Mumbai: Here is the scenario: The conviction of a person for illegal possession of an assault weapon, an AK-56 rifle, is upheld by the Supreme Court. The weapon is part of a larger consignment that will be used to carry out the deadliest terrorist attacks on that country's financial capital. The convict has also met, hugged and had phone conversations with the masterminds of this terror conspiracy - men whose name repeatedly figure in the infamous "most wanted" lists. In the past, he has also illegally possessed a pistol. Along with him, about 100 others are found guilty. But there is a powerful political and societal lobby that sympathises with him and pushes for his pardon, arguing that his punishment is too severe.
In short, this is the story of a convicted criminal named Sanjay Dutt. That he happens to be an actor in India's powerful Hindi film industry called Bollywood, that his parents, too, were in the same profession and were honest and sincere social workers, and that his father and sister were and are members of India's Parliament are all secondary factors and should be of little importance.
Indeed, both the actor and his sister Priya Dutt have issued statements saying they respect the judicial process.
Yet, Sanjay Dutt's case is being argued by none less than Justice Markandey Katju, the chairman of the Press Council of India.
Hours after Dutt was given a five-year prison term by the Supreme Court in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, Justice Katju wrote to Maharashtra Governor K Sankarnarayanan requesting him to use Article 161 of the Constitution to pardon the actor.
Ten reasons listed by Justice Katju that call for rebuttal.
1. Sanjay has suffered a lot
2. He underwent various tribulations and indignities
3. He had to go to court often
So? Haven't the other accused also suffered "a lot"? If you break the law, you have to go to court. Justice Katju should know that.
4. He had to take permission of the Court for foreign shootings.
5. He could not get bank loans
6. He has undergone 18 months in jail
Why should that be surprising? He was earning his livelihood when out on bail. And indeed, making a lot of money. 18 months: that's just 30% of his five-year jail time.
7. Sanjay Dutt is married and has two small children
Sanjay got married to wife Maanyata in 2008 a year after he was convicted by the TADA court. Sure, it is painful for the family for no fault of theirs. But Sanjay was aware that the final word was with the Supreme Court. He still chose to take that risk and go ahead with his domestic life. How can this be a mitigating factor to pardon him?
8. He has not been held to be a terrorist, and had no hand in the bomb blasts
Sure, but he is a convicted accused under a serious charge called the Arms Act. In fact, other lawyers believe that he should also have been convicted like the other accused under TADA. Because under TADA, at the point of time, possessing an illegal weapon in a notified area - which Mumbai was - automatically attracted the stringent act. Hence, he was booked and tried for terror charges just like the others. Lawyers are surprised that he was let off by the courts on this count.
9. His parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis worked for the good of society and the nation. They often went to border areas to give moral support to our brave jawans and did other social work for society
How can good karma of his parents, be passed on to mitigate Sanjay's criminal past? Astrologically, it is possible, perhaps, to access this benefit. But legally?
10. Sanjay, in this period of 20 years, has through his film revived the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and the message of Gandhiji, the father of the nation.
And here's where it gets outrageous. Munnabhai is a fictitious filmi character. It doesn't exist in reality. By that same logic, Sanjay also played shady roles of criminals in super hit films like Khalnayak and Vaastav. Should that then be taken against him? Certainly, not.
The problem with Justice Katju's appeal is that it is basically an emotional plea. Coming from him, a former judge of the Supreme Court, it is expected that beyond sentiments, the appeal should have also been legally sound.
Legal expert Raju Ramachandran, in fact, says the power of pardon by the Governor is also subject to judicial review and it cannot be exercised whimsically. Critically, he points out that it has to be for public good.
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