By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Nov 9 (SocialNews.XYZ) After spending 101 days in jail, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on August 1, walked out of the Arthur Road Central Jail to a hero's welcome late on Wednesday after being granted bail by a special court here.
Soon after the special court verdict, the ED challenged the bail order in the Bombay High Court, which declined to grant a stay on the bail order and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.
On July 31, the ED team had swooped on Raut's home and arrested him the following day (August 1) in connection with an alleged money-laundering scam arising out of the Patra Chawl redevelopment case of Goregaon, even as Raut claimed innocence.
In the bail order, Special Judge M.S. Deshpande ripped into the ED for the "illegal" arrest of Raut with "no reason", saying "this truth is glaring", though another co-accused in the same case was arrested for a civil dispute, and how "pure civil disputes were labelled as money-laundering or economic offences".
Deshpande also questioned the ED's failure to arrest the two prime accused -- HDIL builders Sarang Wadhawan and Rakesh Wadhawan -- besides government officials of MHADA who could be possibly involved in the alleged scam.
"I hold that both the accused were basically arrested illegally. Both of them are entitled to parity in view of the disparity made by the ED in not arresting the main accused persons, Rakesh and Sarang, HDIL, MHADA and government officials responsible for misdeeds of the Wadhawans at the relevant time," Deshpande said without mincing words.
The Special Judge also noted the changing stance of the ED - initially claiming that the Wadhawans and Pravin Raut were the prime accused, and later attributing that role to Sanjay Raut.
With no relief from the high court to the ED, the scene shifted to Arthur Road Central Jail where the release formalities of Raut were carried out before he walked out of the high-security prison at around 6.45 pm.
For the second time in 12 months, a massive media brigade laid siege outside the ARCJ - the previous occasion being the release of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan Khan, who was nabbed in a drug case in October 2021.
Hundreds of mediapersons, Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders and workers waited several hours in anticipation of Raut's imminent release from judicial custody.
Huge preparations for his welcome were underway at his home in Chembur and at the Shiv Sena Bhavan, plus other strongholds, with fire-crackers, distribution of sweetmeats and raising slogans in Raut's favour.
Finally, as he walked out of the prison doors, he was mobbed by the paparazzi with scores of cameras and microphones thrust into his face, but the Mumbai Police escorted him safely to his waiting SUV with his MLA brother Sunil Raut waiting for him eagerly.
A visibly overwhelmed Raut raised and waved his arms, showed the 'V' (victory) sign, accepted bouquets and garlands though appearing weary after his long jail ordeal of over three months.
"I am happy to be free. The court has said whatever we have been saying since the beginning. My faith in the judiciary, the courts and the Constitution has increased. However, I am feeling a bit unwell now... I shall definitely speak to the media when I am fine," he said.
Raut also said that he will "never quit the Shiv Sena" and his struggle against injustice would continue, but admitted that "it was very tough to spend over three months in prison", being separated from his mother, wife and daughter.
"I will not be cowed down or leave the Shiv Sena. Despite so many attacks on the party, it remains firm. It's a single party, there are no factions. I am a Shiv Sainik and a fighter, and I will continue to be so till the end," he vowed.
Raut said he spoke with party chief and ex-Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who was waiting to hear his (Raut's) voice, but he was choked with joy and emotion. He also called his mother at home.
Later, as his SUV marooned in the crowd managed to crawl out, Raut said he would go to pay obeisance at the memorial of Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, pray at the Siddhivinayak Temple, and go to the residence of Uddhav Thackeray before reaching home.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at:Aq.firstname.lastname@example.org)