Mercy for Sanjay Dutt sends perverse signal
The wheels of justice in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case may have taken 20 years to spin and deliver a verdict, but the wheels of "spin doctors" for...
The wheels of justice in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case may have taken 20 years to spin and deliver a verdict, but the wheels of "spin doctors" for superstar Sanjay Dutt have gone into overtime within minutes of the verdict to secure a pardon he doesn't deserve. To the syrupy chorus of voices from the vacuous Bollywood fraternity, no less than the former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has added the weight of his opinion that Sanjay Dutt should be pardoned because he has suffered enough, the blasts happened 20 years ago, and he has a loving family. More laughably, Katju maintained, Dutt had been a brand ambassador for "Gandhigiri" in his Munnabhai series, and both he and his family had done good deeds for society. The squawk of the chatterati has been loud enough to get the levers of government working to find ways to get Sanju baba to walk free � even though the Supreme Court had found him guilty of violation of the Arms Act and sentenced him to five years' jail. Several ministers of the UPA have come out with helpful suggestions for the precise manner in which the defenders of the indefensible can go about it. When a vast section of the political spectrum � from the Congress to the NCP to the Samajwadi Party to even the Shiv Sena � is out batting for Sanjay Dutt, it seems near-certain that a mercy petition will gain traction, and he will walk free. This is perverse on many counts. For a start, it validates the widely held perception that the due process of law doesn't apply to celebrities even when they have been found guilty of grave crimes by the highest court of the land in a case relating to what was arguably the biggest terrorist attack in India. Sanjay Dutt, by his own admission, which he has been looking to retract, sought and secured deadly assault rifles, ammunition and hand-grenades � and was in active touch with the perpetrators of the terrorist attack who were acting to avenge the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the savage riots of January 1993 in Mumbai. In his first confessional statement, made to his father and Congress MP Sunil Dutt who wanted to know why he had been stashing deadly arms, Sanjay Dutt said: "Because I have Muslim blood in my veins. I could not bear what was happening in the city." There were a whole host of others who were disturbed by the goings-on in Mumbai in those communally charged times, but not everyone felt the need to stash deadly firearms in violation of the law. It is for those crimes that he was convicted, although as this searing expose points out he was already the beneficiary of a "benign judicial eye" that acquitted him of charges under TADA even though others like Zaibunnisa Kadri, who acted as a conduit for the arms without express realisation of the contents of the package, were charged under the more rigorous provision. Even Sanjay Dutt's lawyer found that perverse. On the day in 2006 that he was acquitted of charges under TADA, Sanjay Dutt sported a huge tilak on his forehead and offered prayers at the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai, thereby exhibiting an amazing dexterity in playing both sides of his religious legacy as the situation warranted. To this day, Sanjay Dutt has not expressed any remorse for his foolish action, taken at a challenging time in Mumbai's history, when Bollywood was also valorising the khalnayak phenomenon. And yet, even after the Supreme Court sentencing, the Bollywood brigade, Katju and an array of political leaders are speaking up for his clemency. All because he's "suffered enough" and is a family man who has done "good deeds" � in the way that every celebrity does as part of a PR exercise? What has he suffered, asks Subramaniam Swamy. All these 20 years he was chasing girls, acting in films and making money, partying and even had a sojourn in politics. Swamy vows that he will move the court if Dutt is given clemency. "The court has given its verdict. We should not interfere with the verdict", said Anna Hazare.A Justice, as Shekhar Gupta points out, is about laws and evidence. "It is not about what a nice guy you have been, or how kind, wonderful and successful your parents and siblings are." Of course, the Indian jurisprudence system provides for commutation of sentences and mercy, but even that is subject to judicial review. And the instance that Katju cites � the 1959 case of KM Nanavati, whose life sentence (for the murder of his wife's paramour) was commuted � is flawed. (Even there, the conflict of interest runs too deep: Nanavati was close to the Nehru family, and the then Governor of Maharashtra, who commuted the sentence was Nehru's sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit.) In any case, it was a crime of passion, not a criminal conspiracy involving a terrorist attack. As Gupta notes, all the mitigating circumstances being quoted in Sanjay Dutt's defence are "exclusive gifts of our elite privilege." They reek of an "us-and them" mentality where "people like us" must be let off even if they are found guilty of grave crimes related to a terrorist attack, but the "dirty unwashed" should face long terms in jail even before charge sheets have been drawn up. The move to secure mercy for Sanjay Dutt is a perversion of the law, fraught with dangerous consequences. And yet, it appears that it has enough political and social momentum to sail through. � Firstpost