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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 33

Democracy, Justice and Sanjay Dutt’s Sentence

Editorial

Wednesday 8 August 2007, by SC

The Special TADA Court for the trial of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case has completed its work by sentencing film star Sanjay Dutt to six years’ r.i. With the sentences served on him and three of his associates, the curtain has come down on the long drawn out case. The sentencing of Sanjay has resulted in a controversy with Mumbai’s film fraternity unitedly expressing its sense of shock and disbelief. Some have—echoing the Union I&B Minister—termed the sentence as harsh. These opinions cannot, however, detract from the fact that Sanjay was at fault on several counts. By stashing away three AK-56 assault rifles, hand grenades and magazines to protect himself he did violate the Arms Act. At the same time it is common knowledge that in 1993 he had a meeting with gangster and underworld don Abu Salem who is now his fellow accused, and he agreed to accept arms and ammunition on the directive of Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees. These acts on his part had made him vulnerable before law; so his conviction and sentence were inevitable.

The quantum of punishment is, however, a different issue. Judge Kode delivered the judgment because having awarded similar sentences to similar offenders in the same case, he could not have possibly struck a different course for Sanjay; that would have amounted to the judge exposing himself to the charge of making a distinction between a celebrity and a commoner, something legally untenable; and he correctly turned away from taking that path.

Yet if the film fraternity has acted with a sense of disbelief—some of them like Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu have been literally dumbstruck—the reason lies elsewhere. As Hindustan Times has editorially observed,
It is hard to accept—as the 1993 bombing convicts have argued—that Maharashtra policemen and politicians indicted by a commission of inquiry got away scot-free. Indeed, they were never prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Madhukar Sarpotdar, then Shiv Sena MP and today a member of the legislative council, was arrested by the army with guns and swords in the boot of his car: an offence, like Dutt’s, under the Arms Act. The Sena’s argument: the circumstances were different then. Judge Kode’s rigidly legal and logically correct perspective cannot hope to account for his judgment’s disconnect with Bombay’s old realities and Mumbai’s new sensibilities.

This “disconnect” cannot be wished away—it is a part of the contemporary political reality. The BJP/Sena on the one hand and the Congress on the other want to perpetuate this “disconnect”. However, the crime in one case cannot be condoned while accepting the crime in the other case. Both were horrendous incidents and the trauma suffered by Mumbai and India in both cases was of equal magnitude. That is why it is all the more reprehensible that successive State governments run by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine and the Congress-NCP alliance found neither the time nor the aptitude to implement the Srikrishna Commission report on the 1992-93 Mumbai riots.

Both democracy and justice have been upheld by the Special TADA Court’s trial of the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts. It is high time the Srikrishna Commission report on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 is implemented by the State authorities. Civil society has already projected that very demand. The State Government must now bestir itself. The Centre too should force the Maharashtra administration to act. If they don’t move, then it will be a blow on both democracy and justice in the country.

August 1, S.C.

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