Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sanjay Dutt must be Wary of his Friends

A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Ever since the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict and sentenced actor Sanjay Dutt to five years rigorous imprisonment in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, a motley group of friends and so-called well-wishers of the actor have sprung to his defence and are pleading, cajoling and even demanding that his prison term be curtailed. Among those who are pleading on his behalf are Mr. Markandey Katju, Mr. Digvijay Singh, Ms. Jaya Bachchan and a host of friends from the cinema world. All of them argue that he has “suffered a lot” over the last 20 years during the pendency of the trail, that he has a family to take care and that he is a much reformed man now. Are these arguments valid? What are its implications for us as a democratic nation?

First of all, it must be made clear that there is nothing new or original in these arguments. His counsel made similar pleadings before the Supreme Court as well, but the court did not see any reason to curtail his prison term and send him on parole. Therefore to advance these very arguments all over again after the court has sentenced him, smacks of disrespect for the judicial process, to say the least. But the bigger issue is the unconstitutionality of these arguments because they go against a basic tenet in our constitution- equality before law and the equal application of the laws (Article 14). This tenet is the corner stone of any democratic constitution. It is therefore shocking to see even a former judge of the Supreme Court and seasoned parliamentarians openly campaigning for remission of Dutt’s sentence after the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Their arguments are flawed for other reasons as well. They say he got married some years ago, that he has two little children to take care and that he has already suffered because of the prolonged trial over 20 years. Often the justice system and judges are blamed, but just look at the number times Dutt has approached the higher courts for bail over this period. Also, how is Dutt worse off than other accused in this case. In fact, there are some other accused who deserve sympathy because they did not have Dutt’s resources to hire expensive lawyers and bombard the courts with a variety of pleas. As a result they languished in jail for years. And, most certainly, they have families too which, unlike Dutt’s family, have languished as well. That is why the Supreme Court has been lenient to many of them. The Aam Aadmi may not know the fine points of constitutional law but he can certainly see how a section of the elite is trying to short circuit the justice system for the sake of a film star. Dutt must protect himself from his friends!

How twisted these arguments in support of Sanjay Dutt are can be gauged from the following facts of the case: The police charged Sanjay Dutt and other accused in this case of hatching a criminal conspiracy between December, 1992 and April, 1993 to commit terrorist acts and to disturb communal harmony in the Bombay region by using bombs, hand grenades, explosive substances like RDX, weapons like AK-56 rifles and carbines and that all this was used to trigger a series of bomb blasts and terrorist strikes in a number of locations in Bombay on March 12, 1993 in which 257 persons were killed and 713 injured. Dutt was also charged with illegal possession of arms which were smuggled into the country by Dawood Ibrahim and his associated.

Following his arrest, .Sanjay Dutt made a confessional statement on April 26 and again on April 28, 1993 before a Deputy Commissioner of Police in Bombay, in which he said:

He possessed three fire arms – a 270 Bruno Rifle, a 370 Magnum Double Barrel Rifle and a 12 bore Double Barrel gun- with valid licenses. He bought these weapons because he was fond of hunting. In December, 1991, while shooting for a film in Dubai, he was introduced to Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Anees Ibrahim. Thereafter, Anees used to visit him regularly on the sets. In mid-January, 1992, Hanif Kandawala, Samir Hingora and two others visited his residence and gave him three AK-56 rifles, some magazines and 250 rounds. Two days later, he returned two rifles, but kept one along with some ammunition. In September, 1992 he purchased another 9 mm pistol with ammunition from a member of the Dawood gang, who visited him on the sets of a movie in R.K.Studios, Bombay. In April, 1993 he went to Mauritius for a movie shoot. There he heard of the arrest of Kandawala and Hingora and got frightened. He asked a friend – Yusuf Nulwalla -to rush to his house, collect a black bag that was in his room and dispose off the contents. This bag contained the third AK 56 rifle. This confessional statement of Sanjay Dutt was corroborated by the confessions made by Kandawala, Hingora, Nulwalla and three others.

Look at the kind of company that Dutt kept between 1991 and 1993 (Dawood Ibrahim, Anees Ibrahim et al) and look at the kind of weapons he stored in his house. Although he had three licenced fire arms, he accepts three AK-56 rifles, hand grenades and huge cache of ammunition from his friends. His lawyers and friends say this was for “self defence”! Have you ever come across another citizen who arms himself in this manner? Where will India be if all those who can afford it, followed Dutt’s example? In short, the arguments advanced in Dutt’s support are preposterous to say the least.

All these bleeding hearts need to introspect and consider the following: Although the Bombay Police had credible information that Sanjay Dutt was in possession of deadly weapons which he had acquired from those who had planned and executed the terrorist acts in March, 1993 in Bombay, they did not raid his house; the designated TADA Court, which heard the Bombay blast cases declared that Dutt had not committed a TADA offence but only offences under the Arms Act. As a result of this decision, the court sentenced him to only six years of rigorous imprisonment, whereas the punishment could have been much harsher if he was found guilty of a TADA offence; The CBI strangely allowed this decision of the court to go unchallenged. As a result, the issue before the Supreme Court was limited only to the appeal of Dutt for probation; and lastly, the Supreme Court itself reduced Dutt’s sentence from six to five years. How many offenders in terrorist cases in this country will be so lucky? After all these fortuitous circumstances, you have people like Mr.Katju, and Mr.Digvijay Singh argue that he be let off. Do they have any consideration for the 257 persons who were killed and 713 who were injured in blasts and grenade attacks engineered by Dutt’s friends?

Actually, all those who want the rule of law to prevail in the country ought to ask the man who was Bombay Police Commissioner in April, 1993 as to why he did not raid Sanjay Dutt’s house when he had information that the actor had acquired illegal weapons. They also must ask the man who was Director of CBI in 2007 to explain why he did not challenge the TADA Court judgement in Sanjay Dutt’s Case in the Supreme Court even though he challenged the verdicts in respect of some other offenders. These are the real issues in this case and the people have a right to know the truth.

If Sanjay Dutt shuns his friends for a while and shuts himself off from the cacophony created by them, he will be able to engage with his conscience and take a decision to accept the Supreme Court verdict, serve out the remaining three and half years in jail and come back to the world of glamour and cinema in the latter part of 2016 with his head held high. Such a decision would be in consonance with the Constitution of India (which mandates equality before law and equal application of the law) and the best democratic principles. It would also show him as a citizen who acknowledges that the safety and security of millions of fellow citizens is above everything else. He can return to do the next Munnabhai movie in 2017 with dignity and moral authority and this will catapult him to the pinnacle of his profession.

If on the other hand, Dutt remains a prisoner of his so-called well wishers who see a three year jail term as something of a calamity, he will be missing the woods for the trees. The political manoeuvrings of his friends may mean a few months less in jail, but the short cut he takes today will haunt him throughout his life.

So, Sanjay Dutt must make up his mind. Will he succumb to his short-sighted friends or will he opt for the right kind of prayaschit, choose to be a long distance runner and emerge taller than many of his so-called well wishers? Let us wait and watch!

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