An AK-56 is an AK-47 manufactured in China. Unlike the AK-74, the AK-56 isn’t a different weapon. The AK-74, like the M16 developed during the experience of America in Korea and Vietnam, fires a bullet about half-a-centimetre in diameter. This is smaller than the AK-47’s, which is O of a centimetre across, or 50% bigger. The gun firing a smaller bullet was developed under military doctrine that required some opponents to be killed and others to be maimed. This ensured that more of the enemy would be occupied in nursing and evacuating their wounded than available for combat (there are people who think about such things).
The AK-56, on the other hand, is a weapon meant to kill, not maim. Its round can penetrate walls without a problem.
Sanjay Dutt knows guns. I first saw him when he was 21. Rocky had been released recently and was a hit. Dutt was staying at the palace of the nawab of Sachin in Dumas, 10km from Surat. We were there on a picnic and heard the rumour about Dutt. One of us, Tajwar, was related to the nawab and we ran to the palace. The guard opening the gate confirmed Dutt was inside, saying, “Shooting ho rahi hai (shooting is on)”.
It was, to our disappointment, the other sort of shooting. Dutt was on a hunting tour with friends and, having done some target practice on the grounds, the young men were packing their rifles into their jeeps as we entered.
Dutt had three licensed firearms: a bolt-action Bruno .270 rifle, a .375 Holland & Holland (H&H) Magnum double-barrel rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. The Bruno’s calibre makes it a medium-game gun, for things weighing up to a 100kg, like deer, while the magnum is for big game: buffalo, elephants, big cats. The shotgun, which sprays multiple projectiles instead of a single bullet, is a self-defence weapon, not a hunting gun. It is lethal to about 30m or so. Since he used the guns for hunting, and didn’t just keep them on his walls, Dutt was knowledgeable about calibre, range and effectiveness.
In 1992, he acquired a fourth firearm. This was a handgun, a 9mm automatic, bought illegally and in cash from Yaqub, a man he knew from Dawood Ibrahim’s gang.
So, when Dawood and his partners offered him an AK-56 weeks after the Babri Masjid fell, Dutt was already equipped for self-defence, the reason he says he wanted the gun.
His lawyer Harish Salve says we should consider the atmosphere in Mumbai when the AK-56 was taken in January 1993. But it is not easy to see why a man living in Bandra, then in a bungalow on Pali Hill, needed a fifth gun to defend himself against those who hated him because his mother was Muslim. Especially because this is a man who wore the teeka on his forehead, sacred threads on his wrist and went to Siddhivinayak temple.
I think Dutt got the gun because it was a cool thing to have, and in those days, older readers will remember, Dawood and his men were not untouchables. They gave him three AK- 56 rifles. Later, they took away two of these (Dutt says he asked them to), but he chose to keep one. On hearing of his friends’ arrests, he tried to get rid of this weapon and was caught.
This is the second offence for which Dutt has been punished. In 1982, Dutt spent a few months in jail for possessing a drug, I think it was brown sugar. His father Sunil Dutt sent him to a hospital, and then began a campaign that produced one of the toughest anti-drug laws anywhere in the world. That law, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), was legislated in 1985. The NDPS shared aspects of its bail clause with another tough law, Tada, on terrorism. Someone charged under these found it difficult to get bail, with a “guilty unless proven innocent” attitude in the laws.
India being what it is, the police often used this to blackmail people. An IPS officer called Rahul Rai Sur (search for him on the Internet to know what a truly ghastly place India can be) was put in charge of the drugs team. He fled to the US, never to return, after ruining hundreds of lives. Many of these prisoners, some of them old men, I knew from my beat in sessions court. I wonder if the Dutt family thinks about the sort of mischief that was committed because of their father’s high-minded moralism.
One last thing. The singular focus on the Bombay bomb blasts case in all of this is to me disappointing. Many Muslims saw Tiger Memon’s act as retaliation, even as self-defence, against Hindu mobs that punished them for having their mosque pulled down. How many of the riots cases, many involving Shiv Sena grandees, have been settled? It’s a good thing that the residents of Mumbai have put those days behind them. But this did not happen through justice, only time.
Sanjay Dutt got justice, even if his complaint is that it took too much time.
Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns