New Delhi: Eleven years after he was filmed accepting a bribe in a fictitious arms deal, former BJP president Bangaru Laxman was today sentenced to four years in jail by a Delhi court. He was also slapped with a fine of Rs one lakh.
Mr Laxman had been convicted on Friday under the Prevention of Corruption Act for accepting a kickback of Rs one lakh to facilitate the passage of a fake defence deal in 2001 that was part of a sting operation conducted by Tehelka.com, a news organisation. He was charged with misusing his office and for attempting to influence another public official. (Read: Former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman found guilty of corruption, arrested) Facing a maximum sentence of five years, the 72-year-old had, earlier in the day, pleaded for a lesser sentence citing age and health concerns.
But the court, while rejecting his plea for leniency, also took cognisance of the "large-scale and rampant corruption" in the society and the need for shunning the casual attitude towards it. "Balancing the twin interest of society and that of the convict, I am of the opinion that interest of justice would be met, if the convict is sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a term of four years and to pay a fine of Rs one lakh for the offence under Section 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act," Additional Sessions Judge Kanwal Jeet Arora said in his 14-page order.
"It is right time to shun this 'sab chalta hai' (It's OK!) attitude. When Parliament, taking note of the grim situation, has taken first step to sternly deal with such persons by increasing the quantum of punishment which can be imposed, it is the turn of the court to follow suit, so as to implement the will and intention of the legislature by interpreting the provisions of the PC Act as per the dictates of the apex court," the judge said.
The Congress, which has found itself frequently cornered by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over issues of corruption, was quick to seize upon the opportunity. "Definitely because he has been found guilty, he is getting the sentence. This is totally a slap on the face of the BJP, who now instead of making noise on corruption, should concentrate on making their party corruption free," Rashid Alvi, Congress spokesperson, said.
The BJP, meanwhile, promptly dissociated itself from Mr Laxman's case, calling it his personal matter. "It was certainly his personal liability, we have always said. We even removed him from the post of party president. He was caught in a sting operation of one lakh rupees. What about Bofors, what about Quattrocchi? Now, at least a fair probe should be announced in those matters," party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
The BJP's distance from Mr Laxman was made obvious with prominent party leaders staying away from court. Mr Laxman's daughter was the only member from his family who turned up in court.
The former BJP president has decided to challenge his conviction before the Delhi High Court, with his counsel alleging the case against him was "framed".
"We will challenge the decision in the high court. We will definitely appeal in the higher court," Mr Laxman's counsel Ajay Digpaul told reporters after the pronouncement of the sentence.
Mr Laxman was caught counting wads of notes that he had accepted from a Tehelka reporter who was posing as an arms dealer in return for hiring the latter's company to supply hand-held thermal imagers to the Indian Army.