Sanjay Dutt is a popular movie star and a celebrity. It is, therefore, not surprising that his fans across the country who perceive him, albeit wrongly, as a person who revived the Mahatma'smessage in the form of Gandhigiri, reacted emotionally and made a hue and cry about the ?harsh? punishment meted out to their idol by the TADA court. It is, however, disgusting that Bollywood crowd that is expected to behave in a more responsible and mature manner has launched a signature campaign against Sanjay'sconviction and is creating a hype to influence the judiciary. Special Public Prosecutor in the 1993 serial blast case, Ujjwal Nikam, is deeply hurt by this unfair campaign saying judicial remedies are open to the prisoner who is exercising them. There is no room for campaigns against judicial verdict based on sentimentalism. More revolting is the spectacle of Union Ministers issuing statements in support of the convict and asking the Congress party to come to the rescue of the jailed actor on the premise that his father?Sunil Dutt?was a party leader and one of Sanjay'ssisters is now a Congress MP. Why should a political party poke its nose in judicial verdict against a person found guilty of serious crimes simply because his family is close to the ruling party? It is no one'scase that Dutt is a terrorist. The TADA court acquitted him of that charge long ago but the court did hold him guilty on several charges under the Arms Act. He was in possession of weapons and ammunition that was smuggled by terrorist gang to kill innocent people and was also guilty of destruction of evidence.
Sentimentalism has no place in such serious crimes. Difference between real and reel life must be clearly understood. In his famous and successful film Munna Bhai Lage Raho, Sanjay acted well and won laurels. He simply performed a role in a filmy story that had a message. That doesn'tmake him a role model. It would be totally wrong to forget the problems he created for himself and his family as a young man, although he did manage to come out of that tough situation with admirable help from his father. It is amusing that no one is talking of the author of the script, the director and the producer who created the film. They give all the credit to the hero of the film who they can see on the screen. It is downright stupid to think or believe that Sanjay Dutt reminded the people the path Gandhi had shown that everybody seems to have forgotten. He is no Gandhian given he had links with underworld and took smuggled arms and ammunition from them for ?protection?.
Judicial circles are all praise for the TADA Court Judge P.D. Kode and Special Public Prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, for their highly commendable work in this hugely complex and complicated case in which a large number of members of the underworld were used by Pakistan'sISI in unleashing another chapter of proxy war against India. Judge Kode performed his judicial duty by sentencing Sanjay Dutt to six years? rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act for illegally possessing, storing and destroying weapons. Interestingly, Soli Sorabjee, eminent jurist and a former Attorney General, totally disagrees with public outcry that the punishment meted out to Sanjay was ?excessive and unfair?. Public, he says, is misinformed on the issue. They don'tknow that minimum punishment in such cases is five years and the TADA Court judge would have committed an ?illegality? if he had given three years to Sanjay. Dismissing criticism of the judge, the eminent jurist opines that the judge, if any thing, was a bit lenient towards the celebrity convict. His caution against sending signals about ?celebrity justice delivery system? is significant and must be taken note of by all concerned.
Union Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal'sresponse to Sorabjee'sobservations made in a television interview is full of bluster but lacks substance. His assertion that he had supported Sanjay in his personal capacity and that if he had kept silent it would have been interpreted as his attempt to distance himself from Sanjay whose lawyer he was at one point of time. This stand is as clear as mud. The Minister needs to answer the question whether it was politically and morally correct for him as a Minister of the Government to defend a convict in a serious crime simply because the convict'sfamily was close to the ruling party. Is any conflict of interest involved? His attempt to compare the serial blast case with the case pertaining to demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya is, to say the least, mischievous. The case against L.K. Advani and Dr. M.M. Joshi has political overtones as both of them are amongst top leaders of a major political party that had played a leading role in support of the Ayodhya movement launched by VHP. They are not accused of procuring weapons from the underworld that unleashed a war against the state. To compare the case against them with that of Sanjay Dutt to launch a counter attack on Soli Sorabjee'smoral stand is nothing short of cheap tactics to score brownie points.
It is sad that TADA court took 14 years to rap up the case. It is a measure of the sluggishness of our judicial system. Those who question the failure of the administration to punish the perpetrator of riots that preceded the serial blasts in Mumbai do have a point. No one guilty of committing a crime should be allowed to escape punishment. Having said that, one must caution against trying to justify terror for failure of the administration to punish those involved in communal riots or perceived injustices to the minorities. Terror has no justification whatsoever. The tendency to offer justification for acts of terror to prove one'scommitment to ?secularism? has undermined the national will to fight terror.
(The writer is a senior journalist and can be contacted at A-208, Surajmal Vihar, New Delhi-110 092.)