The sentencing of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt to five years in jail by the Supreme Court of India in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case reminded me of a classic I had read years back – Crime and Punishment by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
The novel is set in St Petersburg in which the protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, living in penury, decides to murder a money-lender whom he considers despicable and not fit to live and use her money for a better cause. He commits the crime but then suffers terribly as his conscience tears him apart. Ultimately the law catches up with him and is sent to prison in Siberia.
The moral of the story, to put simply, is that you have to pay for your acts sooner or later and the consequence of your action will come back to haunt you. This is exactly what has happened with the only son of Sunil and Nargis Dutt.
Sanjay may or may not have been aware of the fact that the weapons that he hoarded in his house were for the horrific Mumbai blasts but the fact is that what he did was against law and hence has to pay a price for what he did. For precisely this reason those who have been saying that Sanjay Dutt should be pardoned are completely missing the point. (Under Article 161 of the Constitution the Governor has the power to wave off jail sentences).
It is understandable that being one of their own, Bollywood came out in support of the actor. The reactions have been varied – some said that they were shocked at the news, whereas others said that Dutt was a good human being. Legends like Rajnikanth said that he was ‘disturbed’ to hear the verdict and Jaya Bachchan, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, maintained that Sanjay “was a changed man” and it is for this reason that she would talk to the Maharashtra Governor and seek for his clemency. There have been some differing voices too, like that of Mahesh Bhatt, who said that the time had come for Sanjay “to face the consequences of what he did and take it like a man.”
But what is surprising is the support that Sanjay has been getting from other quarters. Press Council of India chairman, Justice (Retired) Markandey Katju has been in the forefront of ‘pardon Sanjay Dutt’ campaign. He wants Sanjay to be pardoned on humanitarian grounds as he “has already suffered a lot and has done a lot of good work like spreading the message of Gandhi.”
Hearing him it does seem as if that Mr Katju has forgotten that the roles the actors play are different from what they are in real life. The ‘Munnabhai’ films were a jackpot for Sanjay as far as his career is concerned and one is pretty sure that he did not do these roles because he wanted to repent and has imbibed the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in his everyday life.
As far as suffering is concerned, yes, maybe he lived the past 20 years of his life with the apprehension as to what the court’s verdict would be and how it would impact his life. But other than that he acted in movies, earned money, lived the life of a star replete with all the comforts, unlike others who were waiting all these years for the apex court’s verdict. And more importantly, he was a free man out on bail.
In fact, Sanjay Dutt should consider himself lucky. He got away with just five years jail term. If he had been booked under the stringent Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (now defunct), known as TADA for possessing illegal arms in a notified area which Mumbai was at that time, then maybe who knows, he would have got a longer sentence. In fact, many wonder as to why the CBI did not go for an appeal in the SC against the TADA court’s decision to charge him only under the Arms Act.
Anyway, what is more surprising is the support that the political class has heaped on Sanjay Dutt. In fact the political class has outdone the Bollywood fraternity. The NCP and the Samajwadi party want him to be pardoned, along with INLD.
“He has a daughter of marriageable age and the other siblings are too young,” said Abhay Chautala. SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav opined, “This is an ordinary case of Section 25 of the Arms Act, which provides for six months to one year imprisonment.”
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too joined the bandwagon when she said that Dutt had already ‘suffered a lot for the blunder’. Amar Singh and Jaya Prada too have been championing his cause.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is also of the view that Sanjay was innocent.
One wonders why the hearts of all of the above are not bleeding for the other accused whose crimes were more or less similar to that of the ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ hero. Namely Zaibunissa Kazi, who was charged for possessing illegal arms and ammunition and was convicted under TADA, whereas Sanjay Dutt got an acquittal under TADA.
Zaibunissa’s daughter did tell a news channel – “I wish I was a celebrity or my mother was a celebrity or a sister of an MP. Even my mother would have got the kind of support Sanjay Dutt is getting.”
However, in an irony of sorts, the Shiv Sena has opposed any move to go soft on Sanjay Dutt, feeling that the move would send a wrong message to the society. To be noted is the fact that it was Bal Thackeray who had been instrumental in getting Sanjay bail on the behest of Sunil Dutt .
In Dutt’s case it is understandable that his friends and the industry people may have been feeling a sense of sadness at the prospect of him going to jail. However, they have to understand that hollering for his pardon will send out a wrong message. Also, where will all this end? Tomorrow, the clamour to ask pardon for another actor Salman Khan will also start if and when he gets convicted for any of the court cases that he is embroiled in.
One of Dutt’s close friend and actor Ajay Devgn said on a TV channel that the actor was not a threat to the society. He has a point. The society should give a chance to those who want to reform but it happens only after the person has paid a price for his unwarranted act and is ready to tread the path of rule and law and does not go back to his old ways. So for redemption, Dutt will have to serve out the remaining three odd years in jail for his act.
And come to think of it Sanjay was not all that young when he was arrested – he was 33 years of age – old enough to filter the good from the bad. Even if Dutt is given the benefit of doubt and one were to accept that he had no clue about the impending blasts in Mumbai and that he had acquired the weapons for his family’s protection, how prudent is it to hobnob with the mafia dons and how right is it to buy illegal weapons. Hours of recorded conversations between underworld dons Anees Ibrahim and Abu Salem and the Sanjay Dutt are well documented.
If at all one feels sorry, it is for Sanjay’s family – for his father who was undoubtedly a good man and for his sisters who have been his pillar of support. It must have broken Sunil Dutt to see his son being called a ‘terrorist’. Sadly, Sunil Dutt had passed away by the time Sanjay was acquitted under TADA.
Post Script: In Dutt’s case it seems unlikely that the Governor will grant him pardon. For a start he will have to take the advice of the council of ministers, appear to have acted fairly and would have to give reasons for granting reprieve to the actor, as public interest litigation can be filed against the decision.