nikam’s withdrawal as special public prosecutor in the Mohsin Shaikh murder case comes as a setback to both the trial and Mohsin’s family, as the case is at the important juncture of framing charges against the accused. The lawyer’s sudden departure from the case, without any explanation, has shocked the Shaikh family as well as progressive organisations.
Despite the family’s requests, Nikam has refused to continue to fight the case. Now the family wants Rohini Salian to be the special public prosecutor.
On June 12, during a hearing of the case at a Pune sessions court, Nikam submitted an application saying he would no longer be fighting the case. He also submitted the copy of a letter from the Law and Judiciary Department of the state government issued on May 19 cancelling his appointment as the special public prosecutor in this case.
In 2014, following communal tensions in Pune sparked by the circulation on social media of objectionable images of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackrey and Maratha king Shivaji, members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena allegedly lynched Mohsin at 9:15 pm on June 2. An IT professional working for a textile company, Mohsin was on his way home in Hadapsar when he was killed. The police later arrested 21 members of the right-wing organisation, including its leader Dhananjay Jairam Desai alias Bhai. A few of the accused are out on bail, while Desai is being held in the Yerwada jail in Pune.
It was after a request from Sadiq Shaikh, the victim’s father, that then chief minister Prutviraj Chouhan appointed Nikam the special public prosecutor in the murder trial.
Immediately after Nikam’s appointment, a few organisations working for minority and Adivasi rights, like the Rashtrapremi Kruti Samiti, opposed his appointment. Anjum Inamdar from the group said, “We had opposed his appointment as he had taken felicitations from right-wing organisations including Abhinav Bharat, which is allegedly responsible for Malegoan bomb blasts. His secular credentials are in doubts. We were of the belief that he would not deliver justice to Mohsin.”
The Shaikh family, though, never doubted Nikam’s credentials or his commitment to the case.
When they learnt that he had removed himself from the case, they tried to convince him to change his mind. Sadiq said, “We were shocked as we did not know he was going to quit the case. The case is at crucial juncture as charges against the accused are being framed. The prime accused, Desai, has applied for bail on medical grounds.”
He added, “We don’t know why he decided quit – whether it was due to his busy schedule or some other reasons. But we wanted him to represent us in the case as we know he would get justice for my son. He is one of the best public prosecutors in the country. He had been public prosecutor in Gulshan Kumar murder, 26/11 attack on Mumbai, Khairalanji massacre, Kopardi rape and murder case, and so on. He has won most cases he has fought against terrorists. And the Hindu Rashtra Sena is nothing but an internal terrorists organisation and we want to win the case against them. We had sent Nikam letters and text messages requesting him to continue as the prosecutor.”
Nikam did not answers calls from The Wire, or reply to text messages or emails. He did send a message to Sadiq, thanking him for his faith in him and saying that he respected Sadiq very much, which is why he took the case. “God is great and he will give justice,” he concluded. However, he did not mention why he decided to leave the ongoing case.
Politicians and social activists raised doubts over Nikam’s sudden departure from the case. Aam Aadmi Party leader Priti Sharma Menon told The Wire, “He is wrong in quitting the case. He has cheated the family of Mohsin and the whole of Maharashtra. We had hope that Mohsin will get justice if Nikam fights the case. But now the case will be tagged as ‘the case left by Ujjwal Nikam’. And nobody will take this case seriously. The BJP government in the state already does not want this case to be taken seriously.”
Opposition parties alleged that Nikam was being pressurised by right-wing organisations. But with Nikam’s silence on the issue, all of this is speculation.
Mohsin’s family has now demanded that Salian be appointed the special public prosecutor in the murder trial. Sadiq said, “We know Rohini Salian is another public prosecutor whose credentials are well known. She did not give in to NIA’s request to ‘go soft’ on the accused in 2008 Malegoan blast case. Instead, she decided to quit the case and went to the media, revealing the pressure she had faced.”
According to Sadiq, Salian is ready to take the case if the state government does not object.
He added, “I have sent letters to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Law and Judiciary Department of Maharashtra. The department has told me that they cannot decide before three weeks. Now I hope that Salian will be appointed as the special public prosecutor. I have also given an application asking for that to the sessions court in Pune where the case is being heard.”
A hearing was scheduled for June 16, but the court postponed it to July 4 as there was no special public prosecutor.