April 29, 1999.
Time: 2am. Venue: Tamarind Court, a restaurant in the capital. The events
of that night are only too well known. They have been recounted over
and over again. Siddharth Vashisht alias Manu Sharma, son of Haryana
politician Venod Sharma walked into the bar and demanded a drink. Jessica
Lall and upcoming model Shayan Munshi were at the bar. So was restaurant
owner Bina Ramani’s daughter Malini who told Manu and his friends
that the bar had closed.
the Tehelka sting, one of the characters made demands of us journalists,
a reminder of how the Sharmas worked
Not used to hearing
a no, the politician’s son offered to pay a thousand rupees for
a drink. When he still didn’t get one, he whisked out a .22 pistol
from his pocket, shot once into the air and then fired the next shot
straight at Jessica’s head.
In a matter of
seconds, a young life had been snuffed out. Ask Dr Alok Chopra, who
attended to her at Aashlok Hospital, 15 minutes after the shoot-out,
and he will tell you this: “Jessica’s lungs were full of
blood, her blood pressure had crashed, her brain was smashed like a
mangled piece of tissue”. Why was the model killed? Only because
the politician’s son had been refused a glass of whisky.
The nation was shocked.
After all, at least 200 high-profile swashbucklers had attended the
party. Actors, bureaucrats and senior police officers were there. So
were three eyewitnesses: Shayan Munshi, the restaurant electrician Shiv
Das and Karan Rajput, the uncle of restaurant manager Jitendra Raj.
All three recounted the events. Their testimonies were identical —
the killer had first fired in the air and then at Jessica. They also
identified the man in the ‘white T-shirt’ as the murderer.
They had even gone to the police station, identified Manu and put their
signatures on his photograph. Manu too, in his testimony to the police,
had confessed to the crime. Yes, he had pressed the trigger, he admitted,
because he so badly wanted that drink.
It was an open
and shut case. Or so it seemed. Three eyewitnesses were more than enough
to ensure a life sentence for a brash son.
Yet, Manu Sharma
— who is called Glaxo Baby by friends and family — walked
out a free man. He and eight associates smirked as they took their steps
to freedom on February 21, 2006. Killing someone and getting convicted
for it, after all, are two separate things.
friends revealed that they had gone with him to Venod Sharma’s
properties in Delhi and Chandigarh
turned hostile and the case didn’t stand a chance. Shayan Munshi,
suddenly decided he could not read or understand Hindi, even though
he was a Bollywood wannabe. Shiv Das, the electrician, retracted saying
he was on the terrace then, and Karan Rajput, in a total volte-face,
said he was not even in Delhi on April 29.
So what happened?
Why did all the eyewitnesses change their testimonies and derail justice?
Just like the witnesses in other cases including the Nitish Katara case
and the infamous bmw case when the car had miraculously turned into
a truck. Were Munshi, Das and Rajput threatened? Were they lured or
was it a mix of the two?
Tehelka investigation — aired on Star News — has finally
blown the lid off all conjecture. The truth is brutal. In some ways,
it is a confirmation of what everyone suspected. Yes, in this case,
the answers lie in the shock and cynicism that Manu Sharma’s acquittal
evoked. That witnesses had been bought. That they had been threatened
spycams and phone conversations point to the nauseating reality. The
camera captured lengthy conversations that revealed monetary details.
Of how Venod Sharma would dole out bags of cash to secure his son’s
future. We were given horrifying accounts of how the Delhi Police was
— and still is — using strong-arm tactics. We were told
how vital clues were ignored, how the judiciary erred in not asking
the relevant questions and how the defence exploited every lacuna to
bail out Manu. During the investigation, one of the characters —
in a strong reminder of what transpired when the Sharmas were working
overtime to influence the witnesses — actually made demands of
us journalists. We recorded the demands and refused to meet him. Clearly,
the Jessica Lall murder had become a money-minting expedition. When
civil society protested and demanded justice for Jessica, the villains
who had ensured its miscarriage were gloating over their various trips
to Sharma properties in Delhi, Chandigarh and Manali.
The admissions were
unabashed. They pointed squarely to the fact that Venod Sharma had abused
power and money. The first crucial clue came from Karan Rajput’s
nephew, Jitendra Raj (see transcript). Rajput, according to Jitendra,
had for long been an alcoholic and would often drop in at Tamarind Court
to borrow money. He came that night too but since the nephew was busy
with the party, he asked his uncle to sit near the piano by the bar.
Rajput had a vantage position: he was seated on a chair facing the bar
where Shayan and Jessica were making drinks, for which they were paid
Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.
Rajput showed remorse
in the end. He called Jessica’s sister and
offered his ring saying he had been unfair to her
said, had no source of income. Till the night of the murder, he eked
out a living at a bread factory. What Jitendra told us next was startling
— his uncle never worked for a single day after Jessica’s
murder till he himself succumbed to liver cirrhosis in January 2005.
For the six intervening years, not only was he paying a monthly rent
of Rs 4,000, he was also drinking and gambling large sums of money.
Jitendra also told us more — that Rajput had turned his testimony
on its head because he had been paid by the Sharmas. Through Jitendra,
we met two of Rajput’s friends, Surinder, and Rajput’s landlord
and drinking buddy, Rajbir Singh.
They, in turn,
told us more. The details of how Rajput often went to the Sharma’s
office in Piccadilly House in Delhi’s Okhla area and to Chandigarh’s
Piccadilly Hotel to collect money were not just stories they had heard.
Importantly, Surinder and Rajbir had escorted him on such missions.
Surinder told us
in Jitendra’s presence that Rajput — also called Mamu by
his friends — took Rs 30 to Rs 35 lakh from the Sharmas. Surinder
revealed that when death seemed near because of alchoholism, Rajput
once even talked of recording a tell-all cd so that he could keep milking
the Sharmas. Surinder also revealed that once when the Sharmas refused
to pay up, he confronted Manu in the Patiala House court complex. He
was immediately paid Rs 50,000.