Supreme Court judgment in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case has brought only partial closure to the two decades old, March 12 barbaric strikes on country’s commercial capital. The carnage was planned and executed with military precision targeting places like Mumbai Stock Exchange, crowded market places and a cinema hall. It claimed 257 lives and left 713 injured in what was one of the worst attacks on Indian soil by home grown terrorists aided and abetted by Pakistan’s ISI and military establishment. Mumbai, nay the entire nation, is waiting for the past two decades for bringing the masterminds of the crime to justice while Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim – absconders in the criminal case—roam around freely in Pakistan under the patronage of ISI. The Congress-led Government that has been notoriously soft on terror because of vote-bank compulsions doesn’t inspire confidence that it would launch a diplomatic offensive to bring international pressure on Islamabad to return to us the wanted men. Nation’s heart will continue to ache until these criminals are brought to justice.
The only person sentenced to death by the apex court in the case is the prime accused Yakub Memon, Tiger’s brother. The court commuted death sentence handed down by the TADA Court to 10 others found guilty of planting bombs to life imprisonment on the presumption that they were merely pawns in the hands of the masterminds of the carnage. It is not clear how many of these terrorists had illegally gone to Pakistan for arms training and had willingly joined the war against India to become “martyrs”. These terrorists, whether hardened or not, didn’t deserve any leniency as they had played a major role in killing innocent citizens and destroying public and private property around the city. A harsher punishment to these criminals would have sent across a strong message of zero-tolerance to terrorism that Indian establishment often talks about but rarely translates into action. Significantly, the court came down heavily against Pakistan for promoting terrorism, shielding India’s enemies and not cooperating with New Delhi to bring perpetrators of the crime to justice. This has underlined the stark reality that the absconders and other gangsters belonging to D-Company have found safe havens across the border and are enjoying ISI hospitability.
TADA court Judge P D Kode held that Sanjay Dutt was in illegal possession of an AK 56 assault rifle – a prohibited weapon under the law – an automatic pistol and hand grenades and convicted him to six years imprisonment. Not many remember that Sanjay had not just kept a gun – AK 56 assault rifle at that – he did much worse. The actor allowed the terrorists to use his house to park the vehicle laden with a consignment of smuggled assault rifles, pistols and hand grenades and participated in the recovery of the arsenal from the vehicle. He was also a party to the destruction of the evidence – an assault rifle and an automatic pistol he had obtained from the terrorists. These weapons were part of the arsenal that terrorist used to bomb various sites in Mumbai to deadly effect. It is also a matter of public record that the actor has close links with the underworld that perpetrated the crime and was in touch with them before and after the bombing. He was booked not only under Arms Act but also for aiding and abetting the crime that shattered Mumbai 20 years ago. However, the TADA court acquitted him of terror charges. The apex court too upheld TADA court’s order even while reducing his sentence to five years – the minimum punishment under the Arms Act.
Although Sanjay got away lightly, a motivated campaign has been launched by many in the film industry, sections of politicians and sundry bleeding hearts to seek mercy for him. Not to be left behind, Justice Markandey Katju, the controversial Chairman of the Press Council of India, has also jumped the gun. He lost no time to write to the Governor of Maharashtra urging him to invoke Article 161 of the Constitution to pardon the actor. Sanjay, the former judge says, should be shown mercy as he had suffered a lot. Former Judge’s list of “sufferings” undergone by Sanjay is amusing if not absurd. Some of these are: The actor underwent various tribulations and indignities, had to go to court often, couldn’t get bank loans, had to take court’s permission for shooting abroad, has already spent 18 months in jail and that he is married with two small children. What else the convict should expect? Justice Katju ought to know that these sufferings are common place for all accused even those charged with petty crimes. As for the claim that Sanjay is not a terrorist, the question is has he been punished on that count? The former judge’ argument that Sanjay had spread Gandhi’s message through his films is equally superficial. The Actor did and said what was mandated by the script writer and the director. If one were to give him credit for spreading Gandhi’ thoughts by his role as a fictional character in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, then he should be hauled up for spreading crime by playing shady roles in several of his block buster films. There is hardly any valid ground for seeking pardon for the convict. As noted legal expert Raju Ramchandran observed the power of pardon by executive is also subject to judicial review and it can’t be exercised whimsically and that it has to be for public good. Legal luminaries point out that Governors have no power to pardon persons convicted under some of the laws – including Arms Act. So PCI Chairman, Union Law and IB Ministers and Congress leader Digvijay Singh are barking at the wrong tree. In our constitutional system there can’t be a separate set of rules for celebrities with close links with the powerful lobbies and the party in power.