The obvious obsession of several “secularists” led by jurist Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India and a former judge of the Supreme Court, to get film star Sanjay Dutt a pardon from the President/Governor has raised several questions. In his petition to the President and numerous articles in dailies, Katju wants the government to look at the “facts of the case and then consider whether he should be granted pardon.” From this premise comes the next proposition: “if he (Dutt) deserves pardon, he should not be denied it just because he is celebrity.” What are the “facts” as the retired judge sees them?
“He has already undergone 18 months of imprisonment”. “It took him five to six years to restore his damaged career.” “He has often been ostracised by the people as he had the brand of a terrorist on himself.” “Dutt did not get film offers, could not get bank loans, and (suffered) various other tribulations and indignities during the 20-year period.”
Further, during these two decades “no allegations are there that he did anything wrong, rather he did good social work”. Incidentally he got married and has “two small children.” Katju wants us to conclude that for all these reasons (of ostracisation, etc.,) Dutt has substantially undergone the punishment (for illegal possession of arms), “sufferings equivalent to five years’ imprisonment”.
The details of the various arms that Dutt already possessed and familiar with before he acquired AK-56 are in public domain. Three of these were licensed firearms. The question arises why he acquired an AK-56 and that too from the notorious Dawood gang. Does it not suggest that Dutt was in touch with this gang? Being a Mumbai resident and with so much access because of his celebrity status, it is difficult to believe that he was not aware of how the police viewed this gang.
Recently a newspaper editor revealed in a signed article that the former Bombay police commissioner told him that if only Dutt had informed his famous star father that the D-gang was distributing weapons like AK-56 at that time, the riots that followed would have been averted. All these facts throw serious doubt about the claim of self-defence and innocence about terrorist gangs.
Surely, Dutt who was in his 20s in 1993-94 was not being childish or stupid enough to play with the D-gang or take AK-56 to be a toy gun that lured his curiosity. Perhaps Katju is not aware that the “facts” he quotes may in fact be different from reality or that someone somewhere has failed to present all the facts before the court to deliberately provide a window to the celebrity and son of a celebrated Congress MP as well as first rate star.
One wishes Katju and “secularists” of his ilk, also consider the plight of several others who are rotting in jail even though they are not as yet condemned. Sadhvi Pragya is one who has been accused by the Maharashtra police of participating in terror activities. Several years are past and as yet a full chargesheet has not been presented against her or against another co-accused Col. Purohit. The Sadhvi is suffering from cancer and her plea for bail so she could find treatment of her choice has been denied.
As for the social work of Dutt that the “secularists” quote to save the star, why are the “secularists” and the judge silent about Swami Aseemanad, certainly a greater social worker who has given his life to work among the tribals, who too is in jail.
He has been refused bail and allegedly tortured to confess. We also are not aware, whether Katju when sitting on the bench or later, ever raised the sufferings of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits forced out of their homes and are refugees in their own country.
Even if we ignore all this, let us ask the eminent judge some fundamental questions. One of the reasons for pardon for Dutt is the suffering he has undergone in the 20-year interval between the riots and the final conviction when he was ostracised, denied bank loans, could not get stellar roles, etc. Will the learned judge ask the President to apply the same considerations to lakhs of undertrials, both famous and otherwise who rot in our jails for years before their cases are decided?
What did the learned judge do when he was in the bench of both the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court to mitigate the sufferings of these undertrials? Did he take any steps to reduce the pendency of cases, to give bail to the undertrials of whom the Sadhvi is one? Does he not know that once you are accused and are an undertrial even if you get bail, society ostracises you, refuses to employ you, does not give any bank loans, etc.? So what is peculiar about Dutt’s suffering during the 20 years he spent as undertrial? The joker in the pack that Katju has put up to call for mercy to Dutt is the fact he underlines that the super star has married during the long bail period and has two “small children”.
Surely, Katju, you must be knowing that this condition could be applied to several thousand prisoners, some of whom may be in the death row right now? At least Dutt’s wife and children will not be starving while he is in prison. But that is not the case of thousands of people who have to rot in jails for crimes they are accused of.
Again, the plea is advanced that if Dutt now goes to jail to serve three and a half years of his remaining sentence, his career would be ruined and hundreds of crores of film industry invested in Sanjay Dutt’s films under preparation, would be washed down the drain.
Is this peculiar to Dutt only or applicable to all prisoners who will, due to our systemic defect, find their career finished if they go to jail even for a year or two?
Lakhs of cases are pending in the very Supreme Court whose benches Katju adorned once. We have not seen Katju or the likes of him turning their critical light on to the judiciary and also prosecution that does not take into account the greatness of Mercy that Shakespeare’s Portia elaborated upon in the “Merchant of Venice” that our eminent judge quoted in his petition to the President to save Dutt from going to prison.
Balbir Punj is a BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member.