On 19 April 1993, the flight was to arrive around 2 am. People had gathered in hundreds outside the Sahar Airport, International terminal. Sanjay’s family was there accompanied by their film fraternity, as were hundreds of political supporters of Sunil Dutt all set to show solidarity, and of course, the media. My strategy hinged on the arrest to be swift and quick and without providing the hordes gathered outside an opportunity to dramatise it.

I was in my civvies, waiting with the team on the aerobridge where it meets the aircraft. Sanjay Dutt, a first class passenger, was the first to disembark out of the aircraft door. As he did, I put my hand round his shoulder and drew him aside. I did not know him. So I introduced myself, “I am DCP Rakesh Maria. Where are your boarding pass and passport? Give them to me.”

He looked at me dazed and in a state of shock and meekly handed over the passport and boarding pass without a word.

I gave them to one of my officers who left to collect his bags. I walked Sanjay Dutt down the steps, from the aerobridge ladder near the aircraft door, on to the tarmac. As per the plan, two vehicles were waiting for us there: my official Ambassador car and a Crime Branch jeep. I sat in my car, next to the driver and Sanjay Dutt was made to sit behind between two constables.

The Domestic terminal at Santacruz and the International terminal at Sahar share the same airstrips. With the jeep closely following us, we drove on the tarmac to Santacruz – the Domestic terminal. No one spoke a word to Sanjay Dutt during the entire journey. I had categorically instructed the constables that whatever he said or asked, they must not respond, nor utter a single word.

Sanjay repeatedly kept enquiring as to where we were taking him. He kept moaning that his father, his family were waiting for him. “You cannot do this. Let me meet them once. Let me meet my father!” he kept saying, but none of us uttered even a word. The constables sat totally expressionless, without even turning their faces to look at Sanjay. Like stone statues!

Coming out of the Santacruz Domestic Airport, we brought Sanjay straight to the Crime Branch in the CP’s office at Crawford Market. He was taken to a room with an attached toilet that I had already identified earlier in the day. It was manned by carefully selected handpicked guards. Nobody except me was to speak to him; nobody was allowed to enter the room without my permission. If he wanted to use the toilet, he was to keep its door ajar. Smoking too was prohibited.

In the meanwhile, my officers had collected his baggage and handed it over to his family waiting outside the Sahar International terminal. MN Singh had instructed me that he would come to his office at 9:30 am and I was to produce Sanjay before him. At 8:00 am sharp, I went to the room housing Sanjay Dutt with handpicked officers. Nobody had uttered a word to him or responded to his queries right through the night.

Bereft of family support and with not a soul to extend him any sympathy, Sanjay Dutt looked completely forlorn and broken. Had I allowed him to meet his family, he would have been another man altogether.

“Will you tell me the truth or do you want me to tell you your story?” I asked him.

“Sir, maine kuchch nahi kiya!” He was sitting on a chair, looking at me with soulful eyes and whining: Sir, I have not done anything! The tension and stress of the last few days caught up with me. I could not bear the lie and couldn’t help but plant a tight slap on his cheek. He tilted backwards, his legs going up in mid-air and I swiftly held him by his mane of long, gold-tinted hair. Looking literally down upon him into his horrified and scared eyes I said,

“I am asking you like a gentleman, you answer like one.”

‘Sir, can I talk to you in private?’ He asked in a quavering voice, looking up at me in a frozen stare, broken and shaken. This was much shorter and quicker than I had expected! I sent the officers out and, then Sanjay Dutt told me everything, crying like a child. He corroborated all that Hanif, Samir and the others had said.

“So, the weapons are in your house?” I asked him. “Come and show me where they are.”

He fell sobbing at my feet and said, “Sir, I have destroyed them.” Then he catalogued in detail how, after the news report had appeared in The Daily, he had tasked his friends to go to his house, take out the weapons and destroy them. I immediately sent teams to pick up his friends Yusuf Nullwala, Ajay Marwah, Kersi Adjania and Rusi Mulla who had aided and abetted Sanjay in destroying the weapons.

After he had finished, he fervently pleaded, “Please don’t tell my father any of this.”

“I cannot hide anything. I must tell the truth. It’s time you stood up to face the consequences of the mistakes that you have made. Grow up and own up! Tell your father what you have done,” I said to him as he still kept pleading with me not to tell his father.

By then it was 9:30 am and I was informed that MN Singh had arrived in his office. I produced Sanjay before him and let Sanjay speak for himself. He reiterated the entire sequence of events. MN Singh was satisfied and relieved that we had not been led up the garden path.

That very afternoon, Sanjay Dutt was produced before the court which remanded him to our custody. He was kept in the Crime Branch lock-up. Sometime late in the afternoon, Samra called on the police hotline and said that Sunil Dutt and some of the film fraternity were still sceptical about our investigation into Sanjay’s role and wanted to meet me. Would I see him? He asked.

I said, of course, I had no problem meeting them. Then, MN Singh also called me to say that Sunil Dutt and some of his associates were coming to the Crime Branch and I should meet them to address their apprehensions and doubts.

Giving patient hearings to the families of the serial blasts accused, especially parents, was a routine thing for me. The parents used to be in utter disbelief that their offspring could do such a terrible act against the State. When I informed them that I had no reason to implicate anyone falsely, they would agree, but still not believe that their sons had committed such a heinous crime.

Ultimately, I would let the accused speak to them to ascertain if I was lying. Invariably, the accused would confess and the crestfallen family would leave shaken and shocked. Today, the same predicament awaited a celebrity father who treasured his family’s patriotism and could never conceive that his son hobnobbed with anti-nationals or had a hand in nefarious activities.

Later that evening, Sunil Dutt accompanied by Rajendra Kumar, Mahesh Bhatt, Yash Johar and Baldev Khosa came to see me. I did not know any of them, despite my Bollywood lineage.

Sunil Dutt spoke first. “You know me,” he said. “Nationalism is in my blood. It runs in our veins. How can my son do this! It is impossible,” he said.

I replied that it was indeed unfortunate, but it had happened. That was the truth. Why would the police implicate anyone like this? Go after someone without a valid cause? I would never do it! Sunil Dutt still kept expressing his disbelief. I then said that I would call Sanjay right there. Let him answer for himself.

Sanjay was called in. No sooner he entered, he saw his father and immediately burst into tears. He touched his father’s feet and said, “Sorry! Please forgive me. Merese galti ho gayi.” I have made a mistake, he confessed. He then proceeded to narrate his follies.

Let Me Say It Now

Excerpted with permission from Let Me Say It Now, Rakesh Maria, Westland.