Some days back, an emotional Sanjay Dutt appeared before the media clarifying that he would not appeal for mercy. (PTI Photo)
George Orwell's allegorical phrase of some animals being more equal than others rings truer in the nation where the writer was born than anywhere else. Or how else can one even begin to explain that Sanjay Dutt managed to escape punishment under TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) while someone like Zaibunissa Kazi couldn't? Kazi just horded weapons on the behest of the masterminds of the serial bombings while Dutt sought the arsenal; stocked and later destroyed some of it. He even admitted to his friendship with Anees Ibrahim to the police, who till his confession had no idea about just how close the star was to the mobster!
The reality of two Indias, one for the famous and the other for the rest can't be denied. A few days ago Saif Ali Khan mused in an interview that there was a time 'when laws didn't apply to big stars'. Born a prince, Saif grew up in an environment where being more equal than most was a given. He has had his own share of run-ins with the law; he supposedly accompanied Salman Khan on the alleged blackbuck-hunting trip and is accused of beating an NRI while partying in a five-star hotel. Salman Khan purportedlyrunning over pedestrians in the middle of the night, Sanjay Dutt conspiring against his own country, Saif Ali Khan bashing up people, John Abraham's hit-and-run case…the cases might be still on but most celebs are often allowed to get away easy. Not only do we have to see them being treated differently for misdemeanors but also put up with other public figures clamoring for leniency. Half the film industry and their aunts vouch for the goodness of Sanjay 'Baba' Dutt and Salman 'Bhai' Khan and sometimes those responsible for upholding the law equally for all end up batting for them. To me Justice Markandey Katju's explanation of seeking pardon for Sanjay Dutt, and Zaibunissa Kazi on grounds of 'public good' comes across as completely unrelated.
One of the reasons for this morbid Indian fascination of allowing celebrities to get away with anything wrong lies in our nature of appeasing the high and mighty. We lose track of the ills dropped along the path as long as the end is glorious and often take such criminal intent as a personality quirks. It's not that celebs don't behave badly elsewhere but in India before Sanjay Dutt no actor had abused his or her public stature to such an extent and since then every film star has in some capacity or the other tried pushing the envelope. If you allow a public figure and a 'role-model' to get away with treason then how bad can poaching a few animals or even running a few people over really be? Had the law taken its natural course with Dutt right from the beginning then the others wouldn't even dare of cutting a queue. Will Justice Katju have the same emotions for, say, a 15-year boy from Dharavi if the teenager housed arms for Ajmal Kasbab because he was inspired by what Munna bhai did for Dawood bhai? Would Ashmit Patel start a signature campaign to save a 22-year old girl from Jharkhand if she knew about a Maoist attack on an entire battalion of Army and didn't inform the authorities? I wouldn't have such a problem with Justice Katju or Ashmit Patel if they sought pardon for everyone right from Tiger Memon, Dawood Ibrahim, to Abu Salem and the ilk. Of course, I wouldn't agree with them but that's a different issue. We all love the scene from Ram Gopal Varma's Company where the Commissioner of Bombay Police (Mohanlal) tells a star to stop cavorting with gangsters but when it comes to reality we repeatedly end up misplacing our grip. Why, you ask…you see we need a star to make that scene work and so, how could we lock them up.